They say picking yourself up after defeat is the hardest job in sport, but raising yourself to perform again after a pumping victory can be just as tricky.
That was Nathan Robertson’s task today after he and Jenny Wallwork won a thrilling three-set mixed doubles semi-final by the narrowest margin to book a place in Thursday’s Commonwealth Games final in Delhi.
Robertson had little more than an hour and a half to catch his breath, calm his heart, shower, change, and gather his thoughts before returning to court with Anthony Clark for a men’s doubles match against Singapore’s Chayut Triyachart and Zi Wong that also went to three sets before the experienced English pair won 21-10, 17-21, 21-14.
After playing six matches in less than 48 hours yesterday, Robertson now has the relatively simple job of winning two in the next two days. The only thing is, they’re both finals.
“It’s been a brilliant day at the office,” said Robertson, who remains on track to retain his mixed doubles title from 2006 and could leave Delhi with ten Commonwealth medals to his name.
“I’ve had two hard matches but we’re over the moon. The mixed doubles was a real nail-biter. I always have a bit of extra focus and determination not to lose when it comes to big events.”
Robertson and Wallwork lost the first set 21-19 before levelling the match in the second 21-13. But they needed every ounce of that determination in the decider when their Malaysian opponents Peng Chan and Liu Goh held four match points at 17-20, only for the English pair to draw level when Chan made the classic beginner’s error of netting his serve.
Robertson and Wallwork responded by winning the next two points to hold match point themselves and looked all set to wrap it up. But the Malaysians saved the match twice with some desperate defence before the English pair snatched their place in the final with a Robertson smash.
“We were 17-20 down in the final game but with Nathan’s experience we managed to hold it together,” said Wallwork, a 23-year-old Games debutant from Bolton. “I’m just so excited to be in the final and hopeful we can bring home the gold.”
Clark’s feelings on getting to his sixth Commonwealth final were a little different. “It feels great to win and a relief more than anything,” he said. “Nathan had already had a match so I was a bit concerned how tired he was.
“But he played the perfect first set and then for some reason we fell off a bit and got a bit nervous. We got dragged into a slog but had enough experience to get through.”
If Robertson’s challenge was one of endurance, Rajiv Ouseph’s was to silence the partisan crowd. After going 16-12 down in the decider, it didn’t look good for the Hounslow boy but the number two seed hauled himself through to the final, clinching the final game 21-18 to beat India’s Parupalli Kashyap.
It was an expecially satisfying win for Ouseph after he had lost to the same opponent in the team semi-final last week.
“It was a different match to last time,” he said. “I was controlling the game this time and tried to change the pace. It’s tough to play against the crowd as well but you expect that against a home player. It was a tough game so I am happy to win.”
It wasn’t all good news for England, though, as Liz Cann lost her women’s singles semi-final to Malaysian Mew Choo Wong, 21-12, 18-21, 21-17, and Wallwork and Gabby White lost their doubles semi to Singapore’s Shinta Sari and Lei Yao in two sets, 21-19, 21-13.
Cann is now focused on winning the bronze tomorrow.
“It was tough tonight but she is a very good player,” said Cann “I put up a good fight and I fancied my chances.
“I don’t assume I’m going to lose to anyone, I just go out and try to win. I’ll give it my best shot to win a medal tomorrow.”
White was gutted to miss out on her first Commonwealth final.
“They are a very good pair and we knew we had to play well,” said the 20-year-old from Yorkshire. “We gave it all we had but didn’t come out on top today.
“I’m pretty gutted but I’ve still got a medal chance tomorrow.”