My Badminton and Life Blog

My Badminton and Life Blog

Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015 Trinidad and Tobago Nationals

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. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

2015 China International Challenge

Christmas and New Years had passed, 2015 was upon us and my first tournament of the year would take me back to China The country where I have gone many times to train as well have spent a considerable amount of time away from home there. The 2015 China International challenge would be in Lingshui which was in Hinan province, a tropical island in southern China. The tournament was the end of January so this wouldn't give me much time to get everything in order (Visa, tournament arrangements, etc.) but I did get it all done. This being an International Challenge there was big points in even just 1st round because it was a 32 size draw and not a 64 size. This being a 32 size and my world ranking being rather low at the time close to the 300’s I was unsure If I would make it into the main draw if a lot of people had entered the tournament. To my luck and surprise there was only 32 entries into the singles draw and every player had made it into the main rounds. I saw some familiar names in the draw, two players from Australia who I had just seen in Korea about 2 months earlier. There was also a very familiar Netherlands player who I had met many times before and talked to a lot in Tahiti amongst a few others. I drew a player from Japan so that would make things interesting but I was up for the challenge.

The time came for me to make the trip out to China, one would think it is awesome to travel and compete but let me break it down for you. It would take me almost 24 hours to get there and the same to get back, going I lose an entire day leaving Canada Saturday afternoon and arriving around 11pm Sunday night. Then leaving China early Friday afternoon of that same week and arriving back in Canada a few hours after I had originally left China. That would give me 4 in the country itself, the tournament would start on Wednesday with first rounds meaning Monday and Tuesday would be devoted to recovering from the trip and practice, Wednesday would be playing my match. So that left Wednesday after my match and Thursday to do whatever I wanted to if I didn't win my match and advance to play Wednesday. But I had to travel there first, after coaching for 4 and a half hours early Saturday morning I made my way to the airport to head to Vancouver and catch my connecting flight to Beijing which was a whopping 12 hours on its own. From Beijing I would have a quick layover and have to catch my flight from there to Senya a capital city in Hinan and from there drive over an hour to the city of Lingshui. Finally arriving at my destination at around 1:30am Monday morning I was rather tired and happy to get into a real bed as opposed to trying to sleep in an airplane seat.

After sleeping through half the day to fight off jet lag I made it out to practice at 2 different places. The first was the practice venue at a high school which was a huge campus and then the 2nd place was at the main hall which was one of the larger stadiums that I have played in. It was nice but the downside was the lights on both side were directly angled so that it was in your eyes if you looked up. Other than that the venue was set up very professionally and a pleasure to play in. Being the only player from Trinidad and not traveling with a coach gets hard at times, it’s usually just me and that doesn't give me a partner to practice with. Another player that I knew in the draw pulled out as well as some other players had yet to arrive when I was there to possibly have a hit with. So I was assigned a volunteer when I checked into the hotel and he was amazing organizing for some of the local players to come out a spar with me. That was great to have so I got lots of practice in the first day before the tournament something that I don’t always have the opportunity to do. There were lots of volunteers in the venue and they had never seen a foreigner before or somebody like me so they would line up after I finished practicing to get pictures with me.  Heading back to the hotel I went out for a night walk and saw the area as it was hustling and bustling which was nice I like how busy it gets at night. Finding food I retired back to the hotel and hunkered down for the night getting ready for what would come the next day.

Tuesday rolled around and because there were no qualification matches that meant that we could us the main venue for practice. Once again I didn't have anybody to practice with but was fortunate enough once again to meet some players from Malaysia and got to practice with them for a good hour and a half, playing mostly games with them which was a huge benefit. That was a lot later in the day so when I finished it was night almost which left me little time to really do anything else in the city or see anything. I went to the grocery store and bought some groceries which would last me the week as well as dinner at one of the local shops and my favorite bubble tea with pearls, I could buy 2-3 of those a day easily. Game day was right around the corner, quite literally, my match was the following morning and I was going to make sure that I got enough rest for that so an early night was in order. Wednesday rolled around, the weather was nice and good breakfast I had. Making my way over the venue early (it was within walking distance) was a little nerve-wracking as I knew that I was up for a hard game against the Japanese player and I would be on the TV court yet again.

The match started and I was feeling decent I was moving good and was able to push the Japanese player around the court. Simple mistakes were what cost me the most points in the match but overall I felt the best at the net and was able to win my points there. But in the end I was unable to push the match to 3 or keep it a close 2 but I was happy with the results in ways.

Just like that the match was done and my tournament had come to an end, yet another first round exit at an international but the amount of points I got was worth it. So it was still early in the morning, noon had just passed which meant I still had half the day left to go out and see whatever I could around the city/hotel. Stretching and watching a few matches in the venue I headed back to the hotel and grabbed lunch while my volunteer asked me what sights I would like to see outside of the city and started to arrange for it. After checking out things in the immediate area I came back to the hotel with food ate in the room and met up with the volunteer to discuss my plans. The two possible places that I could go was a place called Monkey Island or to one of the beautiful beaches, the downside though each location was about 1-2 hours away and just getting there would be a pain in the ass. Because of this I decided not to go and would just spend my last full day bumming around Lingshui before heading back home. The rest would do me good as it was something that I wouldn't get back home for a while. Looking around the city I was able to see some of the statues and public art that was around my hotel as well as take a dip in the amazing pool that the hotel had. Thursday had come to an end and I don’t know where the day went at all. I picked up some last minute snacks at the grocery store that I wanted to bring back to Canada with me and then started packing for the long…and I mean long journey back to Canada.

Leaving the hotel in Lingshui early Friday morning we drove straight for the almost 2 hours to get to Sanya and the international airport there where I would catch my flight back to Beijing. The fight back to Beijing was rather full and upon arrival the plane did not park at the terminal to exit directly into the airport we parked on the tarmac and had to exit there taking a shuttle to the airport. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy because it was “cold” in Beijing and all I was wearing was a t-shirt but it was only +5 which to me in Canada is warm so it wasn't anything out of the ordinary.  After waiting what seemed like an eternity for my bag I rushed to check in for my flight back home through Vancouver which I made and just got to the gate as they started to board the flight. As much as I love china I didn't want to have to spend another night and miss my flight because I was to work the following day (Saturday) at 8:30am. The flight home was just as long as going but I slept and was able to watch a good amount of movies that was where everything went smooth and then in Vancouver waiting to go back to Calgary a wrench got thrown into the system. They boarded us on the flight to Calgary but there was a mechanical issue so with us still on the plane they tried to fix the problem, I had long since passed out at this point in my seat. An hour later I woke up and realized we were still on the ground, hadn't even left that’s when they deplaned us and arranged for another flight that would depart an hour later. I was dead tired at this point and when we boarded the new flight I passed out as I sat down and woke up as we landed in Calgary so that was a good was to pass the time.

That was the trip to China in a nutshell. It was weird for me because every previous time I would go to china to train and would be there 3-4 months if not longer so to only got for 4 days and a bit was foreign to me. I did not know how to feel about it, I was happy to be back in China after so long but was sad to only be in the country so short. The tournament was the tournament I can’t comment much on that, I needed the points and getting 920 from an international challenge in main draw isn't bad at all. Coming off the win in Puerto Rico a month earlier was giving me some confidence but I still wasn't able to get a win in Asia. I have had wins in every other region that I have played in but have yet to get one in the Asia continent. Next up after this would be Trinidad nationals which I got 2nd place at the previous year so this year I would be going for the title. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

2014 Puerto Rico International

Tournament Venue during matches
The last international of 2014 came in December, late December the 17th to 21st to be exact down in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This would be the last international of the year and after having points fall off from tournaments that I did good in back in 2013 I was hurting for points to keep my world ranking up and in the top 300’s. Looking at the calendar it was either Puerto Rico or a tournament in Istanbul, Turkey. Both were the same level and the one in Puerto Rico made more sense as I would probably have a better chance to advance past 1st round. So I was entered and the best thing was that I would not be traveling alone this time as another Trinidad player (Kamasha Robertson) was going and she was also one of my mixed partners. This made the tournament all the more worth it, international series level (good chance to advance), right before Christmas (get out of the cold), playing more than 1 event, and well come on it’s a tropical island getaway who wouldn't want to go that would make for a nice vacation after the tournament.

So the day came to leave and of course I would be flying with air Canada rouge to LA again and with my luck we were delayed once again for a little so now not only would my short connection time become even shorter I was worried that I wouldn't even make my flight from LA to New York and then New York to Puerto Rico (that connection was short too). The second that we arrived at the gate in LA my other flight had just started to board, so I could imagine my baggage wouldn't even come close to making it. Of course my flight would also happen to be on the other side of the airport, that’s right not just in another terminal but the terminals are so far apart that I had to run outside through parking lots, across the street and then go through security again. Needless to say I just made my flight with seconds to spare and my gut was telling me my baggage wouldn't make it. In New York we actually arrived 20 minutes earlier than was scheduled so I had time to go into the lounge and grab breakfast which was nice and then caught the final flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico. To my amazement as I stood at the baggage carousel my giant Yonex trolley bag came out and onto the belt, I was amazed but of course there was nobody there to pick me up. A scene that was very familiar at a good chunk of the tournaments I have attended, catching a cab I made my way to the hotel.

Arriving at the hotel I already knew that it was the same one I stayed in during my very first international back in 2008 which happened to be the very same tournament, the Puerto Rico International. Nothing had changed and I think I was very close to getting the same room that I stayed in back then. Having traveled all night and sleeping little on the flight I was both tired and hungry so after some food passing out was the next logical and inevitable course of action. Kamasha came in later that night and after a brief conversation it was back to bed for me to await the following days team managers meeting and commencement of the tournament the following day. Much to our hopes the tournament would be delayed a day due to access to the facility and the fact that the government essentially has the final say and they would not give over times until the Thursday. With this meant that we would not be able to practice the following day in the morning due to the tournament organizers not getting to set up until early afternoon but we would get practice times that night which was a good thing.

Night came and we went to the hall to practice, it wasn't a bad place different than the 1st tournament that I played in Puerto Rico back in 2008 this one was smaller. It was nice to be in a hotter climate playing badminton again as this meant my body warmed up very fast, dealing with the excessive sweat was another story though. Practice went well, finished got dinner and headed back to the room to rest for the following day when matches would start.

Late night practice session
That morning was the men’s singles first rounds as well as a few of the women’s singles rounds so both me and Kamasha would have to play. In the morning at 10am I was scheduled to play one of the Puerto Rican players and was one of the first matches up. The downfall was there are windows around the upper part of the venue and those had not been blocked out yet so we had to play the matches while they started to cover the windows with some paper to attempt to block the light. I won my match pretty handily and secured my spot in the 2nd round against the third seed from Brazil, Alex Tjong. Kamasha had a good fight in her match against a girl from the USA but unfortunately wasn’t able to pull out the victory. So that was half the day, matches would resume in the late afternoon as to give us time to rest and eat not to mention avoid playing a the hottest time of the day. Play resumed and this time I was up against the Brazilian, it was a tough match and I fought as hard as I could but in the end he pulled away with the win. That was the end of singles for me, I am happy with the second round result it meant a lot more world ranking points as well as a nice present for the last tournament of the year.

During my 1st round match against Puerto Rico

The following morning we played mixed doubles against the 2nd seeds from Dominican Republic who we had played 2 years earlier at CAREBACO and the results back then were interesting to say the least. This time we had a way better match, I needed to attack more though and that is ultimately why we lost the match because I didn't attack enough. Overall though I am happy with the tournament and the results, 2nd round at an international is always a great feeling and I have had quite a few first round losses this year past. That being said this was a great way to finish off the year, now that the matches were over I would get to have a little bit of a vacation. That meant that I would finally get to go to the beach and go into the ocean, the 1st time since 2013 and my trip to Tahiti.

I had just 2 days left until I left the country which meant the rest of Friday night, Saturday whole day and then Sunday as my flight was Monday morning very early. Friday night we didn't do much after the match just relax in the hotel then the fun came on Saturday. That was the day that we would go to the beach and oh boy was that an adventure trying to find a beach, we went to a public beach on the other side of this hidden area quite a ways away from the hotel. It was worth it though and the view was beautiful to watch down the Puerto Rican coast line and see the sunset. The sunset made it picture perfect as cliche as that sounds, there’s nothing more beautiful that being in the ocean as the sun is setting, the array of colors that glisten across the sky and water is an art of its own that can be appreciated. That was the highlight of the trip being able to get back into the ocean even if it was very quick.

Gotta flex while on the beach, its the law

We went out that night with some friends from USA, Czech Republic, and Scotland to have burgers and beer. That leaving the following and last day to check out a place called the mall of America which was the largest mall in Puerto Rico and of course decorated for Christmas. After a day of shopping it was time to head back to the hotel and pack for my flight the following morning.

All in all I am happy with how the tournament in Puerto Rico went and couldn't have asked for more, a win and a boost to my world ranking to help me get back up where I use to be. Flying home would involve 2 stopovers one in Houston and one in Denver but this time I had adequate time in-between flights and didn't have to run through terminals. A great end of the year tournament and almost a vacation in its own sense. I would be returning home to start off 2015 and see what the New Year would bring not to mention planning out tournaments. I was already looking to attend the China International Challenge the end of January so would have to start training for that.