London Tournament 2016: Harrow - is it three you're looking for?
05/12/16: The London Tournament has been back at Harrow for three years now, and 2016 saw a third win out of three for Seb Cooley and Tom Dunbar (a fourth in a row going back to Highgate days and a fifth in total together as well as a tenth overall for Tom) as they beat perennial rivals James Toop and Matthew Wiseman in a riveting final.
There may have been a certain sense of inevitability about the identity of the two finalists but there was still much to enjoy in the rest of the tournament. The Saturday morning group stages saw 17 pairs battling it out to make it to the quarter-finals. Group A was dominated by top seeds Cooley and Dunbar, with Jonny Ho and Joe Marks winning the battle of the Cholmeleians against Ollie Hallam and Tom Lethbridge to take the second qualifying slot. Toop and Wiseman won Group D, with Old Millhillians Sunil Tailor and Vishal Bhimjiyani relatively unchallenged in second place. The other two groups were much tighter; third seeds Ant Theodossi and Ryan Perrie won Group C but were pushed hard by Salopians Chris Hughes and Sam Welti; in the match to decide the second qualifier, however, it was the St.Olave's school pair of Tom Gallagher and Kieran Walton who dominated the first game against the Salopian pair, winning 12-4. In a two game match, with points difference the deciding factor in the event of a 1-1 draw, Hughes and Welti needed to pull off something spectacular to qualify. They managed to win the second game 12-10 with a much improved performance but the damage had already been done and it was the young Olavians who made it through into the quarter-finals. Fourth seeds Laurie Brock and Riki Houlden went through Group B unbeaten, although they were pushed hard at times by both Richard Tyler & Dave Mew and another Millhillian pair in Oli Sander & Charlie Plummer. Plummer is an exciting young talent and when he and Sander took the first game against Mew & Tyler 12-10, it looked like a shock might be on the cards. Mew and Tyler have bags of experience, though, as well as plenty of quality, and they managed to steady themselves and come back strongly in the second game, staving off a late fightback to win it 12-6 and take the final qualifying position on points difference.
The top two seeds made predictably short work of their quarter-final opponents, Cooley & Dunbar defeating Gallagher & Walton and Toop & Wiseman seeing off Mew & Tyler, who did at least sign off with a strong third game performance. Brock & Houlden against Bhimjiyani & Tailor looked it might have the potential to go long, but the Westminster pair - despite a second game blip where they overattacked, producing too many errors and allowing their opponents to play - dominated from the start, recording a convincing 3-1 win. In the other quarter-final, Cholmeleians Jonny Ho and Joe Marks looked in fine fettle, taking the game to their more fancied opponents and winning the first game 12-9. The second game was set at 10-10 and if Jonny and Joe had won that, then Ant Theodossi and Ryan Perrie might have had their work cut out. Ant and Ryan won it 13-11, however, and this proved to be the decisive moment in the match as the third seeds held on to win the third game 12-9 before running away with the fourth as Marks came down with cramp.
Meanwhile, in the plate competition, Sander and Plummer carried on where they had left off in the morning, dominating the competition and seeing off Ipswichians Steve Burnell and Tim Gregory in the final.
The Sunday morning semi-finals followed the traditional pattern set in recent times as the young hopefuls looked to topple the big two. Theodossi & Perrie and Brock & Houlden have worked hard over the last two or three years to improve their play, and raise their ranking thanks to consistent performances. They certainly deserved their semi-final spots in this tournament, but once again both fell well short when trying to take on Cooley & Dunbar and Toop & Wiseman, who only conceded seven and six points respectively across the three games to make into yet another final.
It may feel a bit repetitive writing about the same two pairs playing each other in yet another major final, but watching the four of them play is never anything but an absolute treat for anyone who wants to see the game being played just about as well as it can be played. This particular match may have started a little slowly compared to the Kinnaird Cup final back in April, where the first game made a strong case for being the greatest hour of Fives ever played, with the unforced error count this time a little high by the standards of these four players. This can probably be explained by it being the first match of the season between them and therefore the first time for a while that they have been stretched, with not even the morning semi-finals requiring much more than second or third gear. The longer the match went on, however, the better the Fives became, with longer rallies and fewer mistakes. There were individual rallies in the third game in particular, indeed whole passages of play, that simply took the breath away, with the four players seeming to flow around the court in an improvised yet instinctively synchronised sporting ballet, time appearing to slow down to allow each player to move into perfect position for the next shot then speeding up again as the ball raced away off the glove with bewildering speed, spin and accuracy. The gasps of surprise from the enthralled crowd whenever a shot went down or out were proof indeed of the speed of thought and movement, the control of the ball and the powers of retrieval on display.
The end result was the same one that we have seen repeatedly in recent seasons, as Cooley and Dunbar maintained their stranglehold over the major tournaments winning 12-8, 12-6, 12-4. They continue to set a truly remarkable standard. You can also only admire both Toop and Wiseman's ability to maintain their own standards, which see them still way ahead of the chasing pack, and their continued belief that they can overcome their nemeses and add to their own impressive tally of major titles. Their next opportunity will be at the Northern Tournament in Shrewsbury in early February.
One of the delights of these tournament weekends is that the latter stages of the main tournament on the Sunday are not played out in glorious isolation but instead with the backdrop of the Festival tournament, where young and old alike remind everyone of how most people play Fives. This year's competition was a splendid example of all that is good about the sport as young school pupils, seasoned veterans, newcomers, parents and some of the top women in the game battled it out. Special mention must go to Helen Wagland who thought she was coming along as a spectator to watch son Flynn play but who was persuaded to don some gloves for the first time ever in order to provide Peter Boughton with a partner and who ended up performing with great distinction. Hopefully this will be the start of a great Fives career!
Some pretty topsy-turvy and unpredictable group stage/quarter-final results ended up producing an Olavian-dominated last four, with Old Olavians Brian Wang and Harry Ravi winning a marathon three game semi-final against schoolboys Sachin Balaji and Swastik Gupta and Billy Belsham and Coby Plews - shock last eight winners over Westminsters Sahil Shah and Kotka Lim - going out in straight games to Mill Hill pupil Hal Gibson-Leitao and coach Andrew Rennie. With everyone bar the organiser and the four finalists happily ensconced in the pub or back home and the temperature plummeting, the final actually turned out to be one of the matches of the weekend. The Mill Hill pair got off to a strong start, leading 6-0 and 10-4 in the first game but Wang's powerful back court game and Ravi's touch around the buttress got them back in it, levelling at 11-11 and then going on to win 14-12. The Mill Hill pair weren't demoralised by losing a game they could easily have won, however, and tightened up their own game, keeping the ball closer to the buttress and forcing more errors from their tiring opponents to win the next two games to 5 and 4. This was a third win for Rennie in this competition (the cynical might suggest it's about time he entered the main tournament) but a first for his young partner, who contributed impressively, responding well when put under pressure.
The Festival Plate tournament was won earlier in the afternoon by Highgate schoolgirls Phoebe Bracken and Amira Reimer, who saved their best Fives to last with a convincing 15-5 final win over Ipswich's Eloise Carter and Tony Stubbs, for once the plate specialist unable to get his hands on the chocolate prize. Maybe Tony was thrown off course by not getting lost in the minibus on the way to Harrow (perhaps he managed it on the way home instead?)? Either way, it was great to see Phoebe and Amira playing in this tournament - having dominated age group girls Fives in recent years, it is good for them to test themselves against different pairs in order to develop their game.
My thanks go to Graham Dunbar and Ian Hutchinson at Harrow for hosting the tournament, to Richard Black for presenting the prizes and to all those who came to play and watch and make it such an enjoyable weekend.
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat T.Gallagher & K.Walton 3-0 (12-0, 12-5, 12-1)
L.Brock & R.Houlden beat S.Tailor & V.Bhimjiyani 3-1 (12-4, 7-12, 12-1, 12-7)
A.Theodossi & R.Perrie beat J.Ho & J.Marks 3-1 (9-12, 13-11, 12-9, 12-1)
J.Toop & M.Wiseman beat R.Tyler & D.Mew 3-0 (12-0, 12-1, 12-8)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat L.Brock & R.Houlden 3-0 (12-2, 12-5, 12-0)
J.Toop & M.Wiseman beat A.Theodossi & R.Perrie (12-6, 12-0, 12-0)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat J.Toop & M.Wiseman 3-0 (12-8, 12-6, 12-4)
O.Sander & C.Plummer beat S.Burnell & T.Gregory 15-4
B.Mennell & Q.Gaba beat R.Morgan & E.Scoones 15-11
B.Wang & H.Ravi beat R.Morgan & E.Scoones 15-9
S.Balaji & S.Gupta beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 15-7
A.Rennie & H.Gibson-Leitao beat N.Turnbull & E.Osen 15-1
B.Belsham & C.Plews beat S.Shah & K.Lim 15-13
B.Wang & H.Ravi beat S.Balaji & S.Gupta 12-9, 13-14, 12-8
A.Rennie & H.Gibson-Leitao beat B.Belsham & C.Plews 12-4, 12-4
A.Rennie & H.Gibson-Leitao beat B.Wang & H.Ravi 12-14, 12-5, 12-4
T.Stubbs & E.Carter beat I.Kidd & A.Grubb 15-6
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat M.Li & L.Duffin 15-14
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat T.Stubbs & E.Carter 15-5