An emotional and exhausted Andrew Baggaley bagged a men’s doubles bronze medal with his young team-mate Liam Pitchford at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi this afternoon after two marathon matches that stretched the unwell English table tennis star to the edge of his stamina.
Battling against illness, Baggaley claimed his fifth Commonwealth medal at his third Games when he and Pitchford beat Australians William Henzell and Robert Frank in five draining sets at the Yamuna Sports Complex despite letting match point slip away in the fourth for the second time in the day.
“It is brilliant,” said Baggaley after his 11-7, 8-11, 12-10, 10-12, 10-6 win completed a full set of Commonwealth men’s doubles medals following gold with Gareth Herbert in 2002 and silver with Andrew Rushton four years ago.
“I now have a total of five medals – two gold, two ailver and now one bronze. I’m pleased about it. I’m glad we won this medal. To me, whether I finished in the first round or the quarter-finals it would have been the same as I would have ended up with nothing.”
Baggaley’s achievement comes on the back of serious illness just weeks before flying to India which caused him to lose half a stone and miss two weeks training.
“It was terrible preparation,” he said. “I can’t believe I made it here even. At the start, if I could have come out of this Games with one medal I would have been extremely happy. To have two now is unbelievable. I feel I’ve done something very special.”
Baggaley and Pitchford lost a five-set semi-final to Indian favourites, and eventual gold medallists, Sharath Achanta and Subhajit Saha early this morning after squandering match point at 10-9 in the fourth and the chance of a place in the final.
It looked as if history was about to repeat itself in the bronze medal match when, after winning a nail-biting third set 12-10, the English duo went 10-9 up in the fourth only for Pitchford to make three mistakes in a row and hand the game to Australia.
But Baggaley is an experienced player at this level with two golds and a silver from Manchester and Melbourne, and the 27-year-old had a few calming words with the talented teenager.
It did the trick, as the English pair came out attacking in the fifth set and shot into the lead. By now their passionate and dogged display had won over the crowd. At 10-6 they held match point again – surely four chances would be enough this time. They were.
When the Australians failed to return Baggaley’s serve, the man from Northampton clenched his fists, his face and his bat before leaping back from the table and throwing his arms wide in celebration, letting out a giant roar as Pitchford rushed to embrace him.
The 17-year-old has had quite a baptism at his first senior tournament, winning team silver before this bronze. He’s one for the future.
But then so is Baggaley, for he already has London and Glasgow in mind.
“Yes, I’d like to be there,” he said. “I’ll still be young and I want to be among the medals again. Next time it will be in the singles.”