Inspiration never strikes so quick as when you watch the fastest racket sport live
By Katie Garner
London’s entry into the Badminton World Federations circuit of Badminton Prix Gold events kicked off last week, as a whole host of highly ranked players flocked from across the globe to strut their skills on the illuminated court at Stratford’s Copperbox arena. This brand new annual event took place over six days of mentally and physically exhausting play, where not only could the winners get their mitts on a lump sum of prize money, but also nab themselves the all-important world ranking points.
Set in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and being hosted in England for the first time, there was such a hum around this fantastic event that I couldn’t resist getting myself some tickets for the morning session of semi-finals day on Saturday 5th October. Sat four rows from the front and with excellent views of the centre stage single court, I could feel the excitement mounting for the upcoming performance in sporting excellence.
It was my first time at the Copperbox, and I have to say I was impressed. Its angular, boxy and rust colour demeanour seem to slot right in with the industrial docklands environment of east London, whilst still having a quirky appeal. On the inside, I felt it was an intimate venue, especially when compared to the huge dimensions of the 02 and Wembley and their hoards of steep and slanted stacked stairways and seats. The Copperbox was roomy and not overcrowded at all, yet wouldn’t be able to hold vast numbers, always keeping it comfortable. I felt our seats were ideal as well – so near to the front that I could hear the metallic ping of the shuttle clipping the edge of the racket with every accidental mishit.
We were in for a treat with mixed doubles, ladies singles, ladies doubles, men’s singles and men’s doubles all lined up for our viewing pleasure. We had no idea who was playing, but we didn’t need to know as we were just eager to see our favourite sport live. No matter how much you watch it on the TV, nothing beats that crisp whistle as the strings slap the shuttle, and watching the professionals inspires you to tackle angles, shots and speeds that you may never have even considered before.
First up was the Mixed Doubles, where Indonesia were taking on Germany. A brilliant game with an amazing amount of net work – I don’t think I have ever seen so much net play in a professional match. It was beautifully aware yet dangerously deceptive and you couldn’t help but hold your breath as it nudged backwards and forwards. Germany ended up making it through, after losing the first game 19-21, they then won the next two games 21-19 / 22-20. The score lines speak for themselves. Whilst cracking open the honeycomb Galaxy chocolate (absolutely wonderful in case you were wondering), the Ladies Singles began, with Spain playing Thailand. Comparing this game to the previous one, it was actually staggering how vast the difference is in the tactics between doubles and singles. I always knew there were differences, but the gap seems impassable when you look at the contrasting styles of play. Singles uses so much forwards and backwards movements, which is a complete contrast to the constant zig zag of doubles. I always believed singles had to be high powered, but this match proved me wrong as the racket literally caressed the shuttle with a bountiful amount of drops and net shots, which showed that it wasn’t all about strength, but emphasised the importance of touch and placement as well. Spain pulled through after losing the first game, 20-22 / 21-18 / 21-19.
Next on the roll call was the ladies doubles , where the long, lean and leggy Danish duo were combating the stocky Singapore pairing. I was in total awe of the simply stunning short serves used in this game, as they scraped the net tantalisingly. I also liked seeing the communication between the players. There seemed to be a lot more calling out to each other and visibly teamwork which I liked as it reminds me of my own raucous yells on club night. This fast paced game concluded with the Danes winning in straight games 22-20 / 21-19. The Men’s Singles was another Danish invasion as two Danes faced off against each other. Although singles appears to be rather devoid of drives, this match contained exceptionally long rallies, that provided a parading showcase of a multitude of shots – a complete library of perfect play and placement as well as the art of true sneakiness. With no one else of rely on, singles is ideal for developing deception. Vittonghus took the win 21-19 / 21-18.
Last on the list was the Men’s Doubles, which was probably the one we were looking forward to the most once we realised dynamic Dane duo Boe and Mogenson would be on court. After supporting them from the confines of our sofas whenever we had seen them play, to witness their lanky tallness taking complete control of the court was a pure pleasure, as they fired out gunshot style drives, using their Indonesian opponents as target practice. Being tall is such an advantage as it gives you so much more power and reach at the net. Unsurprisingly, Denmark won 21-14 / 21-13.
We had a simply amazing time at the Badminton Grand Prix. It is hugely inspirational to see the passion pouring from these players, their need and drive for victory reflected in every pumped up yelp after winning a single point. The players were fizzing in preparation of each point, crouched down, muscles strumming with urgency and unused energy, eyes alert and zoned in. After watching all of these closely matched games, all I wanted to do was grab my racket and get stuck in myself – I literally just wanted to emulate the excellence I had just witnessed. So awe inspiring, so enjoyable and such a great experience. If you haven’t seen live badminton, I really recommend it, and if you take a friend, you can even do your own commentary.