Under 21s 2019: Wins for Olave's And Oxford
18/02/19: The 2019 men's Under 21 tournament in association with Advanta Wealth was won in thrilling style at Eton yesterday by St.Olave's school pair Prajeeth Sathiyamoorthy & Sachin Balaji, while Oxford's Marjolaine Briscoe & Georgia Allen continued the longstanding Cholmeleian domination of the ladies competition with a commanding win on the Iffley Road courts in Oxford.
This year's competition fell in half-term, which meant a reduced entry - a shame, as some of the top school pairs missed out on an excellent day's Fives. There was a certain irony, therefore that the men's competition was won by a school pair for the first time since Shrewsbury's Henry Lewis & Jack Hudson-Williams in 2012, Olavians Prajeeth Sathiyamoorthy & Sachin Balaji winning four consecutive games that were set at 10-10 or 11-11 to overcome more experienced opponents and take the title.
The tournament started with no clear favourite and the morning group stages didn't do much to make things clearer. Group B was fairly clear cut, with Millhillians Charles Plummer & Hal Gibson-Leitao topping the group, including a comfortable 15-9 win over Sathiyamoorthy & Balaji, an interesting result in the light of things to come. The St.Olave's pair comfortably saw off the challenge of Sahil Shah & Dan Marshall, George Everitt & Will Ryan and Will Seath & Ollie Avery to claim the second qualifying spot.
It quickly became apparent that Group A would be as complicated as Group B had been straightforward. The Oxford/Oxford Brookes pairing of Arthur Wellesley & Sam Mcloughlin got off to a strong start with a win over Cambridge's Viral Gudiwala & Akhil Shah. The other game was one of the best matches of the whole tournament, Noah Caplin & Alex Abrahams edging past Old Westminsters Hugo Young & Can Koksal 12-10, 12-10. Koksal & Young then stunned Wellesley & Mcloughlin with a 12-11 first game win before th Oxford pair took the second to 4. Caplin & Abrahams had - just - beaten Gudiwala & Shah, so needed only to win one of the two games against Wellesley & Mclouglin to top the group. Sam & Arthur took the first to 6 but the second was an absolute nailbiter, going all the way to 11-11 before Sam & Arthur clinched the win. To complete the topsy-turvy nature of the group, Young & Koksal again contrived to lose two tight games, this time to 9 and 10 against the QEB & Cambridge pair of Gudiwala & Shah.
After a pause for breath and some lunch, the semi-finals got underway in both the main and plate competitions, with the spectators in the interesting position of really not knowing who was most likely to win in any of the four courts. The two plate semis were mini-epics in themselves, Gudiwala & Shah coming back from losing the first game against Highgate's George Everitt & Will Ryan to win the next two 13-11, 12-10 and Young & Koksal again losing a tight game 13-14 to Marshall & Shah before winning the next two more comfortably. By this stage, injury and fatigue were intervening and the pairs decided that sharing the plate was easily the best solution.
The main competition semi-finals were also exciting and nerve-wracking affairs. Group B winners Plummer & Gibson-Leitao - less tired but having had a longer break - were stunned by an early assualt from Alex Abrahams & Noah Caplin who stormed out to an early lead and held on to win the first game 12-10. By that stage, however, the Millhillian pair had begun to hit their stride, playing with good control and consistency to take charge of the match in games two and three and claim their place in the final.
The other group winners, Mcloughlin & Wellesley, made a more convincing start in their match against Prajeeth & Sachin, perhaps lacking the consistency of their opponents but possessing sufficient firepower at the set piece and on the volley to get 11-7 ahead. The next passage of play was probably the most important of the whole tournament, as Sam & Arthur were unable to close the game out, Prajeeth & Sachin visibly growing in confidence as they clawed their way back to 11-11 and then powered on to an unexpected 14-11 victory. The second game was equally close; Sam & Arthur were clearly rocked by the loss of the first game but managed to hold things together and when things clicked for them they were able to produce mini runs of points. Prajeeth & Sachin now believed they could win, however, and even when they were pegged back from 10-7 up to 10-10, they looked the steadier, more convincing and less nervy of the two pairs in the clutch points, taking the game 13-11 to make it into the final.
As mentioned above, the group game between the two finalists had been a fairly routine victory for the Millhillian pair of Plummer & Gibson-Leitao. By the time they played against each other in the final, the dynamics had changed a little. Charles & Hal were still playing well, Hal's soft hands and quick feet combining well with Charles's ambidexterity, spin shots and sharp volleying. The Olavian pair, though, were transformed from the pair that had played in the morning, their semi-final win providing them with a degree of self-confidence and belief that had been lacking earlier. Fitness and fatigue at the end of a long day would also play a part, with the Olavian pair benefitting from a lot more time on court in recent weeks than their opponents.
All four players started feeling the pace at various stages of the final, having to battle cramp and fatigue, but the quality of the match remained high; both games followed a similar pattern with neither pair ever able to make a decisive move on the scoreboard and both being set at 10-10. As in the semi-final, the difference was that when things got close at the end of each game, the younger Olavian pair - and Prajeeth Sathiyamoorthy in particular - were able to stay consistent and raise their game when it really counted, especially at the set piece, which allowed them to come through 15-11, 13-11 to claim the title.
There will be some other school pairs on the circuit who were unable to play in this competition and who will also have their eyes firmly on the schools' championships prize in a few weeks time, but this was an impressive display by the Olave's school pair, who beat some very good student pairs to win, sending out a clear message to some of their school rivals.
The absence of the boarding school pairs due to half-term hit the ladies competition hard, with the hoped for challenge from the Shrewsbury school girl pairs not materialising. This competition has been dominated by Highgate since 2012 and that continued this year with defending champion Marjolaine Briscoe partnering Oxford captain Georgia Allen to a comfortable victory over another Oxford Cholmeleian Carolina Valensise (a winner last year in this competition), back on a Fives court after a lengthy rowing sabbatical and partnering her younger sister Lorenza in a match played on the courts at Iffley Road in Oxford.
Thanks to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship of this event, to Eton and Oxford University sports centre for hosting the competitions and to all those who came to watch and play.
P.Sathiyamoorthy & S.Balaji beat S.Mcloughlin & A.Wellesley 2-0 (14-11, 13-12)
C.Plummer & H.Gibson-Leitao beat N.Caplin & A.Abrahams 2-1 (10-12, 12-4, 12-3)
P.Sathiyamoorthy & S.Balaji beat C.Plummer & H.Gibson-Leitao 2-0 (15-11, 13-11)
H.Young & C.Koksal beat S.Shah & D.Marshall 2-1 (13-14, 12-8, 12-4)
V.Gudiwala & A.Shah beat G.Everitt & W.Ryan 2-1 (8-12, 13-11, 12-10)
M.Briscoe & G.Allen beat C.Valensise & L.Valensise 2-0 (12-4, 12-3)