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2010 Engadin Challenge: The hills are alive...with the sound of Fives balls

Seb Cooley reports:

The 10th Engadin Challenge Tournament took place in Zuoz recently with a strong UK contingent joining in with the local players for an entertaining weekend's Fives.

There can be, surely, few greater journeys in the world of Fives. Heading up to a spectacular pass with a valley, nay, chasm, to one side and sheer rock to the other, with peaks commanding every other available angle, is not in any way comparable to the M40 or even the climb past Highgate cemetery. And nothing will take you breath away (if, at 6000 ft, you’ve managed to catch it in the first place) quite like the magnificence of the Engadin Valley opening before you as you are welcomed to the very heart of the Alps. To undertake this for a weekend of Fives organised by the Zuoz Old Boys is a huge bonus: the spirit in which Danny Haering organises – and indeed demands that everyone play – the tournament is fiercely competitive, yet always friendly and completely fair. It is testament to the charms both of the setting and of the competition that so many players have repeatedly made the pilgrimage since the first Engadin Challenge in 1992.

This year, seven players from England joined nine Zuoz Old Boys and a selection of school boys and girls. The group stages saw some impressively close games and a number of 2-1 results, particularly in Pool A which saw Grant & Guy Williams qualify top and Z.O.B.s Danny Haering & Felix Büchi coming second after two very close matches. The other Championship Pool saw three schoolboys qualify for the semi-finals: Marc Aman with Seb Cooley and Renato Büchi & Kevin Michaelsen.

The semi-finals began on Sunday morning, on the lower courts as rain had fallen on the newly refurbished (and now lit) upper courts. In the first of these, Danny played through injury to an arm sustained in battle in the groups, but he and Felix could not pick up momentum and lost 2-0 to Marc and Seb. The other semi saw some very good play from the Swiss schoolboys (Renato had been accurate and aggressive with his drives all weekend) but they were no match for the experience of the father and son pair, who also claimed their place in the final by 2 games to 0.

The final was an excellent contest, well worthy of the title. Guy and Grant know each other’s game very well and Grant used his experience and demonstrated superb coaching ability to get the most out of Guy, who has three years left at Shrewsbury. They had a lot of defending to do against the full range of Seb’s attacking shots but in the end it was the Zuoz schoolboy, Marc, who by returning almost everything on top step – and frequently sending in accurate shots from the back from balls that had got past Seb – who made the difference. Pressure on the Salopians never seemed to let off and Marc and Seb won in two games.

The central point of the tournament is of course the dinner for all competitors on Saturday evening. It is a celebration of past tournaments, present endeavours and future challenges and of the friendships formed through these events. Danny handed out the “most improved player” award to Yves Gogniat (ZOB) and the “Crazy Traveller Award” – for greatest journey undertaken to participate – to Grant Williams, who has regularly made the trip from England to play. Andy Sentence, in reply, awarded Danny Haering honorary membership of the Oxford University Eton Fives Club, in the hope that the tie would aid him on the sartorial front in the future. The real news, though, was the announcement that, having organised ten tournaments, Danny is going to give the Engadin Challenge a rest for a while. I’m sure I speak for everyone who has ever taken part in one of these tournaments when I thank Danny for his charismatic, efficient but above all always humorous organisation of this tournament. It is his energy and enthusiasm that have driven this tournament and which have for me, in the ten years I’ve been heading out to it, Danny has been the true and literal embodiment of the fantastic spirit of the weekend.