Captain Toby Penty claims Birmingham Lions will continue their AJ Bell National Badminton League title defence as underdogs despite starting the new campaign with an impressive 4-1 win over Suffolk Saxons.
Penty led the Lions to glory in May’s final and, after losing the opening event on Monday night, they turned on the style at the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall.
The 24-year-old, who is ranked second in the country in the men’s singles, said: “It’s similar to last year, we’ve got that underdog mentality. That was how it was last year and it’s similar to this year, we’re definitely not the favourites.
“I think we can still go and enjoy playing. There’s a bit of pressure on us as reigning champions but as I said, there are stronger teams than us in this league so the pressure is on them so we’ll just keep going in with this underdog mentality.
“I’m really excited to see the AJ Bell NBL return, it’s always brought the best badminton out of me. I thought I played some really good badminton last year in the NBL.
“I can use it a as a springboard for confidence other tournaments as well. It’s great to do something different from the normal tour which you do year in year out.
“It’s nice to have that variety and be in the team and you can try a few different things. It’s good to have it back and be back in Birmingham.”
New franchise Suffolk Saxons couldn’t have hoped for a better start to life in the AJ Bell NBL as coach Anthony Clark, who was a double silver medallist at the 2006 World Championships in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles, and Sarah Walker produced an impressive performance to beat Penty and Rio 2016 Olympian Olver 9-7, 9-4, 5-9, 9-2.
Birmingham’s new Danish signing Rasmus Fladberg and Gary Fox levelled things in the men’s doubles, defeating the experienced Andy Ellis and national Under-19 champion Johnnie Torjussen 9-3, 9-3, 9-5.
Another of Birmingham’s new signings, Hong Kong’s Hiu Tung Yeung, and Olver were then pushed all the way before dramatically winning the deciding point in the tie-break against 20-year-old Sarita Patel and Walker to take the event 9-8, 7-9, 9-7, 7-9, 5-4.
That enabled Penty to secure the victory for the Lions as he beat Joel Douse 9-7, 9-6, 9-6 and the night was rounded off in emphatic fashion by reigning national women’s singles champion Fontaine Chapman, who defeated Suffolk’s 17-year-old Zoe King 9-3, 9-2, 9-1.
Penty added: “It’s brilliant to get another match win, that means we’re three matches unbeaten in the NBL now.
“We’re happy to have turned it around after a bit of a rocky start and to get the overall win was great.
“Personally it was tough because I lost my first match, so Heather and I were both disappointed, but you realise it’s a team format and you’ve just got to pick yourselves up and go again.
“It’s nice because if it’s an individual tournament once I lose, I’m out so to have a chance to rectify that loss meant I was happy with how I managed to turn it around.”
For fixtures, tickets and team news, visit: www.nationalbadmintonleague or follow @NBL_official on Twitter.