Dan Bethell hailed ‘a huge milestone’ after becoming the first ever British badminton player to win a Paralympic medal.
The 25-year-old came away with silver in the men’s SL3 singles after being beaten 21-14 21-17 by world no.1 Pramod Bhagat in a hard-fought final in Tokyo.
Both men played their part in a titanic tussle and while Bethell admitted the better player won on the day, he was justifiably proud of his achievement.
“I’m so happy with this week,” he said. “It was my dream to win a Paralympic medal and to do that, it’s just fantastic.
“I really wanted to come here and win the gold but it just wasn’t to be today.
“I thought Pramod played really well and I just never got to the level I expect of myself. He made it hard for me.
“His attack was so good and kept the pressure on all the time. He did really well to come back at me in the second set after the good start I had.
“The medal is such a big milestone for me. To be on the podium will be such a proud moment and I’ll definitely be having a smile on my face.”
Bethell reached the final courtesy of a convincing straight sets victory over Manoj Sarkar earlier on Saturday to set up a rematch of the 2019 World Championship final.
The first set was nip and tuck to begin as both players settled into their rhythm, with Bethell the first to make his move as he opened up a 6-3 lead.
Bhagat surged back to take the next five points and extended his cushion either side of the interval, moving 15-8 ahead before closing out the opener 21-14.
Undeterred, Bethell got off to a flyer in the second, moving 8-2 ahead and taking an 11-4 advantage into the interval.
Bhagat dug deep, however, showing admirable resilience to bring the deficit back to 12-10 and put the match back on a knife-edge.
A lengthy rally at 14-12 went Bethell’s way to take the 25-year-old three points clear but back came Bhagat once more to level up at 15-15.
Errors began to creep into Bethell’s game towards the end and Bhagat pulled clear to take the second set 21-17 and add the first ever SL3 Paralympic crown to his world title.
A reflective Bethell remained upbeat and hopes the sport’s debut on the big stage will lead to a surge in participation.
“The sport has grown so much since I first started and for the sport to be here, at a Paralympic Games for the first time, is amazing.
“I really hope it will encourage kids with disabilities to get involved in the sport as it’s such a great sport and such a great community.
“My performance and the performance of my teammates this week will hopefully inspire them to do that.
“I’ll take some time off with my friends and family and then I’ll get back to it and get ready for qualifying.
“I’ll definitely be going to Paris – I want to turn this silver into gold.”
Krysten Coombs will have the chance to join Bethell in taking home a medal when he takes on Vitor Gonçalves Tavares of Brazil in Sunday’s SH6 bronze medal match.
Coombs went down 21-10 21-11 against world no.2 Krishna Nagar in the last four but hopes his memorable week will end on a high.
“I’m gutted with the result today but I gave it my all,” he said.
“He was just better. He used the conditions better, used his speed and pace and put me on that back line.
“I played really well but he was the better player on the day. I can accept that.
“To be in a bronze medal play-off is awesome. I’ll go back, get prepared and come out fresh and ready to get going. The dream is to win a medal so that will drive me.”
Coombs is due on court at around 3.30am on Sunday morning.
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