Rio has turned the heat up today and Rob must be very glad that he chose table tennis and not wheelchair tennis as the temperature outside hits 36 degrees by 10:00.
His final is due to start at 11:45 and the whole GB squad has come to Riocentro to support him. As the players for both bronze and gold medal matches enter the hall Rob acknowledges the cheers of the GB supporters with a wave and a smile while his Korean opponent Young Dae Joo looks calm and serene.
Warm up is over and it is time for the men’s class 1 Paralympic final to start. Joo takes the first three points and Rob looks a little edgy but then takes the next three points to level at 3-3. Joo pulls ahead again but Rob levels at 8-8 and 9-9 and Joo then has a point to take the set but makes a service error. At 11-10 Rob has a set point but Joo hits a shot into Rob’s body that he cannot return. Joo then has another chance to take the set at 12-11 but Rob saves it and then has another point at 13-12 which he converts with a shout to take the first set.
Phew! If this goes to five sets we will all be nervous wrecks.
The GB athletes have obviously been practicing their synchronised chants and cries of ‘Rob-bie; Rob-bie’ ring out around the hall. There is a lone Korean flag in the crowd but Joo looks unfazed by the vociferous support for his rival and starts the second set with renewed purpose. At 0-2 Rob smashes the ball at Joo but it is returned with interest: 0-3. A series of flashing backhand winners take Joo to 7-0 and he goes on to take the set 11-4 and before we have really had time to recover from the drama of the first set Joo is back on level terms.
As the chants of ‘Rob-bie; Rob-bie’ didn’t have the desired effect the GB team try a slow chant of ‘Rob! Rob!’ but this doesn’t appear to work either as Joo establishes an 8-5 lead in the third. Rob takes the next point and then returns one of Joo’s flashing backhands with a winner of his own. It proves to be a key moment as Rob takes the next point with a smash and then moves to 9-8 when he catches the edge of the table. A service error by Joo gives Rob two points to take the set and after a forehand into the net he makes no mistake with the second and he is 2-1 up.
A new chant of ‘Robbie! Robbie! Robbie! Oy! Oy! Oy!’ is threatening to raise the roof and our hero is now full of confidence and playing like a champion. At 0-4 Joo’s coach calls time out and the GB squad introduces a new chant: ‘Super, Super Rob, Super Robbie D’. They may be sounding like football supporters but when in Brazil ….
The players return to the table and Joo takes the next point; he then spins the ball high in the air but Rob smashes it back past him: 5-1 to Rob who then moves to 6-1 after a service error by Joo and mistakes are creeping into the Korean’s game. However, he takes the next two points and coach Greg calls a time out for Rob. As Rob returns to the table the tension mounts further as he takes his time to re-strap the bat into his hand and settles himself in his chair.
A net cord gives Joo the next point: 6-4 to Rob who then has a net cord of his own that spins the ball out of Joo’s reach: 7-5. Rob wins the next two points and moves to 9-5 when Joo nets. The Korean then attempts a short serve but it fails to clear the net and he holds the bat over his face in dismay. Five match points for Rob and just like Will yesterday he only needs one and there is a massive cheer from the GB squad and supporters as Greg leaps in the air in delight and climbs over the barrier to hug Rob.
“I wasn’t really sure if I’d won,” said Rob afterwards, “but when Greg came running behind me I was quite sure.”
A beaming Rob is interviewed by Channel 4, who have shown the final live back in the UK, and then BBC Radio 5 Live followed by the written press. Rob wants to thank everyone and the heartache he suffered in London 2012 when he so narrowly failed to progress from his group is finally laid to rest.
After an emotional medal ceremony Rob is taken to British House where a number of TV crews are waiting to talk to him, including BBC News and Sky News and he handles it all with cheerful good humour even though he is exhausted and it is still stiflingly hot.
Rob and Greg decide to have an early dinner in the same nearby restaurant as Will and Gorazd yesterday and as they are about to head back to the village Rob notices a young Brazilian boy who is having dinner with his parents and has been looking at Rob in awe as he is clearly a Paralympian. As Rob asks him if he would like a photo with his medal the boy nods in delight and Rob places the medal over his head and poses for the photo with him.
With smiles and thanks it is clear that the parents know that Rob has made their son’s day. Not only that but he has made his country proud and after what will hopefully be a good night’s sleep he will be back to do battle in the team competition as the Paralympic champion.