Westminster Cup 2016: Patel & Merrett Win a Thriller
Laurie Brock reports:
THE ANDREW AITKEN TROPHY: Shaneil Patel and Ben Merrett beat Laurie Brock and Alex Wessely 15-14
11/09/16: On a glorious September afternoon, the fifth iteration of the Westminster fives cup was graced with a fittingly thrilling final, culminating in its fifth different set of winners.
Despite some late withdrawals, a healthy 18 players (eventually - the lack of punctuality amongst both young and more experienced Westminsters continues to astound) formed two groups.
In Group A, Shaneil Patel and Ben Merrett stormed out of the blocks, defeating Matthew Lewin and Elana Osen and then ruthlessly (in a manner which suggested all thoughts of a friendly tournament were alien or had been forgotten) dismantling Edward Levy and Alex Benson, who were perhaps feeling the exertions of their first match against Riki Houlden and Hugo Young.
Despite arriving almost criminally late, Houlden was quickly into his customary stride and the stage was set for the showdown against Patel and Merrett in the final rotation. This match did not disappoint, with terrific fives throughout, and was finely poised at 11-11, before Patel (who has narrowly missed out on the final on a number of occasions) and Merrett made a late surge to clinch it 15-12.
Meanwhile, Levy and Benson emerged winners in a titanic battle for third place against Lewin and Osen, eventually prevailing 15-14.
Group B proved a tight affair with every pair winning at least one game. Conrad Shawcross and Can Koksal impressed in their first game, but were left to rue two narrow 10-9 defeats, the first unfortunate after a heroic comeback from 2-9 down against Laurie Brock and Alex Wessely, and the second against ex-champion Neil Margerison and Ali Muminoglu, who improved over the course of the afternoon. Margerison and Muminoglu were pipped to fourth spot in the group by Sacha Mehta (returning to the game after an 18 month hiatus, and finding his cuts in particular almost magnetically attracted to the front ledge) and last year's finalist Kotka Lim.
The crunch game was that between Brock and Wessely and reigning champion Harry DeQuetteville and Oliver Black. Brock and Wessely appeared to be in control halfway through the game, but DeQuetteville was (naturally) not prepared to give up his title easily and he and Black produced some fine shots to close the gap to one point at 7-8.There the score stayed for some time, before Brock and Wessely were eventually able to close out the match 10-8.
The final (played to 15) was an excellent match characterised by excellent cut returning (or poor cutting, however one would prefer to look at it!). In the first half of the match Brock and Wessely again looked in control, with Wessely in particular looking comfortable in the back court and Patel and Merrett unable to find their usual cutting form. However, Patel and Merrett continued to play aggressive fives and the momentum began to turn as first the points against them dried up, and then they began to draw errors from their opponents. An 8-6 deficit became a 12-9, and then a 13-10, lead.
At this point the finish line (and the glittering trophy) perhaps began to loom a little too large, as errors crept in, and Brock and Wessely were able to close to 13-13. Patel and Merrett rallied to reach step first, but then somehow failed to win a rally in which they were presented with at least three close range smashes, as Brock and Wessely hung on, and then closed the gap again to bring the final (for the first time in the tournament's history) to sudden death. At this point, it was the turn of the senior player on court to falter on match point, making a mess of a straightforward volley, which Merrett sharply capitalised on to bring he and Patel back to the brink of victory.
The following rally was one of the best of the match, with all four players demonstrating sharp reflexes and determination under pressure, until Wessely was unable to track down a final smash back court, confirming Patel and Merrett as worthy winners, and leaving the tournament still waiting for its first two-time champion.
Sadly, the dinner did not happen this year, but I hope that all who played enjoyed it and to see you all again next year (if not before).