Jesters Universities Mixed: Oxford On Top
12/02/18: Oxford University's golden season continued as they dominated the eighth edition of the Jesters Universities mixed tournament at a bitterly cold Eton yesterday.
Eleven pairs took part - down from twelve after a late withdrawal from Royal Holloway - with players representing Cambridge, Surrey, Cardiff, Imperial, London and Royal Holloway joining six and a half pairs from Oxford, who went on to provide three of the semi-finalists and both finalists.
The morning group stages produced some interesting Fives as the players adapted to mixed rules and gauged the strength of their own partners and of their opponents. The top four seeded pairs - Cambridge and Oxford 1,2 and 3 - all made it through into the semi-finals, although the London pair of Sahil Shah & Sarah Jackman took 8 points off Cambridge's Pippa Ball & Riki Houlden to finish third in Group A and the Cardiff/Surrey pairing of Francesca Turnbull & Alex Abrahams did the same in Group B against Oxford 3 (Carolina Valensise & Sam Oppenheimer). There were strong performances from Oxford 4 (Lauren Rowley & Jacob Greenhouse) and Oxford 5 (Miwa Sykes & Rushab Badiani) to claim fourth place in each group and a place in Plate A, while the three remaining pairs - Imperial (Kotka Lim & Lois Galletly), Oxford 6 (Romil Depala & Laura Stokes) and Oxford/Royal Holloway (Nina Ludekens & Silas Lawrence) all had some good moments, the inexperienced players in particular showing plenty of promise.
The main tournament semi-finals looked like great match-ups on paper and so they proved on court. The three Oxford girls are all experienced players; Cambridge's Pippa Ball started playing much more recently but is developing into a strong player. She found herself up against an in form Marjolaine Briscoe in the semi-finals, however, going for the same Universities, Under 21s and Unis Mixed treble as her partner Tom Kirkby and despite Pippa's best efforts and the class of her partner Riki Houlden, fresh from his Northern tournament final appearance last weekend, the Oxford pair were always in control. The other semi-final was a humdinger with former Oxford captain Rosie Parr & James Piggot (Oxford 1) taking on Valensise & Oppenheimer. This was Rosie's last chance to win a competition she had never won before and add the mixed title to her Universities ladies win from 2016. The first game was nip and tuck with nothing to choose between the pairs until the last couple of points, Valensise & Oppenheimer taking it 13-11. The Oxford third pair followed this up with another fine performance in the equally tight second game, with Carolina's steadiness and retrieving ability probably the decisive factor as they closed out the second game 12-9 to book their place in the final.
The final was a replay of the first group game of the morning, which Oxford 2 had won 12-7 in relative comfort. Carolina & Sam's confidence had clearly been boosted by their slightly unexpected semi-final win and this showed straight away in the final, which was a much closer contest right from the start. Sam in particular came to the fore in the first game, cutting with power and precision and volleying decisively. Tom & Marjolaine's game is built around steadiness, resilience and accuracy, however, and they weathered the storm to lead 11-9. Back came Sam & Carolina, though, levelling at 11-11 and then saving more game points to level again at 13-13 and set up a couple of chances of their own. It was Tom & Marjolaine who had the final say, though, clinching the first game 14-13. This proved to be the turning point of the match - Carolina & Sam were unable to provide the same threat in the second game as Tom & Marjolaine's consistency and precision took them away to close out the match with a 12-5 win. This was a tremendous final between the two Etonian/Cholemeleian pairs and a great example of what a good game mixed Fives can be when played well. For Tom and Marjolaine, it completed the fantastic treble of Universities, Under 21s and Universities Mixed and showed them to be potential mixed challengers to Seb & Charlotta Cooley, not least in the shortest combined pair category...
The plate competitions also produced some excellent matches, London's Sarah Jackman & Sahil Shah claiming Plate A and fifth place with a 2-1 win over Cardiff/Surrey despite a thrilling 14-13 win for Alex Abrahams and Francesca Turnbull in the second game. Oxford 5's Rushab Badiani & Miwa Sykes completed a fine tournament for them with a win over Lauren Rowley and Jacob Greenhouse (Oxford 4) to take seventh place, with Rushab also winning the shot of the tournament competition for an earlier right hand over the left shoulder flick from the front left that turned into a screaming winner landing in the final inch or two of the court and flying out the back right to leave Tom Kirkby standing in admiration in their group match. The Plate B round robin was hard fought and was won by the Oxford/Royal Holloway pair of Nina Ludekens & Silas Lawrence, with Silas winning his second plate competition in as many weeks. The new Tony Stubbs, perhaps?
My thanks go to the Jesters for providing their generous sponsorship to cover everyone's travel costs, to Mike Hughes, George Thomason and Eton for hosting the tournament and to all those who braved the arctic conditions to make it such an enjoyable day.
Oxford 3 (C.Valensise & S.Oppenheimer) beat Oxford 1 (R.Parr & J.Piggot) 2-0 (13-11, 12-9)
Oxford 2 (M.Briscoe & T.Kirkby) beat Cambridge (P.Ball & R.Houlden) 2-0 (12-5, 12-7)
Oxford 2 beat Oxford 3 2-0 (14-13, 12-5)
London (S.Jackman & S.Shah) beat Oxford 5 (M.Sykes & R.Badiani) 15-6
Cardiff/Surrey (F.Turnbull & A.Abrahams) beat Oxford 4 (L.Rowley & J.Greenhouse) 15-8
London beat Cardiff/Surrey 2-1 (12-9, 13-14, 12-3)
Oxford 5 beat Oxford 4 15-9
Plate B (Round Robin)
1. Oxford/Royal Holloway (N.Ludekens & S.Lawrence)
2. Imperial (L.Galletly & K.Lim)
3. Oxford 6 (L.Stokes & R.Depala)