What a weekend it was for Alpha Badminton Club, and one to rival many others in the history of the Lisburn club, established back in the early 1930s.
Matthew Cheung is such an outstanding prospect that he was on European duty, leading the Ireland side in the European U17 Team Championships in Gniezno, Poland and drawn in Group 5, they faced Italy, Finland and the No5/8 seeds Serbia.
Meanwhile in the FZ Forza U19 Irish Open staged at the National Sports Campus in Dublin Rachael and Rebecca Woods will undoubtedly be arriving at their respective university courses across the water with quite a spring in their step, having gone one better than they achieved in last season’s competition winning silver
medals in the Women’s Doubles.
Not to be outdone two more members of the club Paige Woods - yes the twin’s younger sister - and Roisin McKenna, the daughter of former international Eugene, brought home three medals in total one gold and one silver medal for Paige and a silver for Roisin at the Irish U15 Championships.
Despite being unseeded, in the opening round Rachael and Rebecca faced Ireland’s Julia O’Reilly and one of England’s top young prospects, Asmita Chaudhari, who back in April was runner-up in the Women’s Doubles in the prestigious Valamar Junior Open in Dubrovnik and in 2018 won a double in the French U17 International.
The opening exchanges were typically close but the Alpha pair reached the interval with an 11-7 lead and Rebecca’s serve was certainly causing their opponents some difficulty as they raced into a 17-12 advantage, eventually capturing the opening set 21-15 in just over nine minutes.
Despite falling behind initially in the second, the twins were soon back on course establishing a two-point advantage at the interval with an exquisite drop shot from Rachael, the former Hunterhouse pupils were to seal their place in the 2 nd round by taking the set 21-18.
Next up were the England pair Khushi Naik and Sophie Watson, who had ended the hopes of Scotland’s Jodie Harris and Erin Waddell 21-19 22-20 but the Woods were in control throughout their encounter with a score of 21-6 21-15.
Now in the semi-finals, there was never any way that they were going to falter at this hurdle a second successive year and although Ireland’s Kim Feehily/Alexandra Troy were to take the match into a decider by snatching the second set 21-19, after the Woods had gone one up 21-10, the Alpha pair booked their place in the final 21-16 securing a clash against the Swiss top seeds Dounia Pelupessy and Milena Schnider, who won the prestigious Valamar Junior Open.
This was without doubt the ‘Match of the Day’ with both partnerships putting on a show of top class women’s doubles, their speed around the court was absorbing and simple errors were few and far between. I have rarely seen two games in which neither partnership could gain more than one point advantage for long periods.
For example in the opening set the first time there was more than ONE point between both pairs was at the interval when the Swiss pair led 11-9.
The twins were to lose the opening set 21-15 and were never really out of the match although in the second they found themselves 11-6 in arrears at the interval and that deficit was always going to be a massive hurdle to pull back, bearing in mind the international experience of their opponents and their ability to pick off point after point brought them to the title 21-13.
Rebecca could certainly have wished for an easier start to her opener in the Women’s Singles, a clash against the No2 seed Milena Schnider but the Swiss player certainly was relatively slow to get to grips with the pace of the game and the Alpha player found herself only two points in arrears at the interval in both sets and Rebecca appeared to be nicely poised in the opening half of both games to cause an upset.
Against Schnider who was hotly tipped for the Women’s Singles title, Rebecca held a 6-5 advantage in the opening set thanks to an exquisite crosscourt drop shot.
However in little more than four minutes she found herself one set down having added only five points to her
tally and must have been wondering just what happened.
The second set saw Rebecca race into a four point advantage at the outset of the second set with Schnider totally
wrong footed from an excellent crosscourt drop and she extended her lead further to 5-1 before her Swiss opponent started to edge her way back into the set.
Rebecca was still 8-5 ahead before losing four points on the trot but settled down again.
However just as in the opening set, the second half was categorised by very short rallies and that did not suit the young Alpha player who was only able to add four more points to her tally at the interval and it was Schnider who was to ease through 21-14 21-13.
Meanwhile Rachael got her challenge in the Women’s Singles off to a flying start as she took only 23 minutes to end the hopes of one of her old rivals, Scotland’s Rachel Cameron.
The pair have met on several occasions over the years and the contests have always been close with little between the two of them and not surprisingly last week’s match was no different but from the outset Rachael, seeded No8, was intent on booking her place in the next round and sealed a 21-18 21-18 victory.
Ireland’s Sabrina Steinberg was the Alpha player’s next opponent and although the second set was much closer, the former Hunterhouse pupil was rarely troubled in a 21-18 21-16 win.
Rachael’s next opponent was the No5 seed Clara Lassaux (Belgium) and the pair had met only once before when Rachael partnered her twin against Lassaux and Joke De Langhe in the 2017 Irish U19 Open. However on this occasion the Belgium player was to snatch the opening set 21-19 before securing her place in the quarter final 21-11.
In the Mixed Doubles Rachael was seeded No4 with the talented Swiss player Yann Orteu and they were to progress through to the semi-final without being troubled but it was at this stage they were to face the top seeded England pair Brandon Zhi Hao Yap and Abbygael Harris.
The England pair were to record a confident 21-8 21-14 victory, going on to lift the title against the No2 seeds William Jones and Asmita Chaudhari 21-17 21-23 21-13, with the No2 seeds having opened their campaign by beating Jamie Gunn and Rebecca Woods in straight sets.
While two of her sisters were seeking to upset some of Europe’s top players in the Forza Irish U19 Open, Paige Woods was at The National Indoor Arena in Dublin hoping to further enhance her standing within the Irish U15 age group.
Last year she eased through to the quarter-final of the singles before losing 21-15 21-11 to the eventual runner- up Soifra Flynn but at the weekend she was able to ease through to the quarter-final with a victory over Zara Pender 21-16 21-14 though the No3/4 seed was then to face Scotland’s Ishbel McCallister , going down 21-17 21-14.
In the Girl’s Doubles Paige was to team up with Siofra and bidding to upgrade her medal to gold instead of silver but with the Scotland pair of Katrina Chan and Ishbel McCallister in the draw, it was always going to be a little more difficult.
They were to book their place in the semi-final with a 21-12 21-9 victory over Zoe Kearon and Tammi Van Wonterghem and took the opening set against Nicole Joy and Rachel O’Flynn for the loss of only four points.
The top seeds were however made to work a little harder if they were going to secure a place in the final as their opponents made a game of it in the second set.
With the Scottish pair coming through to the final at the expense of No2 seeds Sibhe Collins and Roisin McKenna 21-12 21-9 and Laura Heery and Zarah Pender 21-11 21-11 it was the Chan/McCallister partnership who were to dominate the opening set, eventually sealing the one set advantage 21-16 but the top seeds Flynn and Woods countered well to level at one set all taking the second 21-13.
If a grandstand finish was hoped for then spectators were not to be disappointed and both partnerships had their own opportunities to take the title but it was the Scotland pair who were to lift the title 22-20.
The Mixed Doubles was however the most keenly contested challenge and there was more than the odd surprise along the way with top seeds making an unexpected early exit in the quarter-finals with Eoghan Cooney and Siofra Flynn losing out to the unseeded Harper Leigh (Wales) and Ishbel McCallister 21-17 21-14 leaving Dylan Noble and Paige Woods, seeded No3/4 with an opportunity to take the silverware.
In the bottom half of the draw Rory Comer and Roisin McKenna were to record a 21-14 21-12 win over Chris Chee and Rachel O’Flynn and knocked out the No2 seeds Aman Kothiyal and Michelle Shochan 21-19 21-14.
The final could not have been tighter, Noble/Woods dominating the opening set 21-10 only for their opponents to snatch the second from their grasp 21-19 before seeing the final out 21-13.