It was a great opportunity to represent England in the recently concluded FZ Forza Slovak Open Badminton Tournament held at Trencin, Slovakia from 26 to 29 February 2020.
Thanks to Gavin and the National Selection Committee for selecting me for this opportunity. Thanks to Doug for organising the optimum travel plan.
My flight to Bratislava was from Stansted airport. The organisers had arranged a pick-up from Bratislava to Trencin which is about an hour’s journey by road. Trencin is a small town of around 75,000 people. I checked-in to the hotel at around 10 pm. My plan was to go out for a meal somewhere and when I asked the receptionist as to where can I get the meal, she saw me with a surprised look and told that everything here closes at 10 pm and nothing will be open! I asked what about ordering a pizza or any take away to which she replied that even they close at 10:00. I was indeed starving as it was a busy day and didn’t get a chance to eat anything throughout the day. Upon seeing my dejected and hungry face, she seemed to have taken pity on me and managed to provide two croissants and a yogurt from the kitchen which kept me alive until the next day!
The accommodation was good - the differentiation from okay and good for me is that the showers are powerful enough and provide good hot water throughout! The hotel was a short walk of 20 minutes from the venue. Depending on the available flights and their timings I arrived on Monday night for the briefing at Tuesday night. I used Tuesday whole day to explore local tourist places - considering the size of the town there weren’t many. However, there is this famous castle which I visited and roamed around the rest of the city centre.
The referee walked us through the standard briefing and as all the umpires were experienced the briefing completed within 15 minutes. We were told that there will not be electronic scorepads and instead we will have to use the manual pen and paper on the highchairs. However, there were two new things for me and those were:
- Fixed height service instrument
- Electronic score panel
- Fixed height - This was the first time that I had to use these devices and I was given a quick intro on how to use it. It is indeed fairly simple and takes out the subjectivity of judging service faults which is indeed a great boost for the service judge and for the game as a whole.
- Electronic score panel - this was something new. There were digital scoring panels attached on the walls behind the respective courts. There was a small handheld device that was communicating with these panels wirelessly. It was this small device/counter that was given to the service judge who was then responsible to keep track of the score by increasing the score of each side accordingly. So basically the service judge was to do all the duties that a SJ does but in addition to that keep the score tracked through this device. Initially it felt a bit clumsy but once you started using it, then it was pretty obvious.
The competition began sharp at 9 am on Wednesday 26th. The first two days were long days as they were the qualifications rounds for the players participating from 41 countries and there were lot many matches to be covered. The second day was almost a 12-hour shift!
The umpires were a mix of very experienced BWF umpires to recently qualified umpires. It was indeed great pleasure to make new connections with these umpires and was good to catch-up with few umpires I met earlier during my Poland and Norway tournaments.
The referee and assistant referee were hands on and knew their stuff. They were always available whenever needed and the referee used to ensure that he visits all courts whilst the matches were ongoing and keep a tab on the proceedings.
The organisers and the match control team were great and showed efficiency by ensuring that the matches are lined up one after another allowing us to complete the huge number of matches within these few days.
The overall arrangement of the courts and the match control and meeting point was located to have a good visibility of all court proceedings. There were two speeds of shuttles available and the one with lesser speed was landing a foot farther than the intended point! It was thus decided that all the lesser speed shuttles should be pre-tipped so all of us were busy tipping these shuttles and then stuffing back in the tubes prior to the matches as the players were not allowed to tip them or test them.
There were two line judges for all the pre-semi-final matches and these were primarily school/college going young volunteers. Thus, it had its own challenges and interesting times for the umpire!
The technical meetings were a great opportunity to hear interesting stories and anecdotes from the experienced umpires and it was a fun time - although none lasted long because we had an early start of 8:30 am the next day. The organisers took us for a good drink and meal in one of the city centre venues on Friday evening. That was the only one “technical meeting” that lasted till 1 am.
The quality of the players was mixed but was eventually dominated by the top-quality squad from Chinese Taipei. The only category where they were not represented was in the men’s finals which was between England's Johnnie Torjussen and Czech Republic's Jan Louda. It was an interesting three setter. Johnny lost the first game but he then showed his intent in the second game and got a daunting lead of 11-2 in the second game which he then won. However, he could not keep up the momentum in the third game and hence lost 21-15. The England squad was led by Rajeev Ouseph and there were three men’s singles entries and one women’s singles. One of the highlights to be noted was the final match of the final day and that was the men’s doubles. It started same time as the women’s doubles finals that I umpired. Both of these doubles finals were between Chinese Taipei team. By the time the ladies doubles match got over the men’s doubles teams were still on their first game at the score of 25-23. It then reached the classic score of 29-29 and was then won by one of the better Taipei pairs [Lin Shang Kai and Tseng Min Hao]. In the second game the other pair [Hung Tzu Wei and Ming Che Lu] made a come-back and were leading by 20-18 but then the other pair equalled and they won the second game and the match by 25-23! It was indeed a fitting finale to the great tournament.