March 5th to 16th this year I headed down to Trinidad and Tobago for the national championships looking to make another final if not win the tournament this time. My greatest competition Kerwin Pantin had surprisingly decided not to play this year which means there would be a new national champion. The tournament started off with me scrambling to change my flights after the original dates got changed on me to the following week. This was quite the inconvenience at the time that I didn't like to have to pay for the change fee of the flight but it was something I needed to do. My goal this year is the 2015 Pan Am Games in July and that meant that I would have to win nationals to hopefully secure my spot. As I had already earned Trinidad 1 male and 1 female spot through my world ranking from traveling to tournaments, a mare 500 points away from getting them 2 and 2 spots I would need to win to increase my chances of being selected.
Heading down to Trinidad a week early so I could adapt to the conditions meant taking a full day to arrive. Departing at 6:30am Thursday morning I arrived in Trinidad 8:30pm that same night only to get picked up by my friends and head to training for 10pm-midnight that very night. Yes that’s what I do fly all day and then go train for 2 hours right after landing. That night was interesting to say the least but well needed, the following 4 days was more of the same just training and trying to get use to the conditions through playing in 3 different facilities none of which were badminton friendly. Friday we played at another place where I have gone with my friend Roger Moore many times, lots of the older crowd plays there for fun no real drills. I just needed to hit and get accustomed to how the shuttle fly’s in Trinidad so I tagged along.
|Landing in Trinidad at night|
Saturday and Sunday saw us literally go to the other side of the country to train. We headed down to a place called Point Fortin which was about 2 hours away from where I lived near Port of Spain. The drive down there was a long one and the highways are nothing compared to what we have in Canada so that only made things more interesting come the twists and turns, deteriorated roads and lack of roads all together in some places. The facility there was sub par to say the least, open ait with one side that was open to the sun and had shades that needed to be closed. Those same shades were impossible to close and even when closed still didn't help as much, slippery floors and crazy drafts didn’t help but hey it was an opportunity to hit some shuttles so I wouldn't pass it up. The time up there both Saturday and Sunday was well spent though and invaluable. On Sunday after the training we headed to the beach to hang out as a team and bond. That is always the part that I enjoy the most, bonding with my teammates and friends while in Trinidad. This beach I had never been to before since I rarely ever go down to Point Fortin, the last time I went was when I was a little kid. So the weekend was done just like that 4 days had passed and nationals was drawing closer. There was no draw out but the papers were already getting some newspaper articles written to stir some hype.
|Point Fortin Regional Facility...yeah great place...|
|At least I made it out to the beach though|
Monday rolled around and we got to train at our normal venue which was where the national championships would be taking place. Tuesday was a rest day and then Wednesday the day before nationals was the last training session 10pm to midnight again, we hit a few shuttles and did some drills but also discussed the draw. The draw was quite interesting yet so familiar from the previous year. Although I was the runner up in men’s singles the previous year I was unseeded this time. But a very familiar name was number 1 seed again, Alistar Espinoza was the top seed and he was on my side of the draw I would meet up for a quarterfinal match against him this year. Naim Mahommed was also on my half, I played him in quarterfinals last year but we would meet up for a semi-final match provided we both won our matches. Then Anil my semi-final match from last year was on the opposite side of the draw from me so the only chance for a rematch would be in the finals. Doubles me and Jason had a nice draw and would face the same pair we lost to the previous year in semifinals. I was also playing mixed with Nekeshia Blake, and we were on the side with the number 1 seeds which would lead to a possible semi-final match up against Kamasha and Naim.
|Drink hamper that I won in the raffle at the tournament|
Thursday night rolled around and matches started I made it through my 2 singles matches without too much stress and we won our mixed with a walkover so that was not bad for opening night. Friday was up next, quarterfinals matches meaning my match against Alistar. He took the first game 22-20 but then I bounced back and beat him 21-14, 21-12 a lot easier than last year and felt solid on the court. Booked my spot in 1 semi-final, just 2 more matches to go. Doubles came as a surprise as we were somehow taken to 3 but won our match, guess that’s what happens when you don’t play with your partner or practice together for a year, another semi-final spot booked. Time to go for the hat trick with mixed and this would be the first time me and Nekeshia were ever playing together period. We started off figuring out how each other plays in the first and lost that one, came back to take the 2nd game easily and then the 3rd hit. That was a tight match, we won 23-21 in something that could have gone either way. I had secured my spot in 3 semifinals for Saturday night.
|My support, Tishelle and Shannon|
Saturday came around, 3rd day of competition but things were a little different tonight as there was now a TV crew and they were going to be filming the matches with commentary. This was nothing new to me as I was used to being put to play on the TV courts at big international tournaments around the world. First up men’s singles and of course all 3 of my matches were scheduled to be played on the TV court. I was up against Naim Mahommed, we had a 3 gamer in the quarterfinals last year but this time I beat him in 2 straight so that was a good start to the night making it into the singles final and a rematch against Anil Seepaul. After women’s singles next up mixed doubles against Rahul Rampersad and Justin Sui the number 1 seeds who also beat us last year in 3. Oh how times changed, me and Jason beat them in 2 straight be it close 18 and 18 we secured our spot in the doubles final. After a little break to have the women’s doubles and masters doubles play was the last match of the night mixed doubles where me and Nekeisha Blake would take on Naim and Kamasha for spot in the finals. At this point both me and Nekeshia were in 2 finals each and winning this would make it 3 apiece. That is exactly what we did in 2 sets we upset the 1st seeds and secured our spot in 3 finals each. That was a satisfying feeling.
I went home that night feeling as happy as could be, I would play Anil Seepaul in the men’s singles final for the title. Jason and I would play Alistar Espinosza and Will Lee in the doubles final and then Nekeshia and I would play Alistar and Jada in the mixed doubles final. The thing is I also booked my flight to leave Trinidad Monday morning at 7:30am so win or lose that night I would go out afterwards to celebrate with my team and then pretty much pack and go straight to the airport. I got to the venue and everything was set up, the camera crew was there ready to record the matches. The order of play for the night would be; men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, master’s doubles, and lastly mixed doubles. As I was in 3 finals that should theoretically give me enough rest time in-between matches.
First up men’s singles, Anil has been a great friend and a huge influence in my representing Trinidad internationally since 2008. To play him in the finals of nations was an amazing opportunity, I had previously played him in semifinals the year before. Despite being 40 Anil still has 5 national singles titles to his name as well as various other mixed and doubles titles. The final got under way and I felt in control for the majority of the match, a few times I would slip up and lose a few points but for the most part I felt great and in the end I achieved what I set out to…I got my first nationals singles title and was crowned the national champion of Trinidad and Tobago. Next up was doubles, Jason and 1 would have quite the match up against Alistar and Will, and unfortunately we were unable to pull it off and went down fighting at least. I was denied the doubles title but that wouldn't be the end of the night for me last up was mixed. Me and Nekeshia have never played mixed together before this tournament so to make it to finals together was a fantastic surprise and possible the start of something more for us. That was all the matches all that was left was the awards ceremony. After collecting all my medals and prize money, taking some pictures with fans and friends, conversing with media and getting my congratulations from family I went out with my friends for dinner.
|1st place singles, 2nd place men's doubles and 2nd place mixed doubles|
|Picture with my bestie Shannon|
|Mens singles top 4 all from the same club, Left to Right: 1st Me, 3/4 Sheraz, 2nd Anil, 3/4 Naim|
|CRISTAR Badminton Club. my club and my great friends|
Dinner after winning a national title…you know what that means…yes that’s right I had a hamburger not just any hamburger but the king of all king burgers. I would have taken a picture but after 3 finals I was starving and just inhaled that sucker. After chatting with my club mates/friends about a fantastic nationals and enjoying the celebrations it had yet to sink in or hit me that I was the national champion. To me it was just like any other win, I was happy and proud of it but that’s all. To this day I get a little giddy about it but nothing over the top celebratory, guess that’s my way of celebrating it I didn't even scream when I won the match point but inside I was thrilled. This took us till past 1am in the morning and that meant I would have to go home and pack because I had a 7:30am flight to catch, despite all that I got about maybe 20-30 minutes of sleep that night and then made my way to the airport. 5 hour flight to Houston, 5 hour layover in Houston, 4 hour flight to Calgary and 10:30pm Monday night I was home and very tired. I slept the entire day the next day to make up for it and just like that I was back to the grind training and coaching. I got a lot of congratulations from friends, and some friends even took me out to celebrate over dinner.
|Group picture, chowing down|
This was just the beginning as Rio 2016 Olympic Qualifications start May 2015 and run until May 2016 that gives me a 1 year period to play as many tournaments as I can and try to qualify for a spot at the Olympics. That means planning out my year and training as hard as I can trying to change and work on aspects of my game that I need to in training. My next tournament will probably be in May the Trinidad and Tobago International, first one of the Olympic qualification period. Until then it’s just train train train and see where I can go.