2009 National Schools' Championships

Mark Williams reports:

A staggering 448 pairs from 32 schools entered the HSBC National Schools' Eton Fives Championship which was held at Eton College.

For the first time, an Under 15 Ladies competition was held and proved a great success. Ladies pairs entered from Cheltenham Ladies College, King Edward's High School Birmingham and Shrewsbury for the first time. It was good to see girls from the Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz once again, and their first pair recorded a historic achievement in winning the Ladies competition. HSBC sponsored a splendid dinner in College Hall to which Masters in Charge and EFA officers and guests were invited. In each of the eight competitions, there was initially a pools stage before the knock-out rounds, and plate competitions were organised for those knocked out in the earlier rounds, so that all competitors were guaranteed plenty of Fives on the main day of their competition.

Open Competition

76 pairs entered from 15 schools. In the quarter-finals Highgate 1 easily defeated Shrewsbury 3, Highgate 3 gave Shrewsbury 1 a scare in the second game, before losing 0-3, and Eton 1 played impressively to beat an experienced and much fancied Berkhamsted pair in straight games. The tie of the round however was between St Olave's and Shrewsbury 2. Shrewsbury lead 2-1 before St Olave's levelled and won a nail-biting fifth game 14-13. Next day Highgate were on excellent form in beating St Olave's in straight games, but there was a long battle between Shrewsbury and Eton. Four talented players were level at 1-1 and there was little to choose between the pairs. Eton forged ahead at the end of a crucial third game, and narrowly won the fourth to knock out the number two seeds. The final exhibited a fascinating contrast in styles between Highgate (both right-handed) and Eton (both left-handed), and was a fine contest which was extremely well matched. Little had won this competition the previous year without conceding a game, and Hatchwell had proved a more than capable partner throughout the season, and so Highgate began as number one seeds and firm favourites. Morrison had won the Under 14 competition in 2005, and had played little Fives since, but is a talented player, and he and MacDonagh had not played together before the competition started

Eton took Highgate by surprise in the first game with some crisp volleying and more consistent play. Highgate countered well in the second with natural attacking play, and won a very close and increasingly bad-tempered third game. The organiser had to take the unusual and disappointing step of putting in a referee since the players proved incapable of resolving marginal lets in a series of extended arguments. Eton pulled ahead at the start of the fourth game, and held on narrowly to level the match. At the start of the fifth it was anyone's game, but Highgate trusted their attacking instincts and pulled away; Eton had no answer, and were well beaten at the end. Little had shown ruthless efficiency as well as impressive attacking flair, and was well supported by Hatchwell who steadily gained in confidence throughout the match and really came into his own in the last game. Morrison controlled much of the match with classic left-handed play and excellent reactions, and MacDonagh played well above himself to provide fine support until the last game. The standard of volleying and retrieving was exceptional and it was a real feast of attacking schoolboy Fives, except for the aggressive way in which the pairs treated each other, and their inability to judge when lets were reasonable. In the end Highgate's greater accuracy and determination to win at all costs were decisive, but Eton played with real spirit and flair, and had defied the odds as an inexperienced pair.

Semi-finals:

Highgate 1 beat St Olave's 1 12-1, 12-6, 12-2

Eton 1 beat Shrewsbury 1 8-12, 12-9, 13-10, 12-9

Final:

Highgate (S Little & H Hatchwell) beat Eton (E Morrison & J MacDonagh) 8-12, 12-4, 12-9, 8-12, 12-2

Under 16 Competition

61 pairs entered from 12 schools. In the quarter-finals Highgate 1 beat Berkhamsted 1, Shrewsbury 2 beat Eton 6, and Shrewsbury 1 beat Eton 1 in straight games. Highgate 2 and Highgate 3 were all square after two close games, but the former pulled away to win 3-1. In the semi-finals Highgate 1 beat Shrewsbury 2 in straight games, but Highgate 2 won a close second game against Shrewsbury 1 before narrowly losing the fourth.

In the final, Highgate won a crucial and extremely close first game, and continued this momentum to win in straight games, but Shrewsbury pushed them hard all the way. Kovar and Most both cut and volleyed impressively, but Thomason and Hudson-Williams both showed talent and flair for a pair that have only been playing for three seasons and will challenge strongly in the future.

Semi-finals:

Highgate 1 beat Shrewsbury 2 12-8, 12-7, 12-3

Shrewsbury 1 beat Highgate 2 12-4, 11-13, 12-4, 12-10

Final:

Highgate (M Kovar & C Most) beat Shrewsbury (G Thomason & J Hudson-Williams) 14-12, 12-6, 12-9

Under 14 Competition

54 pairs entered from nine schools. In the quarter-finals Highgate 1 beat Highgate 4, Highgate 2 beat Shrewsbury 2, and St Olave's 1 beat Highgate 7 in straight games, but Eton 1 won the first game against Shrewsbury 1 before losing the next three games. In the semi-finals Highgate 1 beat Shrewsbury, and St Olave's beat Highgate 2 in straight games; the latter in a rather bad-tempered match.

A referee was appointed for the final, and there were no alarms. Highgate forged ahead at the start of the first game, but St Olave�s fought back bravely and just failed to win the game. Berriman and Noble then seized the initiative with some attacking play and won the next two games comfortably. Self showed great determination and was well supported by Kundu, and St Olave's had played well to reach this stage.

Semi-finals:

Highgate 1 beat Shrewsbury 1 12-7, 12-3, 12-5

St Olave's 1 beat Highgate 2 12-9, 12-7, 12-2

Final:

Highgate (J Berriman & C Noble) beat St Olave's (S Kundu& C Self) 12-10, 12-4, 12-6

Under 12 Competition

71 pairs entered from eight schools, and all matches were best of three games. Highgate inevitably dominated this competition with 25 pairs, but it was successfully seeded to allow four pairs from other schools to reach the quarter-finals, in which Highgate 1 easily beat Highgate 5, Highgate 2 dropped a game to Highgate 3, Ludgrove beat St Olave's 1 in two close games, and Summer Fields beat St Olave's 2 after a close first game. In the semi-finals both Highgate pairs were too good for Ludgrove and Summer Fields, but the former particularly had improved enormously during the day.

In the final, Budgett and Robinson quickly established their superiority, and hard though Footman and Light fought, they were unable to make much headway against yet another talented Highgate pair.

Semi-finals:

Highgate 1 beat Ludgrove 12-4, 12-0

Highgate 2 beat Summer Fields 12-5, 12-5

Final:

Highgate (M Budgett & A Robinson) beat Highgate (R Footman & D Light) 12-6, 12-2

Ladies Competition

35 pairs entered from ten schools. In the quarter-finals, Zuoz 1 beat St Olave's 1, Highgate 2 beat Westminster 1, and Highgate 1 beat Westminster 2 in straight games, but Lancing 1 dropped the first game to Highgate 3 before eventually pulling through. In the semi-finals, Zuoz played really well to defeat Highgate 2 in three games, whilst Highgate 1 and Lancing contested a well fought match which was all square after two games before Highgate pulled away.

In the final, Kuenberg and Becker cut very effectively and showed excellent all round strength, ability and style to dominate Mantle and Varma who fought hard all the way, and showed no mean skill themselves. The scores were a fair reflection of both the quality of the contest and the extent to which the Zuoz girls outplayed their talented opponents. It was a real triumph for them, especially since opportunities to play on their courts are limited to the summer months, and to beat a well coached and able Highgate pair so convincingly was a historic achievement.

Semi-finals:

Zuoz beat Highgate 2 12-6, 12-7, 12-3.

Highgate 1 beat Lancing 12-5, 10-12, 12-6, 12-8

Final:

Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz (F Kuenburg & S Becker) beat Highgate (C Mantle & J Varma) 12-6, 12-7, 12-6

Ladies Under 15 Competition

25 pairs entered this new competition from six schools, and it was a very successful event, where the standard of play was encouragingly high. Matches were just one game until the semi-finals and final. In the quarter-finals Highgate 1 beat Highgate 7, Highgate 3 beat Zuoz 2, Highgate 2 beat Highgate 5, and Emanuel 1 beat Highgate 6. In the semifinals Highgate 1 were much too good for Highgate 3, but Emanuel played really well to narrowly lose two very close games against Highgate 2.

In the final, the two Highgate pairs were locked at 1-1 after two very close games. Rapley and Howell pulled away at the start of the third and this was decisive, but Foch and Most had battled hard and given their first pair a real scare.
Semi-finals:

Highgate 1 beat Highgate 3 12-2, 12-5

Highgate 2 beat Emanuel 14-13, 14-12

Final:

Highgate (H Rapley & F Howell) beat Highgate (L Foch & E Most) 13-12, 11-14, 12-6

Under 15 Competition

58 pairs from 15 schools entered this competition, which excludes the 16 quarter-finalists from the previous year's Under 14 competition. All matches were best of three games except for the semi-finals and final. In the quarter-finals, Highgate 1 beat Highgate 4, and St Olave's 1 beat Westminster 1 easily, Q E Barnet 1 narrowly beat St Olave's 2 and Eton 3 won the third game against Shrewsbury 1 12- 10. In the semi-finals, St Olave's 1 established a 2-1 lead against Highgate 1, and narrowly pulled through a very close fourth game 14-12. Eton 3 won all three games against Q E Barnet 1, but it was a real battle, and Vashenko and Kothari showed real flair and determination.

In the final, Ravi and Barker quickly established control with some effective cutting and incisive volleying. Abbott and Byam Shaw fought hard but were unable to seriously threaten their more talented opponents.

Semi-finals:

St Olave's 1 beat Highgate 1 12-3, 8-12, 12-6, 14-12

Eton 3 beat Q E Barnet 1 12-6, 14-11, 12-6

Final:

St Olave's (H Ravi & T Barker) beat Eton (J Abbott & D Byam Shaw) 12-6, 12-4, 12-7

Under 14 Beginners' Competition

67 pairs from 14 schools entered this competition, which is for those who had not played Fives before the previous September. All matches were best of three games except for the semi-finals and final. In the quarter-finals, Eton 1 beat Shrewsbury 5, Shrewsbury 2 beat Emanuel 1, Shrewsbury 3 beat Eton 2, and Shrewsbury 1 beat Shrewsbury 4 in straight games. In the semi-finals, Shrewsbury 1 easily defeated Shrewsbury 3, but Shrewsbury 2 almost won the second game against Eton 1 before losing in straight games.

In the final, Collins and Russell quickly established a lead form Eton with some attacking play and incisive volleying. Pragnell and Lloyd rallied well in the second game, but were unable to make the crucial breach, before Eton won the match playing the more attacking Fives.

Semi-finals:

Eton 1 beat Shrewsbury 2 12-1, 13-12, 12-3

Shrewsbury 1 beat Shrewsbury 3 12-6, 12-8, 12-0

Final:

Eton (R Collins & N Russell) beat Shrewsbury (M Pragnall & E Lloyd) 12-4, 12-9, 12-6

As ever I am indebted to my co-organisers Ken Hughes and Peter Knowles without whom the competitions would not run so smoothly, and with whom I enjoyed several amusing and happy moments. I am also most grateful to Seb Cooley for hosting the tournament and dealing with all of the lunch administration. Next year's championships will be held at Highgate, but 2009 will be most remembered for the outstanding achievement of the Zuoz girls in winning the Ladies competition for the first time.