2010 ATWATER INT. – Kestutis Shines, Michelle Misses Occasion

The few Europeans present at the 2010 Atwater International made the most of their presence by taking part in three of the five titles. Kestutis Navickas of Lithuania claims the […]


The few Europeans present at the 2010 Atwater International made the most of their presence by taking part in three of the five titles. Kestutis Navickas of Lithuania claims the biggest title of his career in men’s singles whilst Canadian Michelle Li came just one point away of doing the same in women’s singles. In mixed doubles, Toby Ng and Grace Gao of Canada became the authors of a second in less than a month. Dutchmen Ruud Bosch and Koen Ridder and Nicole Grether of Germany and Charmaine Reid of Canada all climbed atop the podium for their respective titles in doubles.

By Yves Lacroix.  Photos: Yves Lacroix /Badmintonphoto.com

One might have expected otherwise after examining the weaker draws of the 2010 edition of the Atwater International but the mere two courts set up for the occasion at the fancy Atwater Club in Montréal were the theatre of intense and memorable battles during the five days of competition.

NL7C3777Despite the overwhelming presence of Canadian flags on the draws of all five disputed events, the word ‘International’ in the tournament’s name lived up to its meaning with the presence of other American countries such as Peru, Jamaica, Trinidad and the USA, as well as shuttlers from a handful of European countries and a small team from Japan’s Unisys corporate team.

The distance between the small but appreciative crowd on hand on finals day and the action on Court 1 contributed to a warm atmosphere for the tournament’s ultimate battles.

It might have been a second International Challenge title in a row for the mixed pair of Toby Ng and Grace Gao (photo) but they once again had to battle through to the very end to put their hands on the Atwater Cup. Toby’s brother Derrick and former Chinese national player Jiang Xuelian gave their all too but finally succumbed in the day’s tightest match. The winners of the Peru International got through 21-23, 21-18, 26-24 under the watchful eye of legendary coach Kim Dong Moon.

“It was obviously a very tough one today,” said Grace Gao after the game.  “It’s our second title after Peru a few weeks ago and we once again had to win with a two-point margin at the very end of a rubber set.”

NL7C3901“Playing in a few Super Series has helped us with the mental aspect of our game,” added partner Toby Ng.  “Not only have we learned from our coach Kim Dong Moon what to do in tight situations but playing tougher opponents in bigger tournaments has also helped us to always expect one more shot to come back.”

One will never know what the gritty 94-minute battle between veterans Nicole Grether of Charmaine Reid (photo)  and the Japanese pair of Ito and Oka disputed on semi-finals night would have had as an effect on the finals of women’s doubles as Huang Ruilin’s limping walk just a few moments before the match sent a red light signal to their coach and she and partner Lim Yee Theng had to concede defeat before any shuttle was struck.

Stakes were high in men’s singles as Kestutis Navickas (photo, top) of Lithuania and Brice Leverdez of France were both battling for their first International Challenge title. Leverdez – who had struck a cord with the crowd after his great performance against Snider in the semis – did not live up to his winning record against the Lithuanian, who got through 21-16, 18-21, 21-14.

The Lithuanian celebrated the biggest title of his career with a jumping victory lap and then by putting the Monopoly money-filled trophy on his head, much to the amusement of the crowd.

“I did win two matches at the Beijing Olympics but this is the greatest achievement of my career,” remarked the soft-spoken European.  “It’s simply unbelievable. After years of sacrifice and dedication, I finally win an International Challenge. Despite a tough week and a losing record against Brice, I felt really confident throughout the tournament. Today, I lost my rhythm in the second set but I kept my concentration and finally came through.”

NL7C4246“You know, I left everything at age 19 to dedicate myself to this sport. Thanks to my coach Juozas Spelveris and to six hard years of training in Germany, I can now finally go home with a title,” concluded the Lithuanian, who will finally be going home after being 2½ months on the road.

Hopes were high for Canadian Michelle Li in the women’s singles event. In their third match up of the year, the 18-year old shuttler – whose style and body type are reminiscent of Xie Xingfang – got off to a roaring start and seemed on her way to victory after an easy first set of 21-15 against Hitomi Oka (photo) of Japan. Li then lost the second set with only twelve points in her favour but regained focus in the rubber and hopes were even higher when she reached match point. However, the winning moment never materialized and the lanky Canadian conceded victory 21-23 after 58 minutes of play.

“We knew how to beat the Japanese girl today but the second game was our biggest mistake today,” said coach Jennifer Lee.  “Michelle showed good mental strength this week and proved she can come out on top in tight situations, especially when she was at 19-19 against Jeanine Cicognini in the quarters. However, Michelle got injured during that match and we had to change strategy for today. For the third set, I told her to avoid as much as possible doubles-type shots which got her into trouble in the second. However, the Japanese displayed a stronger mental this time and finally prevailed,”

“When I was at match point, I was thinking ‘one more, one more’ which might have adNL7C4382ded some pressure. My opponent played great net today and I had problems moving forward due to my injury,” said the young finalist after the prize ceremony.

A lot of pressure must have been felt on the shoulders of Phillip Chew of the USA in the last final of the day. Partnering coach and former World Champion Halim Haryanto, the youngster surely knew that the outcome of the match would rest on his performance against the solid pair of Ruud Bosch and Koen Ridder (photo) of the Netherlands, who had not dropped a single set during the entire tournament. However, the crowd never got the chance to appreciate Haryanto’s full talent as the Europeans targeted the youngster, who never rose to the occasion and it took Bosch/Ridder only 23 minutes to claim the tournament’s men’s doubles title.

For complete results, click HERE

Yves Lacroix

About Yves Lacroix

Based in Montréal, Yves has been an archivist for most of his career and started badminton photography early in the millennium. He has been part of the team since its infancy and his work both behind the camera and behind the photo website is key to the success of Badzine.