2017 Northern Tournament: Toop and Wiseman Roll Back The Years
06/02/17: An astonishing 73 pairs - a new record - took part in a vintage Northern Tournament over the weekend. The absence due to work commitments of superstars Tom Dunbar and Matthew Wiseman was disappointing in one way, of course, but it did mean that for the first time in a while at a major tournament the draw looked wide open and the business end a lot more unpredictable.
In the end it was a bit of a throwback with James Toop and Howard Wiseman winning their fifth Northern tournament together, and their first since 2009, with a 3-1 win in the final against Anthony Theodossi and Ryan Perrie. It was Howard's seventh title altogether, having won twice with John Reynolds back in the late nineties and James's eighth, including his three wins with the younger Wiseman brother.
There were early indications that this Northern Tournament would be a little bit different. For starters the weather was positively balmy, with blue skies and sunshine for most of the weekend and not a thermal vest or spectator in a sleeping bag to be seen. Even more remarkably, Stubbsy - well looked after by his carer Charlotta Cooley all weekend - didn't get lost once on the way from Ipswich and only stopped at one set of services, enabling the Ipswichiian (sic) contingent to arrive before midday in a major departure from recent tradition.
By that time, the courts were already buzzing with activity, with another match on court within seconds of the previous one finishing. 40 pairs were divided into eight groups of five in the Festival and were allocated a court each; the 29 pairs in the main tournament - in eight groups of three or four - had to fight over the remaining six courts to get their games in. Hot soup and rolls plus the rugby on the telly kept everyone warm, fed and entertained in the pavilion between matches and the group stages in the main tournament finished at a sensible enough time to allow a best of three games last sixteen round to take place before the best of five quarter-finals. Most of the top seeded pairs found themselves up against schoolboy opposition in the first knockout round and made fairly comfortable progress but there were some cracking matches in the middle section of the draw. Salopians Rex Worth and Tom Cox clearly felt they had a point to prove, having been left out of the OS Barber Cup team this year and followed up a group stage win over Chris Hughes and Tom Welti with a three game knockout win over George Thomason and Henry Lewis, making their point strongly to the OS selectors. Hughes and Welti redeemed themselves with a tight win over Wulfrunians Chris Austin and Sid Simmons while another Salopian, T Walters, marked his first big tournament appearance for a few years with a fine win over Olavian schoolboys Kosi Nwuba and Tom Gallagher alongside evergreen partner Grant Williams.
The quarter-finals all proved to be reasonably comfortable for the top four seeds as the Old Salopian challenge collectively hit the buffers. The only Salopian to make it through to the last four was school captain Dan Orchard, in at the deep end alongside winner for the last six years Seb Cooley. Their impressive straight games win over Ed Taylor and Sam Welti set up a mouthwatering semi-final against Toop and Wiseman, while the other side of the draw matched up the two pairs who have been closest to the big four this season with Berkhamsted coaches Ant Theodossi and Ryan Perrie up against Old Westminsters Laurie Brock and Riki Houlden.
There was a lot at stake in the semi-finals with Theodossi & Perrie and Brock & Houlden battling it out to make a first major final. It was Theodossi and Perrie who got control of the match early on, imposing themselves on their slightly tentative opponents and pulling out to a 2-0 lead. In the third game, the Westminster pair began to relax and find their rhythm, moving better, attacking more and generally making life a lot more difficult for their opponents. They established an 11-6 lead and the match seemed set to go into a fourth game, but a couple of chances came and went, and with Brock and Houlden's nerves returning and attacking intent disappearing, Theodossi and Perrie seized their chance to level up at 11-11 before going on to win 14-12 and make it into that elusive first final.
Their opponents looked like being Toop & Wiseman at the start of the other semi-final as they raced to a 12-1 win in the first game against Cooley and the left-handed Orchard. As the second game progressed, however, Dan began to feel more comfortable playing at such a high level and coped better and better with the pressure being exerted on his weaker right-hand by the Olavian pair. Seb also began to raise his level and dominate rallies, and as the number of cut returns from the Shrewsbury staff/pupil pair increased so the points began to flow. An 8-1 second game lead for Cooley & Orchard seemed to have turned the match on its head, but Howard and James have a vast amount of experience and gradually began to reel their opponents in, Howard's retrieving and shot placement complementing James's volleying and increasingly accurate length into the buttress. With their opponents' cut return supply drying up, Toop and Wiseman managed to overturn the second game lead to win it 12-9 and despite a late comeback from Cooley & Orchard in the third, which briefly threatened to take the match into a fourth game, the top seeds wrapped the match up in three to make their first Northern final together since 2009.
The final got off to what was probably the perfect start for any neutrals watching as Theodossi & Perrie took advantage of a rather sloppy start and end to the game from the top seeds to take the first game 12-6 and go one up. Howard and James tightened their game up considerably in the second, however, and the tide began to turn. There was still some fine play from Theodossi and Perie, with Ant's cutting and Ryan's top step reflexes impressing but with Howard's play finding its usual metronomic rhythm and James again beginning to apply the pressure both to the back corners and with his consistently excellent length into the buttress, the squeeze was on and the errors were becoming more frequent from the second seeds. This was the pattern for the second and third games, which James and Howard won pretty comfortably; the fourth was closer as Ryan and Ant pushed hard, upping their attacking intent and throwing everything they had at Howard and James to try and stay in the match. They got close, but it was the Olavian pair who won the game 12-9 to close out a 3-1 win and end their lengthy major trophy drought.
The main tournament final was merely one part of an absolute feast of Fives on the Sunday. The larger main tournament entry this year meant that the main plate became a seriously hard-fought competition in its own right. After a slightly stuttering start while we tried to establish exactly which Shrewsbury school pairs were and weren't turning up to play, the competition got fiercer and fiercer as the day progressed. The old guard of Steve Burnell & Tim Gregory and Jeff Lawrence & Nick Bunyan fell at the quarter-final stage, leaving two St.Olave's school pairs, one Shrewsbury pair and Cambridge University's Sudhir Balaji & Nathan Turnbull to make up the last four. The students and the Olave's second string couldn't get any further and it was left to Morgan Pugh & Kosi Nwuba to take on and conquer home pair Adam Aslam-Baskeyfield & Sam McLoughlin in the final, which turned out to be the penultimate match of the day.
The Festival group stages had produced a lot of fun matches on the Saturday, but the competition really came into its own on Sunday, with the top eight qualifiers from the previous day fighting it out amongst themselves to get their hands on the coveted Malcolm Mitchell shields. The last eight had a young look to it and with veterans Tony Stubbs (playing alongside JP Levick and presumably confused by not being in a plate competition for once) and Bill Christie (playing with son Connor) failing to make it through, it was left to top ladies pair Ashley Lumbard & Emily Scoones to take on a posse of young Olavians. Ashley & Emily pushed Sachin Balaji and Louis Maclean hard in the first game of their semi but the Olavians came through that one 13-10 and went on to win the second game confortably to claim their place in the final. An interesting story was beginning to develop in the other half of the draw with the possibility emerging of a Wiseman family double as Gwydion Wiseman and partner Prajeeth Sathiamoorthy stormed into the semis. They finally came unstuck against Swastik Gupta and Michael Li, but Gupta & Li - despite a strong push in the second game - were then unable to make much of an impression on Balaji & Maclean in the final and it was Sachin and Louis who took the title in straight games.
The Festival Plate competition was so large it was divided into two sections - an A plate for Saturday's last sixteen losers and group stage third place finishers and a B plate for the fourth/fifth place pairs plus some additional Shrewsbury School girl pairs. The B plate fairly rattled through their matches, the four groups producing an interesting and diverse mix of semi-finalists: two of Shrewsbury's top girls pairs in Katie Oswald & Emma Graham and Izzy Wong & Lizzie Ware, Ipswich's U14 Charlies Coe and Tweedy and the canny old pros from Windsor & Eton Mandie Barnes & Graham Kitteridge. Wong & Ware tore into the Windsor & Eton pair in the first semi-final, cutting and volleying hard to leave their opponents shellshocked. An all-Shrewsbury final was narrowly prevented by C.Coe & C.Tweedy (now past their C.Fernandez-Versini phase and henceforth collectively known as just Cheryl*) who proved strong enough to beat both of the impressive Shrewsbury girls pairs to win the final.
The A Plate was proceeding at a more leisurely pace, but eventually came to the boil in spectacular fashion. Unlike elsewhere in the Festival, experience was very much coming to the fore; the four group winners featured only one school pair - Shrewsbury's Sansom & Van Wyk - alongside Dan Remo & Philip Wilkinson from Cambridge, scratch pairing Adrian Peckitt & Elana Osen and Ipswichiian veterans (possibly even approaching the uberveteran stage of their careers) Peter Boughton & John Caudle. Boughton & Caudle played some vintage old man Fives to bamboozle the Salopian youngsters in the first semi before the rapidly improving Remo & Wilkinson dispatched Peckitt & Osen with a devastating run after a tight start to the match. The final was the last game left on court and attracted a good sized crowd. The two pairs had met in the group stages on Saturday morning and the result then was a comfortable 15-4 win for the Ipswichiians. The Cambridge pair had improved over the weekend, however, whereas Boughton & Caudle had probably peaked at around 11:15am on Saturday and were possibly flagging just a little bit, despite (or maybe because of) PVB's unusual homeopathic remedies. An epic encounter ensued with the Cambridge boys out for revenge and the Ipswichiians digging deep to find every last bit of energy. Inevitably it went to 14-14 before Caudle produced one final effort - complete with Sharapovaesque grunt - to return the game ball cut and watch Boughton step in and apply the coup de grace. A splendid end to a splendid weekend.
My thanks go to Seb Cooley, Andy Barnard and all at Shrewsbury for hosting the tournament so well, to everyone who made the effort to travel up to Shrewsbury and make the weekend such a success, to Stubbsy for thoughtfully remembering to bring his carer along with him and for keeping us entertained and to Andrew Mitchell for all of his hard work and organisational expertise.
*(c) S.Chapman - credit where credit's due...
J.Toop & H.Wiseman (1) beat J.Tate & C.Stocks 2-0
C.Hughes & T.Welti (7) beat C.Austin & S.Simmons 2-0
E.Taylor & S.Welti (5) beat A.Aslam-Baskeyfield & S.McLoughlin 2-0
S.Cooley & D.Orchard (4) beat M.Pugh & K.Walton 2-0
L.Brock & R.Houlden (3) beat H.Hardman & C.Lyons 2-0
G.Williams & T.Walters beat T.Gallagher & K.Nwuba (6) 2-1
T.Cox & R.Worth beat G.Thomason & H.Lewis (8) 2-1
A.Theodossi & R.Perrie (2) beat H.Thistlethwayte & F.Watt 2-0
J.Toop & H.Wiseman (1) beat C.Hughes & T.Welti (7) 12-6, 12-3, 12-5
S.Cooley & D.Orchard (4) beat E.Taylor & S.Welti (5) 12-6, 12-6, 12-7
L.Brock & R.Houlden (3) beat G.Williams & T.Walters 12-6 ret
A.Theodossi & R.Perrie (2) beat T.Cox & R.Worth 12-6, 12-2, 12-1
J.Toop & H.Wiseman (1) beat S.Cooley & D.Orchard (4) 12-1, 12-9, 12-9
A.Theodossi & R.Perrie (2) beat L.Brock & R.Houlden (3) 12-6, 12-6, 14-12
J.Toop & H.Wiseman (1) beat A.Theodossi & R.Perrie (2) 6-12, 12-6, 12-3, 12-9
Main Competition Plate
M.Pugh & K.Nwuba beat S.Burnell & T.Gregory
N.Turnbull & Su.Balaji beat J.Hinwood & F.Jebb
V.Shetty & C.Plews beat N.Bunyan & J.Lawrence
A.Aslam-Baskeyfield & S.McLoughlin beat K.Hird & C.Cooley
M.Pugh & K.Nwuba beat N.Turnbull & Su.Balaji
A.Aslam-Baskeyfield & S.McLoughlin beat V.Shetty & C.Plews
M.Pugh & K.Nwuba beat A.Aslam-Baskeyfield & S.McLoughlin
C.Wheeler & J.Prior beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 15-14
Sa.Balaji & L.Maclean beat N.Lange & S.Breese 15-7
A.Lumbard & E.Scoones beat A.Peckitt & E.Osen 15-4
B.Christie & C.Christie beat P.Boughton & J.Caudle 15-5
Y.Bleunven & I.Jochim beat D.Remo & P.Wilkinson 15-7
S.Gupta & M.Li beat J.Cooley & D.Naik 15-5
T.Stubbs & JP.Levick beat J.Hepburn & T.Goodman 15-12
P.Sathiyamoorthy & G.Wiseman beat W.Hope & A.Barnard 15-9
Sa.Balaji & L.Maclean beat C.Wheeler & J.Prior 12-8, 12-7
A.Lumbard & E.Scoones beat B.Christie & C.Christie 12-8, 12-7
S.Gupta & M.Li beat Y.Bleunven & I.Jochim 12-9, 12-10
P.Sathiyamoorthy & G.Wiseman beat T.Stubbs & JP.Levick 12-1, 12-6
Sa.Balaji & L.Maclean beat A.Lumbard & E.Scoones 13-10, 12-4
S.Gupta & M.Li beat P.Sathiyamoorthy & G.Wiseman 12-7, 12-8
Sa.Balaji & L.Maclean beat S.Gupta & M.Li 12-2, 13-11, 12-5
Festival Plate A
P.Boughton & J.Caudle beat F.Sansom & M.Van Wyk
D.Remo & P.Wilkinson beat A.Peckitt & E.Osen
P.Boughton & J.Caudle beat D.Remo & P.Wilkinson 15-14
Festival Plate B
L.Ware & I.Wong beat G.Kitteridge & M.Barnes
C.Coe & C.Tweedy beat E.Oswald & K.Graham
C.Coe & C.Tweedy beat L.Ware & I.Wong