Robert Mateusiak: World class at 37
Date: 4/26/2013 2:52 PM
Published by : Manuel Røsler

The first two days of the India Open was dominated by the Taufik Hidayat story. The great Indonesian is in the home stretch of his career and it was hardly a surprise to see him getting knocked out in the second round by India’s HS Prannoy. Hidayat’s ability to last a long match has been suspect over the last two seasons at least, and while that might make him appear to be a senior statesman, he is in fact only 31.

Badminton players generally seem to peak between 24 and 28, and Taufik’s career follows that script. But there are some who defy the limits of age. Peter Gade was one. Another, who isn’t quite as celebrated, is Robert Mateusiak of Poland, who at 37, is world No.10 in mixed doubles.

Mateusiak’s is one of the most unusual stories in badminton. Coming from a country with little badminton tradition, he and partner Nadiezda Zieba have remained among the elite of world badminton for close to a decade, even rising to World No. 1 briefly. At the London Olympics, they almost had their finest moment – holding match point to the formidable Chinese pair Xu Chen/Ma Jin – before falling in the quarterfinals.

As a kid, he was keen about football. His foray into badminton started when a coach arrived at his school to introduce the kids to badminton. “I liked many sports,” says Mateusiak. “But once I played badminton, I kept on playing.”

In contrast to most other pairs, the Polish duo has become better with age. Their most memorable moment in their long career came at the European Championships last year, when they won gold for the first time. “It was an amazing feeling,” says Mateusiak. “We had lost twice in the finals, and so it was special for us because we had injury for two months at the beginning of this year. And the European gold helped us qualify for the Olympics. So it was amazing feeling.”

At the Olympics, they nearly bounced one of the favourites, Xu Chen and Ma Jin, out in the quarterfinals. Unluckily for them, they couldn’t convert match point, and Xu Chen and Ma Jin went on to reach the final. Recalling the moment, Mateusiak says: “We had match point at 21-20, so it was really really close. Anyway, we played an amazing tournament, it was our best Olympics. Badminton wasn’t well known in Poland earlier, but a lot of people saw our match live on TV and they know more about us now. We got a lot of support when we went back.”

What is most impressive about Mateusiak and Zieba is that despite having no quality sparring partners the way Asian countries have, they have managed to remain in the top-10 for so long. “We don’t have good sparring partners for mixed doubles, but we have good doubles players,” says Mateusiak. “We have one young pair, but we also play the Danish league over few years, so it’s good sparring for us. We just go to play a match and then we go back to Warsaw to the training centre.”

Although he is 37 – considered ‘old’ by badminton standards — Mateusiak is still enthused by the game and wants to carry on. “I’ve had a long career. I still enjoy playing. The focus this year is for the World Championships. I have some special (training) programmes, and I practise every day, but not like before. The quality of practice is more important, and to keep my level right now. As long as I can maintain (my level), I will continue.”

Article by Dev S Sukumar/Sportskeeda; Photo by Badmintonphoto.

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