Some You Win And Some You Lose

Early start on day 4 and already at 07:00 it is warm and humid in Rio. As the countdown to the start of the competition begins one of the messages on the big screens asks spectators to put their mobile phones on silent. Given that the noise in the competition hall is often too loud to hear yourself think let alone your mobile phone ringing this seems a little ironic.

Our first matches are quarter-finals and both Kim and Sara face Chinese opposition. Kim has played World number five Lian Hao on three occasions and although Lian has won two of them, including in London 2012, all three matches have gone to five sets. Can all the work that Kim has done in the last year tip the scales in his favour this time?

Sara has not beaten Li Qian in 10 meetings but after losing the first set she recovers from 7-3 down to level at 10-10 before the World champion edges the set 14-12 and then closes out the match in the third. Sara is encouraged by her performance and, having been up at 04:00 for the past three days looks forward to a lie-in before the team event starts on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Kim has lost the first set 13-11, produces some great play to take the second 11-5 and raises our hopes that he can make it through to fight for a medal. Sadly for him, he falls just short – Lian takes the next two close sets and Kim is out of the singles but he can be really proud of how he has played and he too will be back on Wednesday in the team event with Ash.

Will’s semi-final is due to start at 11:00 and the atmosphere in the hall is building because the new hero of Brazil – Israel Stroh – will be competing in the other men’s class 7 semi-final against Yan Shuo from China.

Will is quick out of the blocks and is 7-2 up but Morales is a very clever player and as he wins the next eight points suddenly what looked to be an easy first set for Will is turning into a battle. The Brazilians are celebrating because Stroh has won the first set and it is first blood to Spain as Morales takes the set 13-11.

Only the first set and already our nerves are in tatters. Luckily Will appears untroubled by losing a set that looked to be in his pocket and takes the next two sets for the loss of only four points. Morales looks dejected but he is such a great competitor and the fourth set becomes another battle as he changes his tactics and suddenly a fifth set is looming.

Stroh and Yan are already into a decider and the crowd are now doing everything they can to lift their man across the line.

At 10-9, Will has a match point but Morales saves it and then has a point of his own to win the set but Will saves it and then has a second match point at 12-11 which is also saved by Morales. The crowd are beside themselves as Stroh has five match points and although Yan saves four he cannot save the fifth and as Will prepares to serve at 13-12 the hall erupts as Stroh falls to the floor unable to believe that he is in the final.

Will’s third match point slips by but at 14-13 he has another one and Gorazd calls time out as the crowd is now cheering Stroh to the rafters.

It proves to be a good decision and to our immense relief Will clinches the set 15-13 and he’s into his second consecutive Paralympic final and his sixth consecutive major final.

“He (Morales) is one of my favourite players,” Will says afterwards and the two men hug each other at the end in a show of mutual respect. Will also admits that if the match had gone to a fifth set it could have gone either way and we are all just very glad that it didn’t.

There is no time to relax as Sue is now in the hall and playing Borislava Peric-Rankovic for a place in the women’s class 4 final. The first set is close but the Serbian takes it 13-11 and then takes control of the match and Sue cannot find the answer to her tactics today. However, she has a bronze medal match tomorrow and can still dream of her first Paralympic medal.

Our final match is the men’s class 1 semi-final between Rob and Endre Major, the Hungarian who put out the World champion yesterday. The two are old adversaries and as Rob takes a 2-0 lead we all know that Major will not give up without a fight. True to form he comes back to take the third set and as he takes an early advantage in the fourth our nerves are once again stretched.

Rob works his way back into the set and as he takes the lead at 6-5 Major’s coach calls time out. It appears to benefit Rob more as he moves to 8-5 but Major comes back to level at 8-8 and from then on both players struggle to win the two consecutive points they need. At 11-10 Major has a point to take the match into a decider but Rob saves it and then has a match point at 12-11.

There are shouts of “Come on Rob!” from the GB supporters but another chance goes by 12-12. Rob sets up another match point and with a triumphant shout he takes it and we have two players into the Paralympic finals.

Back in the athletes’ area, there are smiles all around and Rob hugs Neil Robinson, the former Paralympic gold medalist now part of the GB coaching team who works so hard with Rob in Cardiff.

Time for celebration but the job is not finished yet. Rob will have a day to prepare for his final on Tuesday but Will’s final is tomorrow and so is Sue’s bronze medal match.

Will is excited about playing Stroh again and appears undaunted by the prospect of taking on what is sure to feel like an entire country.

“I think we might be a bit outnumbered,” he says with a wry smile, “but even if they are cheering against me I have massive respect for the Brazilian people and the way they have supported their players – it’s been fantastic.”

He is asked if he will apologise if he breaks the Brazilian’s heart tomorrow and replies: “I’ll apologise and I’ll feel for him afterwards but during the match, it’s all on.”


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