Japan took the honours in an exciting evening of top-flight international badminton at the University of Bath, beating Team England 4-1.
England’s sole victory of the evening came in the opening contest of the evening, with Athens 2004 Olympic silver medallist Nathan Robertson and partner Jenny Wallwork winning the mixed doubles.
And the audience at the Sports Training Village also saw 17-year-old Jessica Fletcher make her senior England debut playing in the women’s doubles as a late replacement for the injured Donna Kellogg.
Robertson and Wallwork got Team England, who are supported by Center Parcs, off to the perfect start beating Hirokatsu Hashimoto and Mizuki Fujii 21-13, 21-11 in the opening contest.
The English pair had too much firepower for their opponents and took just 25 minutes to secure victory, which was achieved when Hashimoto could only hit Wallwork’s smash into the net on match point.
Kenichi Tago levelled the match by beating Andrew Smith in the men’s singles tie, avenging Smith’s victory over the Japanese player in the Sudirman Cup in May. Smith got off to an encouraging start, winning the first game 21-19, but Tago won the second 21-14 and then took the decider 21-12.
Smith and Tago are rated 28th and 30th in the world rankings – and it showed in some closely contested points, with neither player able to kill off the match. But Tago made the decisive break, winning five points in a row with the score at 13-11 in the final game to put clear blue water between the two players. Smith won the next point, but Tago then won three more consecutive points to secure victory in 53 minutes.
The closest contest of the night saw Elizabeth Cann, ranked 40 in the world, face Eriko Hirose, ranked 43. The Japanese player came back from 14-18 down in the opening game to win seven points on the trot and win it by 21-18.
You could barely separate the two players in the second game – a contest that saw the scores level 10 times. Eventually it was Cann who emerged the winner, levelling the scores by taking the game 21-18.
But although Cann battled hard in the final game, it was Hirose who took the honours, winning the final game 21-17 to wrap up an encounter that last just a couple of minutes short of the hour.
Cann, who has only recently returned to full training after injury, said: “I was quite pleased with it and that I managed to take it to three games because she’s a good player.
“I knew I had a chance today, but she was a bit more aggressive at the right times,” she added.
That gave Japan a 2-1 overall lead in the match with just the women’s doubles and men’s doubles remaining.
Attention then turned to the women’s doubles tie – and a big moment in the career of 17-year-old Jessica Fletcher. She was called into the team to make her senior England debut as a late replacement for the injured Donna Kellogg.
The youngster partnered Wallwork against Shizuka Matsuo and Mami Naito. Fletcher and Wallwork are both from Leeds but had never joined forces before, even in practice.
The Leeds pair made a bright start, taking the opening game. The pair were 13-9 down, but won nine points in a row and went on to take the game 21-18.
But the Japanese got the better of them in the second game, taking it 21-11 and then won the decider 21-10.
Fletcher said: “It was a new experience for me, but I really enjoyed it. I thought I would be more nervous than I was, but the team really helped me.
“Once I was out there I blocked everything else out and did what I had to do.”
That victory ensured Japan had beaten England in the match overall, but there was still the small matter of the men’s doubles. That contest started after 11pm and England’s Anthony Clark and Nathan Robertson looked determined to get things over with, racing away to a 9-3 lead in the first three and a half minutes.
The pair – who won the men’s doubles title at the 2004 European Championships, went on to take the first game 21-12.
The men’s doubles provided a fitting climax to the evening, but Robertson and Clark couldn’t end if on a high note for the England team. Kenta Kazuno and Kenichi Hayakawa took the second game 21-16 and then judge edged out Robertson and Clark 21-19 in a thrilling final game.
Mixed doubles: Nathan Robertson & Jenny Wallwork (England) beat Hirokatsu Hashimoto & Mizuki Fujii (Japan) 21-13, 21-11
Men’s singles: Kenichi Tago (Japan) beat Andrew Smith (England) 19-21, 21-14, 21-12
Women’s singles: Eriko Hirose (Japan) beat Elizabeth Cann (England) 21-18, 18-21, 21-17
Women’s doubles: Mami Naito & Shizuka Naito (Japan) beat Jenny Wallwork & Jessica Fletcher (England) 18-21, 21-11, 21-10
Men’s doubles: Kenta Kazuno & Kenichi Hayakawa (Japan) beat Anthony Clark & Nathan Robertson (England) 12-21, 21-16, 21-19.
The contest marked the end of an exciting week of international sport at the University of Bath. Earlier in the week England’s netballers in two international matches against the top two teams in the world.
The went down 55-44 to Australia on Tuesday, before losing 65-59 to New Zealand in a thrilling extra-time climax to last night’s match after the two teams had drawn 51-all in normal time.
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