So I had yet another competition, this one spanning a few days in the middle of the week at a court very far from my home (read: hella inconvenient). This one was majestically named the National Fitness Games, but it was just badminton. I don’t know if it was government sponsored or what but it was being done in every major city around China. And in Xiamen, the biggest badminton city in the country, it was big.
152 men’s singles participants
43 women’s singles participants
107 men’s doubles teams (214 guys)
36 women’s doubles team (72 women)
146 mixed doubles teams (73 men, 73 women)
Now, of course you could enter both, say, men’s singles and men’s doubles, but no matter how you slice it, that is a lot of people. And it wasn’t a community tournament where beginners entered. I would say that I was probably at the lowest level of the players and I am an above average player. No beginners and no hobbyists here. Everyone that played had training and years of experience. Xiamen’s badminton community is overwhelmingly large.
Obviously with a tournament so big, it took several weeks to finish but my part was just two days. I had two games on a Tuesday night and a quarterfinal game on Wednesday night. (If we had won we would have played the semifinal Thursday night and the finals on Friday night, which seems quite exhausting to me and not great planning as many people had 2+ hours of travel time for 30 minutes of playing.) There were 3 groups in each discipline (youth, middle-aged and senior) and Azhi and I played the mixed doubles middle-aged group, one of 27 teams.
So, our first game comes and the judge tells us to bring our equipment and put it on the boxes along the side of the court. I thought that a bit weird…can’t we just keep it at the benches along the wall? But whatever. Then we play and at 11 points the ref asks if we want to take a break. We all refuse and I figured it was a 21-point game. (I had no idea if it was 21 or 30 when we started playing but a break at 11 points show it is a 21-point game.) We didn’t switch sides though, just had a break opportunity. Our opponents were new to me, but they played well and we were down a few points. Then we caught up.
Then it was 20-20.
We got a point. They got a point.
We got a point. 22-21.
then we get ANOTHER POINT! We win 23-21!! I jump up and down and high five Azhi and high five our opponents. Then I go to shake the ref’s hand and he looks at me oddly.
“You still have another game, ya know.” I looked at him clueless and I could see he was judging whether I understood his Chinese or not. (A common problem. Ref’s will often talk to my partner instead of me, assuming I can’t speak Chinese.)
“The second game,” he said. “Right now. Switch sides and start.”
Ohhhhhhh. It was best 2 out of 3! That’s why we had to bring our stuff onto the court. That’s why we didn’t switch sides at the break. *head smack*
I was completely thrown off. Mentally I was done yet physically I had just started. You can imagine how our next game was. 10:21. Big loss. By the third game I still hadn’t recovered and it was 11:21. What an idiot I was.
But actually the games themselves were quite fun. They were long, they I could focus, and playing three made me feel much more in tune with the game.
We had a two game break before our next game and I was chatting with friends, telling them how dumb I was. “Prepare better for the next one!” They said. I laughed and said I would. We were hanging around when the ref came up to us. One opponents hadn’t shown. So, we won and could move onto the quarterfinals the next night. Someone got stuck at work, but it worked to our advantage.
So, the next night we go back (And it really was hella inconvenient. It took me an hour, but it took poor Azhi and hour and a half in both a bus and a taxi. He ran out from work and got to the tournament with just a few minutes to warm-up, and no time to eat dinner.) The other teams had to play first to see who would play against us, and it took them a long time. So we waited, and waited.
But it wasn’t at all boring. I had a few friends playing and a few other friends came to cheer us on. It was super nice for all these people to come and root for us even though we *spoiler alert* lost. We had more than an hour of waiting and in that time my friends Aling and Yang Ping played and won (and they are both awesome players, as was their opponents, so everyone in the court came to their game to watch), and we just hung out with everyone and took pictures and got ready.
Then the announcer says our names and we trot over to the court where our opponents were waiting. I look to see who it is and I let out a laugh.
It was the same lady from Saturday’s tournament! You know, the one I lost to in seven minutes. D’oh! She looked at me and we both kinda laughed. This is actually the third time I’ve played against her. She lives in my district so we ran into each other at a local competition too. But I’m gaining on her. If you know my spiteful nature you might think that I would hate this woman, but actually I don’t. She’s nice, and a very decent player, and I know I can be better than her some day in the not-too-distant future. I see her more as a challenge than a rival.
And while I’ll be better than her someday, it was not this day. We lost the first game 17:21, and the second game with a wider margin. The second game they outsmarted me by doing, ironically, the one thing my coach was getting mad at me about this week.
I can return a high serve, but it’s not exactly my strongest footwork and there is more room for error. When I played against my coach earlier in the week, he also kept giving me high serves and yelling at me as I was too slow to move back.
“They are going to give you all high serves at the competition,” he said annoyed. Although at the time he was talking about Saturday’s competition. This lady didn’t figure it out on Saturday, but on this night she finally did. I hate being tested and my weakness being exposed.
As instructed previously by my coach I returned the serves with a smash. But my fingers were too tense, too tight, and the shuttle kept going out. Several times. My friend, coaching me from the sidelines, told me to aim for their body, but I kept going for the sides. Then I lost my nerve and decided to return the high serves with a drop…which, I think you can guess…kept hitting the net.
Aside from the serve, they kept me in the back which was very frustrating and they just plain outsmarted me. I hate when my opponent successfully controls my movements on the court. Gah!
But I felt a lot better about this tournament than last weekend’s though, because it was an individual tournament, so no team pressure, and I’m more used to Azhi as my partner. Also, I much prefer the best two out of three style as opposed to one 21-point game (or one 30-point game). While I didn’t play as good as I know I can, I also didn’t play as bad as I know I can. I played much better than I did on Saturday so I know I’m getting used to the tournament pressure.
Now I have a few weeks off where I can just play with my groups and work to improve before TWO more tournaments in December. I guess fall is tournament season in Xiamen. I’m not complaining but I would like to begin winning some of the bigger tournaments (or “get accustomed to winning” as one friend told me).
Just gotta keep playing and keep training.