London Tournament 2017: Groundhog Day at Harrow
05/12/17: Tom Dunbar & Seb Cooley started the eighth year of their record-breaking partnership at Harrow last weekend in much the same way as they have managed the previous seven - with a major tournament victory against old rivals James Toop & Matthew Wiseman. Watch the match in full here: Game One, Game Two, Game Three.
The London Tournament in recent years has cemented its position as the major pre-Christmas competition, attracting the vast majority of the top players and providing the first indications as to the likely challengers for the season's main honours. With the top two pairs still well ahead of the rest, that has mainly been an opportunity for a shuffling of the pack below them, and this year was no exception, although the two semi-finals did produce very creditable challenges this year from former champions George Campbell & Peter Dunbar and new pretenders Jonny Ho & Andrew Joyce.
Twenty pairs were divided up into four groups of five for Saturday morning's play and the competition was fierce right from the start with only the top two pairs in each group making it through to the quarter-finals. The main casualties were in Group B - seventh seeds Vishal Bhimjiyani & Sunil Tailor, whose league form for the Old Millhillians this year had suggested they might push for a last four place; instead they came out on the wrong end of a 15-14 thriller against Old Cholmeleians Joe Marks and comeback kid Niifio Addy, rolling back the years after a period out of the game. Vish & Sunny had a second chance to make it through, finishing their group with a match against fourth seeds Ho & Joyce. For a while - with a nervous Marks & Addy watching on - it looked like they might just do it, but at 8-11 down, Ho & Joyce found their best form to surge through and send the Mill Hill pair crashing out.
Group A was rather more straightforward with Cooley & Dunbar (T) and Campbell & Dunbar (P) cruising through without breaking sweat. At one point, Ralph Morgan & Chris Ballingall - after two impressive wins early on - found themselves just one win away from a quarter-final place. Sadly they didn't trouble the scorers in either of their last two games with Fives immortality beckoning. Toop & Wiseman dominated Group D as expected, with Ant Theodossi & Chris Hughes seeing off another Mill Hill pair in Andrew Rennie & Oli Sander to qualify in second place. Group C had a bit more spice, however, with the unseeded Richard Tyler (a three-time former champion, although admittedly in a different century) & Nick Shaw fancying their chances of causing an upset. They pushed third seeds Laurie Brock & Riki Houlden pretty hard for the first half of their match before the Westminster pair moved ahead decisively and then found themselves scenting blood at 7-0 up on eighth seeded Salopians Tom Cox and Rex Worth. Games to 15 are a different animal compared to games to 12, however, and Rex & Tom didn't panic and were able to fight back impressively, imposing their fast Salopian volleying game and coming from behind to win 15-11 and book their place in the last eight.
The afternoon quarter-finals generally went to form. Cox & Worth gave a very good account of themselves against Cooley & Dunbar but went down 3,5 and 2. Marks & Addy were unable to repeat their morning heroics against the greater challenge of Toop & Wiseman and lost 5,5 and 1. Ho & Joyce fully justified their seeding with a very impressive 4,3,4 win over Theodossi & Hughes, which just left the intriguing encounter between third seeds Brock & Houlden and sixth seeds Campbell & Dunbar. The Westminster pair have achieved their seeding with consistent and increasingly impressive performances in recent seasons. Campbell & Dunbar by contrast have been unable to get much court time, mainly due to Peter's work commitments in Dubai. They have a considerable pedigree, however, with a London win and a Kinnaird final on their CV already as a pair and this was an eagerly awaited clash. The first game didn't disappoint, following the expected pattern, with Brock & Houlden's speed, fitness and retrieving up against Campbell's dynamic cut and volley game and Dunbar's all round classy touches. At 10-9 the game was evenly poised before Campbell & Dunbar raised their game when it mattered to take a 1-0 lead. At 5-3 ahead in the second they were in a good position, but Brock & Houlden were far from out of it and would certainly have fancied their chances the longer the match went on. At this point, however, Laurie unfortunately fell awkwardly on the top step and landed badly on his ankle. He completed the second game but his movement was clearly impaired and sadly he had to withdraw before the start of the third.
While the quarter-finals were taking place, a scintillating plate competition was keeping the rest of the field occupied. Five Harrow school pairs joined in to gain some valuable experience against some top opposition, but the final four consisted of Tyler & Shaw, Rennie & Sander, Ryan Perrie & Karen Hird and young Salopians Adam Aslam-Baskeyfield & Sam Mcloughlin. The first semi saw Rennie & Sander see off the Salopian pair with a strong performance; the other was an absolute classic as favourites Tyler & Shaw edged past the tenacious Perrie & Hird 15-13. Sadly, the Mill Hill pair got off to a slow start in the final, and although they came through strongly towards the end, the deficit was too great to make up and victory went to Tyler & Shaw 15-9.
The dominance of the "big two" has meant that some of the semi-finals in this compeititon in recent years have been rather damp squibs and although the end results were no different this year, there were signs of a narrowing of the gap (at least from cavernous to fairly large, perhaps). Cooley & Dunbar have rarely conceded as many as 9 points in a game in their eight year undefeated run, even to Toop & Wiseman, so it was a fine performance by Andrew Joyce and Jonny Ho to get that close in the first game of their semi. Sustaining that level over a longer period is tough, though, and the top seeds came through the next two games in more comfortable fashion to claim their expected slot in the final, but Jonny & Andrew should take some encouragement from their performance in their first tournament together, and hopefully they will come back stronger and better later in the season. The first game of the other semi-final produced the most exciting Fives of the weekend. Overnight rain and a temperature increase had left the walls damp and the run-offs slippery and the tricky conditions meant that both pairs took a while - sometimes literally - to find their feet. Once they had worked out what they could and couldn't do, however, the first game between Campbell & Dunbar and Toop & Wiseman developed into a mini classic, lasting over an hour and with nothing to separate the pairs until Campbell & Dunbar - much to their delight - clinched it 15-13. As had already been demonstrated in the next door court, however, sustaining the level of intensity and the level of play needed to take on the top two pairs over a five set match is no easy task. Matt & James came back in the second game with no hint of panic to their play and simply refocused their efforts on turning the match in their favour. Their sheer relentlessness (as well as the quality, which should be taken as read, but never taken for granted) simply forced more mistakes from their opponents, who continued to play well and battle hard but who were unable to get their noses back in front at any stage as Toop & Wiseman won the next three games to 7, 1 and 5 to set up yet another final against their nemeses.
We've seen this final many times in recent years; it is important to say that above all we should be grateful to have the opportunity to have watched these four players share a Fives court so often. The four of them have graced the final of this tournament for over ten years (nearly twenty in some cases) and have met in this combination of pairs in three of the last four finals. The result this time may have been similar to many of their previous meetings, with a long tight first game eventually won by Tom & Seb and then an increasing margin of victory in games two and three, but the quality of the Fives from all four players never fails to enthral and amaze and it is simply a privilege to watch them all play. This time, the wet conditions changed the dynamics of the match to a certain extent, with the underfoot slipperiness out the back increasing the effectiveness of well-placed and hard shots to the back corners. Despite losing the first game 12-9, Matt & James made a strong start to the second and led 5-1. At this point, however, as befits great champions, Tom & Seb recognised the danger and raised their game to a level that not even Matt & James could resist, turning the tide to first level the scores and then race ahead to win the game 12-5, after which the final result seemed almost a formality. The numbers continue to mount up for Tom & Seb - this was their sixth London win as a pair and Tom's eleventh overall.
While the elite of the Fives world were battling it out on Courts 1 and 2, the London Festival was showcasing the skills of a wide range of different types of Fives player - school pairs, tournament first-timers, tournament veterans (including a former main tournament winner in John Caudle, champion in 1989), some of the top women players, a strong Westway contingent and club stalwarts. 24 pairs played a total of 86 sets of Fives in a most enjoyable tournament, with the latter stages of the festival itself (the top 8 pairs), Plate A (the middle eight pairs) and Plate B (the rest!) all producing some long and exciting matches. The tone had already been set in the morning group stages with a threeway tie in Group C - the archetypal group of death - with the three pairs only separated by one point.
The four quarter-finals and two semi-finals in the festival itself all finished 15-11 or closer with two 15-14 cliffhangers, before Berkhamsted coach Ryan Perrie (the new Andrew Rennie?) and his young partner Charlie Doe eventually claimed the trophy with a 15-9 win in the final against Olavian youngsters Tom Liddemore & Swasi Gupta. The other Berkhamsted coach/pupil combination of Ant Theodossi & Matt Foster (the unlucky pair to miss out from the group of death) won Plate A with a 12-10 win against Westway coach Andrew Ibbetson & Emanuel school player Tom Marwood and Plate B was won convincingly by another St.Olave's pair in Ujoodia & Prashar. It was also great to see Westway juniors Theo Santos and Kacper Mikowski win Plate B2 in their first ever senior competition.
My thanks go to Ian Hutchinson, Graham Dunbar and everyone at Harrow for hosting the tournament, to EFA Chairman Chris Davies for presenting the trophy and to all those who participated and made it such a great weekend.
London Tournament results:
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat T.Cox & R.Worth 3-0 (12-3, 12-5, 12-2)
A.Joyce & J.Ho beat C.Hughes & A.Theodossi 3-0 (12-4, 12-3, 12-4)
G.Campbell & P.Dunbar beat L.Brock & R.Houlden 3-0 (12-9, 12-5 ret)
J.Toop & M.Wiseman beat J.Marks & N.Addy 3-0 (12-5, 12-5, 12-1)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat A.Joyce & J.Ho 3-0 (12-9, 12-5, 12-3)
J.Toop & M.Wiseman beat G.Campbell & P.Dunbar 3-1 (13-15, 12-7, 12-1, 12-5)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat J.Toop & M.Wiseman 3-0 (12-9, 12-5, 12-3)
A.Rennie & O.Sander beat A.Aslam-Baskeyfield 15-8
N.Shaw & R.Tyler beat R.Perrie & K.Hird 15-13
N.Shaw & R.Tyler beat A.Rennie & O.Sander 15-9
T.Liddemore & S.Gupta beat K.Hird & S.Chapman 15-11
J.Prior & P.Sathiamoorthy beat S.Mcloughlin & D.Pritchard 15-14
T.McCahon & D.McCahon beat C.Ballingall & R.Morgan 15-11
R.Perrie & C.Doe beat A.Lumbard & E.Scoones 15-11
T.Liddemore & S.Gupta beat J.Prior & P.Sathiamoorthy 15-12
R.Perrie & C.Doe beat T.McCahon & D.McCahon 15-14
R.Perrie & C.Doe beat T.Liddemore & S.Gupta 15-9
P.Boughton & T.Stubbs beat C.Wheeler & S.Chakraborty 12-2
A.Ibbetson & T.Marwood beat T.Gregory & C.Gregory 12-9
A.Theodossi & M.Foster beat A.Abrahams & S.Jackman 12-5
R.Sabskey & J.Vaughan-Hughes beat D.Redmond & E.Osen 12-10
A.Ibbetson & T.Marwood beat P.Boughton & T.Stubbs 12-11
A.Theodossi & M.Foster beat R.Sabskey & J.Vaughan-Hughes 12-7
A.Theodossi & M.Foster beat A.Ibbetson & T.Marwood 12-10
C.Wheeler & S.Chakraborty beat T.Gregory & C.Gregory 12-11
D.Redmond & E.Osen beat A.Abrahams & S.Jackman 12-6
D.Redmond & E.Osen beat C.Wheeler & S.Chakraborty 12-4
J.Levinson & E.Vaughan-Hughes beat T.Conway & C.Robson 12-6
H.Dunnett & S.Paisley beat N.Lilienthal & S.Greasley 12-4
E.Lawson & J.Lita beat M.Manso de Zuniga & S.Kirtikar w/o
I.Ujoodia & V.Prashar beat K.Mikowski & T.Santos 12-0
J.Levinson & E.Vaughan-Hughes beat H.Dunnett & S.Paisley 12-9
I.Ujoodia & V.Prashar beat E.Lawson & J.Lita 12-0
I.Ujoodia & V.Prashar beat J.Levinson & E.Vaughan-Hughes 12-6
H.Dunnett & S.Paisley beat E.Lawson & J.Lita 12-0
1. K.Mikowski & T.Santos
2 N.Lilienthal & S.Greasley
3. T.Conway & C.Robson