The LearnCoach New Zealand Badminton League has wrapped up in a thrilling fashion in front of a large crowd, as the Tiger Brokers Tigers took out an action-packed grand final against the Heytour Hawks.
With both teams closely matched, it was a seesaw affair that required a golden game to separate the teams and decide who would take home the Willans and Wong Presidents Cup, and a lion's share of the $15,000 prize money. In a final brimming with drama and intensity, it was the younger Tigers that stayed the course to come through and win the inaugural league title.
The Hawks started strong with the established mixed pair of Abhinav Manota and Erena Calder-Hawkins making light work of newly formed Tigers combination Justine Villegas and Nicco Tagle. Tagle was brought into the line-up after an unfortunate injury earlier in the week to consistent Tigers performer, Jonathan Curtin.
The Tigers took the loss on the chin and roared back with a dominant Edward Lau again taking a hard fought win against Manota in the men’s singles to even the tie at 1-1.
The men’s doubles then took to the court in a critical match that could determine the momentum and outcome of the tie. The younger combination of Dacmen Vong and Lau had too much firepower for the more experienced Manota and Dhanny Oud, claiming the win 8-11, 9-11. It was a valiant effort from Manota who was playing his third match of the tie and still nursing a sore shoulder.
The Tigers were in a strong position and would place one hand on the Presidents Cup if they could win the women’s doubles. It certainly seemed on track with Villegas and Fu comfortably taking the first game 11-6 against Calder-Hawkins and Jasmin Ng. But disaster struck with Villegas going down early in the second game with a serious knee injury, forcing the Tigers' pair to retire. This unexpected result handed the Hawks a lifeline and a real opportunity to take the inaugural title with just one more match to win.
The final mixed doubles was a do or die match for the Tigers, who suddenly found themselves 3-2 down in the tie. A special performance was needed as Vong and Janice Jiang strode on to court against Ryan Tong and Ng. An almost too easy first game win for Vong and Jiang created a false sense of security, with Tong and Ng stepping up to stay in the hunt levelling the match with a win in the second game. The grand final hung in the balance as the pairs battled through the third game, with nail-biting rallies keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats. The Tigers held their nerve and closed out the match by the narrowest of margins, with a clutch 12-10 win in the third.
With the final tied at 3-3, a golden game would again be required to determine the overall winner. Over the course of the LearnCoach New Zealand Badminton League, 50% of all ties in the round robin stage came down to a thrilling golden game, such was the closeness of the competition. Such drama was an appropriate end to the grand final – one final game where anything can happen in the race to eleven points. Hawks' Coach Tony Griffen won the toss and had the final decision, selecting women’s singles as the ultimate golden game to determine the league champions, putting his faith in Trillo to repeat her earlier win over Fu.
Fu and Trillo were quickly back on court and picking up on where they left off, but this time with the league championship title on the line. Trillo started fast and looked to continue her winning for. Tense rallies ensued with the players locked at 6-all, before Fu put her foot down and found an extra gear to close out the match, winning the next five points to clinch the inaugural LearnCoach New Zealand Badminton League and take home the Willans and Wong Presidents Cup.
Wrapping up the league it was only fitting for Edward Lau to be crowned not only the match MVP, but to seal the coveted Crystal Ashley LearnCoach New Zealand Badminton League MVP and the additional $1,000 prize money. The future is bright for current Massey University student Lau who aspires to continue his badminton pathway to represent New Zealand at future Olympic and Commonwealth Games.
As the LearnCoach New Zealand Badminton League concludes it an opportunity to reflect back on the innovative and exciting seven weeks of badminton it has provided. The high intensity badminton action in every match delivered so much for badminton fans in New Zealand and around the world. The only question left unanswered – when will it be back?
The Crystal Ashley Match Day MVP was awarded to Edward Lau.
Full Match Details: Grand Final - Tiger Brokers Tigers vs HeyTour Hawks