This was the final tie for both these NBL sides, and with the Lions needing just two match wins out of five in order to advance to playoffs they were in a strong position, whereas the Smashers needed to win four of the five in order to advance. On paper the Lions looked the stronger side as well sitting third in the NBL, four points clear of Surrey who were fifth.
On what was sure to be an fantastic evening of badminton at the University of Birmingham’s very own Great Hall, the Lions unfortunately could not quite take the win on the night, losing 3-2 as the Smashers played out of their skins, though because Fontaine Chapman and their mixed doubles pair of Nico Ruponen and Heather Olver won their matches, the Lions still advanced to the playoffs.
Match One – Women’s Singles: Fontaine Chapman (Birmingham Lions) vs Til’Shiloh Shaw (Surrey Smashers)
The Lions got off to the best possible start with one of their star players, England’s number one, Fontaine Chapman steamrollering her way to a 3-0 win, dropping just 12 points. The inexperienced Shaw definitely looked outclassed as Chapman took the three games with ease, 9-6, 9-3, 9-3. Chapman used the awesome power of her smash as well as some delicate drop shots to her advantage throughout this admittedly short encounter to give the Lions a 1-0 lead on the night.
Match Two – Women’s Doubles: Alida Chen and Sarah Walker (Birmingham Lions) vs Gabby Adcock and Sophie Brown (Surrey Smashers)
Two vastly experienced players faced off in this tie, Birmingham’s Walker being a former two-time Women’s National singles champion. And up against her, Surrey’s Adcock is a five-time national doubles champion and a Commonwealth gold medallist. With this pedigree, one would have expected it to be a close match, and it was despite the Smashers pair taking it in three games, 9-3, 9-8, 9-7. It was a game of incredible intensity and quality with both pairs going for all their shots from the first shuttle, and the Lions pair had a great chance to level the match in game two, where they had a match point though they could not convert. Adcock showed her class throughout, not only in her array of attacking shots but also in her impressive defensive play. With that the tie was levelled at 1-1.
Match Three – Men’s Singles: Toby Penty (Birmingham Lions) vs Carl Baxter (Surrey Smashers)
Birmingham’s captain, Penty, was unbeaten this year in the NBL going into this one, but it was Baxter who showed his experience to take the win in four games, after some stunning play at the net. Baxter took the win 9-7, 9-4, 3-9, 9-8. The vital point in the match was when Baxter chose to take his powerplay early, at 7-7 in the first game, he won the point and the game, giving him a huge 1-0 lead. From there he dominated in the second game, and despite a mini-comeback from Penty in the third, Baxter was able to close it out in the final game in another incredibly tight game 9-8. Perhaps a bit of an upset from Baxter, though in an interview with BURN FM Penty did say that Baxter deserved the win as he put the Smashers 2-1 up.
Match Four – Mixed Doubles: Nico Ruponen and Heather Olver (Birmingham Lions) vs Robert Blair and Claire Millward (Surrey Smashers)
With the Lions needing just one more win to advance through to the playoffs, their mixed pair was on form to take a comfortable 3-1 win. Which was especially impressive considering Olver had not played mixed doubles recently and it was the pair’s first competitive match alongside each other. Ruponen and Olver took it 9-4, 7-9, 9-3, 9-2, looking particularly dominant in the final two games showing their extensive skills to pull of some audacious shots closing out the game relatively easily. Their win made it 2-2 on the night, meaning the Lions do progress into the playoffs.
Match Five – Men’s Doubles: Gary Fox and Keon Ridder (Birmingham Lions) vs Chris Langridge and Dean George (Surrey Smashers)
With the tie tantalisingly poised at 2-2, it was the Smashers pair who took the initiative to win 9-5, 9-4, 9-2 a thoroughly dominant performance. Landgridge, a three-time medallist at the Commonwealth’s, proved too much for the Lions pair as he led his inexperienced partner, George, to a pretty emphatic win in truth.
And with that the Smashers took the win on the night 3-2 much to their delight, after strong performances from their Men’s and Women’s doubles teams and Carl Baxter. Though for them, it was not enough as they did not get the four wins on the night they needed to progress. But for the Lions, a disappointing loss will surely be overshadowed by an overwhelming joy on reaching the playoffs where they will look to make a big impact after a fine season in the NBL 2015/16.