Sports writer, Nancy Frostick, explains the top 5 things she learnt from watching the NBL match night on Monday.
The National Badminton League came to the Great Hall for the last round of matches before NBL finals day as Birmingham Lions played Surrey Smashers. The Lions lost the tie 3-2, but earned a place at finals day and put in some impressive performances in what was an intense contest. Fontaine Chapman won her single’s match against Til’ Shiloh Shaw in straight sets, and Nico Ruponen and Heather Olver earned the Lions’ other victory, winning by three sets to Surrey’s one in the mixed doubles. Alida Chen and Sarah Walker were unlucky to lose in straight sets against Adcock and Brown despite a valiant performance, and Birmingham Captain Toby Penty saw his so far unbeaten NBL season come to an end against Carl Baxter in the tightest match of the night. Gary Fox and Koen Ridder were also unlucky to suffer defeat despite an impressive performance.
5. Rory gets the crowd going
Although the Great Hall was packed with fans, it was Birmingham’s mascot Rory the Lion that was to thank for the amazing atmosphere during the tie. The home supporters really got behind their team, and during gaps between matches and time-outs, Rory encouraged even more noise to buoy the Lions players when they were struggling. On a night when Sky Sports were broadcasting, the fans certainly made sure UoB was shown in all its glory.
4. Badminton gets really intense
Across the five matches, most came down to a few close points here or there – made even more intense by the NBL format which differs from normal scoring. In shorter sets of first to nine points and a best of five sets, games are rapid firing and keep you on your toes as points are scored in quick succession. The tension ramps up a notch during a long rally – the women’s doubles featured some drawn out ones at key points in the set – and entire matches can hang in the balance of who misplaces a shot first. The men’s singles was a great example of the demands of NBL games as both players showed fantastic athleticism to win points, even diving to reach some shots. A large portion of the match is mentally as well as physically intense because points are scored so quickly, advantages can easily be reversed and the players’ ability to see the game out relies heavily on their mental strength. Obviously all of this comes across to the spectators too – it is hard not to get drawn in when you have just watched a player battle it out for four games only to lose it all on one shot.
3. You don’t want to get in the way of a smash shot
Smash shots are a big part of the NBL in all the different events, and some of those on show in the Great Hall were fierce. After watching a couple of games it is easy to see that there is an art to a smash shot, both in terms of technique and when it is best to use one. Quite often these shots can help players storm to a comfortable lead in a game, and power is definitely a good attribute if Fontaine Chapman and Nico Ruponen’s performances are anything to go by. That’s not to say that smash shots are without their faults – they can be misplaced or returned, which adds to the drama, but one thing is for sure; you definitely don’t want to get in the way of one, as both Toby Penty and Sarah Walker were unfortunate enough to do in their matches.
2. PowerPlays are important
The PowerPlay feature is a great way to ramp the intensity of the NBL games up even more, and if used effectively can be the difference in a tricky match. Surrey definitely made full use of their PowerPlay points and to great success, which is arguably what gave them the win overall. In the men’s singles, mixed doubles and men’s doubles, Surrey used the bonus point awarded in the PowerPlay to secure either a game or the match, so making use of this unique feature clearly has its benefits.
1. The NBL Finals day is going to be epic
NBL Finals day on 8th May at the Barclaycard Arena looks like it will be a great day for Birmingham Lions where they will play Nottingham in their play-off. Across their two home fixtures this year, the Lions have put in some impressive performances, and have secured plenty of wins during a successful season. Home support as good as that in the Great Hall will be essential to a strong performance, so for tickets and information head to: nationalbadmintonleague.co.uk.