New North Faces As Cooley & Dunbar Regain Title
05/02/18: The top line might have been a familiar one, with Tom Dunbar & Seb Cooley winning their seventh title, but the 2018 Northern tournament was notable for the appearance of some new names in the latter stages, with a first major final for Jonny Ho & Riki Houlden and a weekend enjoyed by 64 pairs in total.
The overall entry was as strong as ever, with 64 pairs filling the 14 Shrewsbury courts throughout the weekend. The make-up of the field was slightly different to normal, however, with injury, unavailability, work commitments and and inability to travel north of the M25 producing a draw with only four pairs seeded from the ranking list. The knock on effects of this made for a compelling weekend: several pairs who would have been borderline festival/main tournament candidates moved up to chance their arm in the main tournament, with four quarter-final places (and the attached ranking points) up for grabs and the promise of a strong Sunday plate tournament. In turn, the Festival also opened up to pairs who might not necessarily have considered themselves contenders in a different year, allowing all 64 pairs to start their campaigns with hopes high of getting their hands on some silverware.
Saturday's play in the main tournament saw the top four seeded pairs cruise through with the minimum of fuss, while the rest of the field fought tooth and nail to make the last eight. The winners were Old Salopians Adam Aslam-Baskeyfield & Sam Mcloughlin, who followed up their U21 semi-final of last weekend with a convincing display to qualify in Group D behind second seeds Howard Wiseman & James Toop, Olavian youngsters Sachin Balaji & Louis Maclean (festival winners in 2017), Joey Prior & 14 year old Gwydion Wiseman, who beat the likes of Shrewsbury School first pair of Tom Bromley-Davenport & Will Sissons and ladies champiosn Karen Hird & Charlotta Cooley to make it through and Shrewsbury U16 pair Garrett & Clark, whose crucial win came with a stunning 12-11 sudden death victory over the hugely disappointed Bhattacharya brothers. Special mention should go to veterans Bunyan & Stubbs, who stopped Cooley & Dunbar running through their group without conceding a point and in a tournament of surprises perhaps the biggest one was the arrival of the Ipswich minibus before midday. Stubbsy wasn't driving apparently, although these two facts are not necessarily connected.
The quarter-finals were played on Saturday afternoon: Prior & Wiseman jr (up against his father, much to his delight), Garrett & Clark and Balaji & Maclean all gave good accounts of themselves without troubling the scorers excessively while Aslam-Baskeyfield & Mcloughlin pushed Cox & Worth hard in the all Salopian clash, the more experienced seeded pair just about winning the first game 12-10 before going on to win in three.
Much of the discussion before the tournament and indeed throughout the Saturday had centred around the possible semi-final clash between defending champions James Toop & Howard Wiseman and third seeds Jonny Ho & Riki Houlden, playing together for the first time due to injuries to their normal partners Andrew Joyce and Laurie Brock. Reliable witnesses saw Ho & Houlden drinking water and heading off to bed before 10pm on the Saturday, although this may simply have been a reflection on the dull conversation of their dining companions rather than any kind of pre-match preparation. The same could not necessarily be said of the rest of the field, although Ralph Morgan was ditching the habits of a lifetime by looking to see what it would be like to play on the Sunday of a tournament without a hangover.
Cox & Worth made a good start to their semi-final against Cooley & Dunbar, establishing a 3-0 lead. Stung into action, and motivated by Seb's need to finish in time to get to a fifth form parents' consultation, the top seeds then proceeded to produce an absolute exhibition even by their standards, coming to the simple and obvious conclusion that the quickest way to win was just to finish off virtually every rally by hitting the ball into the hole. Perhaps more pairs should adopt that tactic as it definitely seemed to work; Rex & Tom performed well and can be pleased with their weekend's work, which sets them up nicely for the Kinnaird in a few weeks, but they had no answer to the consistent brilliance of Seb & Tom's play and the match was all wrapped up while the other four semi-finalists had barely finished knocking up.
A good crowd gathered to watch the match between Howard & James and Jonny & Riki, hoping to see a tight, exciting contest and wondering if there was a chance of a slight changing of the guard moment. The first half of the match suggested not; the rallies were long, the quality was good but it was the number two seeds who had the match in their control, taking the first two games to 9 and 6 and establishing an 8-4 lead in the third. With their chance of a place in the final ebbing away, Jonny & Riki began to find another gear, cutting more effectively, reducing their error count and taking their chances a bit more ruthlessly, turning the tide in their favour and getting on the scoreboard to reduce the deficit to 2-1. The fourth game went by in a flash; Howard's legs began to look heavy as he struggled to cover the court with his usual speed and dynamism and James was consequently pressurised into trying to force things, which resulted in more errors than before. Jonny & Riki's confidence soared as they raced into an 11-0 lead, which became a match-levelling 12-2 fourth game win, setting up a decider.
A superficial look at the state of the match would have pointed towards there being only one winner at this point, but seasoned observers knew better. How would Jonny & Riki deal with their new status as favourites to take the match? How would they cope with the pressure of having to close it out to reach a first major final? Surely Howard & James would be able to dig deep and get back into the contest?
Of course they did...Howard's legs began to recover and the innate competitiveness and will to win of the Olavian pair kicked in. Jonny & Riki were still playing well, but after the stroll through the fourth, they were back in a dogfight in the fifth and it made compelling viewing. Neither pair was able to establish dominance and with the match time now well over the three hour mark (it eventually clocked in at 3 hours 55 minutes) the scores edged towards what seemed to be an almost inevitable 10-10 and setting to 15. All four players were still playing at a very high level, with long rallies and the occasional surprise error producing gasps from the enthralled crowd. Finally it was the younger pair who made the decisive move, turning a 10-11 deficit into a 14-12 lead and then converting gameball at the second time of asking to clinch an epic victory.
It was perhaps inevitable that the final would turn out to be rather one-sided after that, but Riki & Jonny played some good Fives again in the final, especially in the third game, where they tightened things up and put Tom & Seb under a lot more pressure than in the first two. The result was never in doubt, though, and Tom and Seb duly regained the title, winning it for the seventh time in total and continuing their unbeaten record, which dates back to their first match together in this tournament in 2011.
The Festival featured the usual mix of pairs from promising youngsters to gnarled veterans via top schoolgirls, near novices, brother & sister pairings, husband & wife pairings, father & son pairings and the odd professional sportsman (not Fives...). Thirty-nine pairs in 8 groups were whittled down via a last sixteen round (including three 15-14 nailbiters) to 8 quarter-finalists by Sunday morning and by the time the quarter-finals were complete it had boiled down neatly to a battle between St.Olave's School and the Mitchell family. First blood went to the youngsters as U15 pair Yoann Bleunven & Isaac Jochim overcame a tiring Andrew Mitchell & Fiona Barnes but family honour was soon restored by Ian Mitchell, partnering Bill Christie, who beat Tim Byrne and Milan Chibber in three tight games. The best of final was a victory for young legs, with Ian & Bill unable to compete with the still energetic and very talented Olavian pair, who won in straight games to win the shields.
Competition was equally fierce in the Festival plate competitions; Plate A for the Sunday morning group winners saw John Cooley hunting a second trophy of his prolific season, as he and Shrewsbury teacher David Wray saw off Peter & Andrew Westwood 15-13 in the first semi-final. In the other match, Jamie Hepburn & Tom Goodman of Windsor & Eton had no answer to the gathering steamroller of momentum that was Royal Holloway's Will Seath & Silas Lawrence, who stormed into the final 15-4. The final was nip and tuck for a long time before Seath found a succession of cut returns which were followed up by a series of scorching back court winners from Wulfrunian left-hander Lawrence, carrying them to a 15-10 win and a first tournament success for the newly formed Royal Holloway club.
Plate B was won by Ipswich schoolboys Charlie Coe & Charlie Tweedy, who beat Shrewsbury pair Sophia Breese & Lizzie Ware in the final, after Sophia & Lizzie had won their semi-final with the traditional 14-14 thriller against fellow school pair Emma Graham & Katie Oswald.
Last match on court at the end of an excellent weekend was the main tournament plate final. This competition showed just how wide open it had been the previous day as the pairs involved battled for quarter-final slots, as Olavians Prajeeth Sathiamoorthy & Harry Wintour swept all before them to win against the Bhattacharya brothers in the final, having lost every single one of their main tournament group matches on day one.
Thanks as always to Andrew Mitchell, Seb Cooley, Andy Barnard and Shrewsbury School for organising and hosting the event so well, to Chris Davies for presenting the trophies and to all those who made the effort to travel up to the frozen north of Fives for such an enjoyable weekend.
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley (1) beat S.Balaji & L.Maclean 3-0 (12-1, 12-0, 12-3)
T.Cox & R.Worth (4) beat A.Aslam-Baskeyfield & S.Mcloughlin 3-0 (12-10, 12-6, 12-5)
R.Houlden & J.Ho (3) beat A.Garrett & P.Clark 3-0 (12-1, 12-0, 12-0)
J.Toop & H.Wiseman (2) beat J.Prior & G.Wiseman 3-0 (12-1, 12-4, 12-2)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley (1) beat T.Cox & R.Worth (4) 3-0 (12-5, 12-2, 12-2)
R.Houlden & J.Ho (3) beat J.Toop & H.Wiseman (2) 3-2 (9-12, 6-12, 12-8, 12-2, 15-12)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley (1) beat R.Houlden & J.Ho (3) 3-0 (12-2, 12-2, 12-6)
Main Tournament Plate
T.Bromley-Davenport & W.Sissons beat J.Prior & G.Wiseman 15-5
A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya beat R.Morgan & C.Ballingall 15-10
S.Balaji & L.Maclean beat S.Gupta & M.Li 15-4
P.Sathiamoorthy & H.Wintour beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 15-14
A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya beat T.Bromley-Davenport & W.Sissons 15-10
P.Sathiamoorthy & H.Wintour beat S.Balaji & L.Maclean 15-12
P.Sathiamoorthy & H.Wintour beat A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya 15-4
Y.Bleunven & I.Jochim beat K.Oswald & E.Graham 15-2
D.Ainslie & Evans beat S.Nowinski & D.Naik 15-1
A.Mitchell & F.Barnes beat J.Cooley & D.Wray 15-10
J.Akintolu & I.Akpovwa beat M.Chinery & R.Wood 15-10
Vajrabhaya & Hulme beat T.Goodman & J.Hepburn 15-14
T.Byrne & M.Chibber beat C.Coe & C.Tweedy 15-14
E.Carter & W.Carron beat A.Barnard & E.Barnard 15-14
I.Mitchell & B.Christie beat Sansom & Gowar 15-6
Y.Bleunven & I.Jochim beat D.Ainslie & Evans 2-0 (12-4, 12-3)
A.Mitchell & F.Barnes beat J.Akintolu & I.Akpovwa 2-1 (10-12, 12-8, 15-13)
T.Byrne & M.Chibber beat Vajrabhaya & Hulme 2-0 (12-4, 12-3)
I.Mitchell & B.Christie beat E.Carter & W.Carron 2-0 (12-6, 12-5)
Y.Bleunven & I.Jochim beat A.Mitchell & F.Barnes 2-0 (12-2, 12-7)
I.Mitchell & B.Christie beat T.Byrne & M.Chibber 2-1 (7-12, 12-4, 15-13)
Y.Bleunven & I.Jochim beat I.Mitchell & B.Christie 3-0 (12-5, 12-6, 12-2)
Festival Plate A
J.Cooley & D.Wray beat P.Westwood & A.Westwood 15-13
W.Seath & S.Lawrence beat J.Hepburn & T.Goodman 15-4
W.Seath & S.Lawrence beat J.Cooley & D.Wray 15-10
Festival Plate B
C.Coe & C.Tweedy beat S.Nowinski & D.Naik 15-10
S.Breese & L.Ware beat E.Graham & K.Oswald 17-15
C.Coe & C.Tweedy beat S.Breese & L.Ware 15-2