Badminton: Emms and Robertson over and out

Mike Rowbottom
Thursday 14 August 2008 17:12
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Nathan Robertson's return, as he and his partner Gail Emms faced a second match point in the badminton mixed doubles quarter-final, went over and out. Which meant the Britons were out. And he and Emms were over.

This was not the way Emms had wanted to end a partnership which has yielded world and European titles as well as an Olympic silver medal in Athens four years ago, and as the pair entered into the long tunnel of television interviews following their 21-19, 21-12 defeat by Korea's unseeded pairing of Yongdae Lee and Hyojung Lee, their first docking was with the 6ft 5in figure of ex-Olympian Matthew Pinsent, who towered over even the gangling Robertson. As the TV lights beat down on her, Emms, who had announced that she would retire after these Games, was already wiping away the tears.

"I'm going to miss him," she said ruefully. "She's going to miss me," Robertson confirmed with a characteristically wolfish grin.

Four years ago, in the aftermath of a narrow defeat by the Chinese pair Zhang Ju and Gao Ling in the Olympic final, both Britons had vowed to go one better next time around. Sadly their intentions did not come to pass, although they had already achieved a measure of Olympic revenge through their improbable recovery in the previous round against China's top pair, one of whom was Gao.

After recovering from 17-12 down in the final set to triumph, it seemed as if a year which had begun with Robertson requiring an operation on his ankle might be set to deliver more global glory. But it soon became clear that this was a miracle too far.

While Emms started with all her urgent, fist-pumping energy at the net, Robertson was unable to achieve any consistency in his play, mixing crowd-pleasing angled smashes with loose shots, and a first set deficit of 20-15 proved just to wide to bridge.

The Britons managed a mini-recovery to come from 2-6 down to 10-8 up, and a partisan crowd which included Princess Anne took brief hope. But despite a fall suffered by Hyojung Lee the Koreans then took control of the match as Emms suffered a nightmarish sequence of failures. She twice dropped her racket to the ground in disconsolate frustration as the British deficit slipped from 11-13 to 11-20. No, this was not what was planned at all.

"We desperately wanted to go out on a high," said Emms. "But we just couldn't get into the game. The Koreans were so quick - and I think her serve is probably the best in the world. It was so flat, we just couldn't get it back. "

Did she draw any comfort from the thought that she and her partner - sorry, ex-partner - had put British badminton on the map?

"I hope we have," she said. "We've had a great career, with the worlds, and the Europeans, and... silver medal in the Olympics."

Four years on, there was still a catch in the voice over that minor imperfection.

While Emms will finish her career and, as she confirmed with just a measure of resignation, look to start a family with her boyfriend Ed, Robertson - who will be 35 by the London 2012 Olympics - is taking a few weeks out to ponder on his future.

"Nathan is so naturally talented," Emms said. "He's like the Roger Federer of badminton, and he can help build up the next generation of British players - we've got some great talent coming through."

As the jubilant victors passed by, there was only one question to be asked of them: "How could you?" But no one knew how to say it in Korean.

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