Commonwealth champion Tracey Hallam dropped an even bigger hint that she may relinquish thoughts of retirement at the Beijing Olympics after a day of mixed fortunes at the English national championships in which she failed to regain the women’s singles title but became an unexpected winner of the women’s doubles.
Hallam, the top seed and twice the former winner, lost 21-15, 21-19 to Elizabeth Cann, the defending champion, before going on to partner Donna Kellogg, the European doubles champion, to a 22-24, 21-13, 21-14 win over the second-seeded Joanne Nicholas and Natalie Munt.
“It eases the pain from earlier in the day,” said Hallam, after her doubles success. “So I’m definitely pleased. I’m disappointed that Gail isn’t here, but I hope she is back to full fitness to be with us for the Uber Cup,” she added, referring to fact that she only took part as a last moment substitute for Emms, the other half of the European women’s doubles winning partnership.
“I have played doubles before, but never to this level, but hopefully this could be the start of my future,” Hallam concluded, making ears prick.
It seemed an ominous remark for a 32-year-old, even for one who had some uncertain moments in the opening game in the final and had never partnered Kellogg before.
But Hallam has skill in abundance, and probably the makings of another high quality partner for Kellogg, who may need a permanent replacement for Emms if she retires after Beijing.
“It’s brilliant for me that Tracey stepped in at the last moment,” reckoned Kellogg, who was arguably the outstanding player of the tournament. “Otherwise I would not have this title. She played brilliantly with me and I have to thank her for that. “
Hallam did not entirely agree. “I think Donna carried me through a bit today,” she said. “It was a fantastic opportunity to play with Donna – she’s a world class player. Maybe I can be in the future.”
However Hallam’s chances of two titles in one tournament and three national singles titles in total disappeared when she was beaten by Cann, a result which confirmed that recently the Middlesex-based Jersey player has improved to something like world top 20 standard.
Cann often had to work extremely hard to do it, covering the court with great speed when Hallam knocked the shuttle about skifully, and playing many of the most important points with a recently-found confidence.
That is partly the result not only of improved results, but of greater fitness from a long summer training sessions. “I knew I was in fine shape,” she said.
Never was it more evident than on the match point, when Hallam made Cann scuttle six times to distant parts, via flicks to the back corners and slices to the front, and at the seventh attempt the cumulative pressure of the shuttle constantly returning pressured Hallam into pushing it wide.
But there had been moments when it seemed the top seed’s shot-making skills might prevail. Hallam came back superbly from 4-12 down to 12-14 and then 14-16, at which stage the contest had reached a pivotal moment.
Cann responded by moving very fast and lunging very deep for a low lift from the net on the next rally, getting it back far enough to bring a reverse slice drop into the net from Hallam.
Cann closed out that game soon afterwards, and discovered that the second game had a different character – closer all the way, the advantage hanging on every point.
She was also able to make some beautifully accurate pushes to the net and many pressurizing punch clears, even though it was usually Hallam who was the more creative player.
Hallam also got ahead at 10-9 and 13-12 but because she couldn’t shake Cann off, found the pressure growing on her. This was evidenced in two or three exasperated winces from the Commonwealth champion as she made mistakes, though the match remained at a high standard till the end.
Cann did not seemed surprised to have secured her third title. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” she said. “But I didn’t feel pressure, because I knew she’s a good player and that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to lose to her, though at the same time I would have been disappointed if had not won.”