Badminton Life

Robertson and Wallwork Growing for Gold

Going into the Commonwealth Games in Delhi next month as number one seeds and defending champions, the brief for England's mixed doubles pair may seem straightforward. It is not. For a start, only one half of the team won gold four years ago in Melbourne. Thrust together two years ago after the retirement of Gail Emms at the Beijing Olympics, Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork are a work in progress.

After the success of his partnership with Emms, winning silver at the Athens Olympics in 2004 as well as triumphing in tournaments all over the world over nine years on court together, Robertson admits to taking on an entirely separate mind-set alongside Wallwork.

"It was a totally different challenge," he explains. "Obviously Gail and I were able to compete in everything we entered. When Jenny and I started out, she was an up-and-coming player and not quite at world level." Even as late as June, this evaluation looked to be all-too accurate, as the pair crashed out of the Singapore Open in the first round, although seeded eighth.

Despite that ignominious showing, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Earlier in the year, Robertson's seemed an inspired foil to Wallwork, the spirited Yorkshire lass. Back in March the duo put in an encouraging showing at the All England Championships in Birmingham, reaching the quarter-final stage in the process and supplemented that with a bronze at the European Championships the next month,

Such achievements were instrumental in convincing Wallwork that she could eat at the same table as the world's best. "Partnerships take a while to gel but the spring was a great confidence booster and hopefully we can go from strength to strength. Every match is a stepping stone," declares the 23 year-old.

As would be expected from the senior partner by some ten years, Robertson seems to be constantly mindful of Wallwork's development. He sees the victory over the 2009 World Champions from Denmark, Thomas Laybourn and Kamilla Rytter, in Birmingham this year as being especially significant. "That was a big win," he says. "It was Jenny's first against a top-ranked pair and it's really important to get that experience for her."

Given that Delhi will be the first multi-sport event that Wallwork has competed in, Robertson is unlikely to change his protective mindset. With over a hundred caps to his name over a decade representing England and Great Britain, the 33 year-old is primed for a stalwart's role. Only he and his associate for the men's doubles, Anthony Clarke, have previously appeared in a Commonwealth Games and Robertson is acutely aware of the consequent responsibilities.

Laid back yet resolute, the Nottingham man staunchly sets out the lessons he has learned from past championships. "No one else has been to either the Commonwealths or the Olympics and it'll be our job to pass on the experience to them as well as some advice about being in the village. Things like not using up too much energy on the thrill of being around thousands of athletes. You've got to just concentrate."

Having grown up trying her hand at "every sport under the sun" before "falling in love" with badminton, Wallwork's boundless enthusiasm may need curbing slightly from time to time over the busy schedule. At the very mention of next month's tournament, her voice lifts. "I can't wait to play in this. I'm so excited to go. I just hope we can do well and prove ourselves as an established pair."

Robertson is similarly buoyant about the pair's chances, albeit with the pragmatic air of a man who has done it all before. "If we play to our potential, we should win," he states. "There aren't any outstanding pairs in the tournament so if we play like we can then we should get the gold. But anything can interfere with that plan!"

Planning has indeed been the key concept of this collaboration, but there is now a pressing desire for all the growth to come to fruition in the form of medals, for two reasons. The first is that Robertson is in the autumn of his career. Emms has already suggested, playfully, that he will be too old to snatch gold at London 2012. The second, related, reason is that British badminton is about to enter a thrilling period. Next year, the BWF World Championships come to Wembley, with the huge carrot of the Olympics looming a 12 months on. Neither player attempted to mask their anticipation over what the next two years has in store.

"Everything is geared towards London 2012 and it's obviously going to be a huge event," declares Wallwork, who comes from an impressive pedigree in badminton with a former international mother and a father heavily involved in coaching the sport. "It'll be brilliant to stay in England in the lead up to 2012. I've always really liked playing in front of a home crowd and it's great to have that support behind you."

On confronting this subject, even the usually tranquil Robertson cannot help but to echo his partner's youthful gusto. "Of course the Commonwealth's is first, so we'll be focussing on that, but I've definitely got both eyes on the Olympics! As soon as it was announced, it seemed like a perfect ending to my career," he announces, mapping his swansong with relish. "The aim is then finish then on a career high in London. That's the dream plan."

With the period of mixed fortunes behind them then, Robertson and Wallwork seem intent on laying down a marker in Delhi by capturing the Commonwealth crown. From there, the two year gold rush is on.

Nathan Robertson and Jenny Wallwork were speaking at Center Parcs, the official partners of Badminton England.

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