Badminton: Welcome Bankier's bonus
IMOGEN Bankier became the first Scot to reach a world championship final when she joined England's Chris Adcock in an amazing victory over the Indonesian No.2 seeds, Tantowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir, in the semi-finals of the mixed doubles at Wembley Arena last night.
The British world No.18 pair had defeated the eighth, 15th and fourth seeds in the three previous rounds and the giantkillers claimed another victim in magnificent fashion.
Natsir is a two-time former world champion and Ahmad is a hero back home in Indonesia. But the pair who could walk the streets unknown in Britain almost swept them aside. They won 21-16 21-19, claiming victory on their second match point and ending the contest in just 40 minutes.
They now have one more challenge. In today's final they face the Chinese top seeds and world No.1 pair of Nan Zhang and Yumiei Zhao. But, aided by a wonderful home support and with confidence surging through their veins, there is no doubt they could pull off the most incredible of sporting feats.
When Ahmad hit the final shot into the net, 23-year-old Bankier sunk back on her heels and flopped on to the floor and Adcock also fell to the ground in celebration.
In tears, they then ran round the hall, emotionally embracing friends, family and anyone else in the packed arena who had done so much to spur them on to such a famous triumph.
"This is just amazing," was Bankier's immediate reaction.
"This is easily the best day of our lives. I knew I had to assert myself at the net and take it away from Natsir. And Chris was great at the back of the court. And, yes, we can now go on and win the final
"The crowd this week have been magnificent. We can't thank them enough and let's hope we can do it again tomorrow."
Adcock, the younger of the pair at 22, paid tribute to his Glaswegian partner. "She is world class. I said yesterday was the best day of my life but this is even better. You work so hard and then for it all to come together in a week like this just makes it so worthwhile."
Bankier is now assured of a world championship silver medal. A mixed doubles bronze for Billy Gilliland and Joanna Flockhart in the inaugural world championship in 1977 in Malmo, Sweden, are the only other gongs for Scots, while Edinburgh-born Robert Blair, playing for England at the time but now back representing Scotland, claimed a silver in the men's doubles in 2006.This week has not just been an end in itself but also a huge step towards Bankier and Adcock's goal of returning to the same arena next year as members of Team GB at the 2012 Olympic Games.
They are bound to make a huge surge up the rankings next week and have a great chance of overtaking the current No.1 British pair of Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork. They are currently at No.8 in the world.
Yet, a year ago, Bankier and Adcock hadn't even formed a partnership. They started playing together last September but it was only after they won the Bank of Scotland Scottish International Championship at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow in November that they became serious.
They have made relatively rapid progress up the rankings, but this week proves they are a genuine world-class pair, capable of taking on the Asians and beating them.
Robertson and Gail Emms brought badminton to the fore at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 when they reached the mixed doubles final, and Emms was among the crowd yesterday.
"On this week's form, Imogen is the best female mixed player in the world," she said. "She took total control of the net and didn't allow Natsir and Ahmad to get into any sort of flow."
In the match, Bankier and Adcock set the tone from the start. They won the first four points and led 11-9 at the interval.
Ahmad and Natsir did hit back and won five points in a row to lead 12-14, but they then lost the next three points and never again managed to get their noses in front.
The second was almost a comfortable spectacle for the home crowd.
Bankier and Adcock again won the first four points and again led 11-9 at the break. With Ahmad, the less experienced of the Indonesian pair, showing more and more signs of nerves as the match progressed, the Brits took greater command and went on to close out the stunning victory.
For British badminton, it is a huge boost in the countdown to London 2012. For Scottish badminton, it is one of the greatest weeks in the sport's history - and a great way to celebrate this year's 100th anniversary of Badminton Scotland.
"This is such a great week for Imogen," said Gareth McKenna, Scotland's performance manager. "It is also a reward for all the hard work by Badminton Scotland, the coaches and those involved with the performance programme. I'm now so looking forward to tomorrow."