2013 Under 21 Tournament: Wilson and Abbott Double Up
The 2013 EFA Under 21 Championships took place at Eton at the weekend. The size of the draw was slightly disappointing but was more than made up for by the quality of the pairs taking part, with many of the top school and University pairs battling it out. The men's tournament was won by Cambridge University pair Robert Wilson and Jamie Abbott, who beat Highgate's Charlie Noble and Joe Berriman in the final to claim their second trophy of the season, after their win in the Universities tournament back in October. The ladies event was dominated by Highgate School and was won for the second year in a row by Eve Smith-Bingham and Aimee Paul who came from behind to beat Amira Reimer and Phoebe Bracken in an exciting final.
Despite the late withdrawal of Salopian heavy hitters George Thomason and Henry Lewis, the field for the men's event was the strongest yet seen for this tournament. Highgate, Harrow, Shrewsbury and Westminster all had strong pairs there alongside Oxford and Cambridge Universities and the morning's group stages were highly competitive.
Shrewsbury School have dominated this tournament and the Marsh National Schools' Championships for the last couple of years so it was a slight surprise to see their first pair, Guy Williams and Henry Blofield, get off to a slow start in Group A. Football commitments have meant a lack of time on court so far this term for the Salopian pair and it showed, as early defeats at the hand of Harrovians Zicomo Smith and James Lawson-Baker and Westminsters Leo Nelson-Jones and Riki Houlden meant they were unable to reach the knockout stages, despite an improved showing in their later pool games. Highgate second pair Jamie Willett and Bertie Mills were also in the mix in this group, scoring a shock 12-11 win over Nelson-Jones and Houlden to set up a fascinating last round of matches. The Highgate boys couldn't repeat their previous heroics and went down to Williams and Blofield, leaving both of those pairs with 2 wins and 2 defeats. In the other court, the unbeaten Harrow pair were looking to finish off the group in style with a win over Houlden and Nelson-Jones, but the Westminster duo produced their best performance of the day to win 12-7 and take first place in the group as a result of winning the head to head match against Smith and Lawson-Baker.
This was an important result as it meant that the Harrow pair were forced into a semi-final against the winners of Group B, the number one seeds Robert Wilson and Jamie Abbott from Cambridge, who dominated their group without dropping a game. The other four pairs all fancied their chances of claiming the second qualifying spot but in the end it was Highgate first pair Charlie Noble and Joe Berriman who just edged out Old Salopians Adam Morris and Ben Jones to make it through to the last four.
With the Shrewsbury pairs heading back north, the plate was a four pair contest. Willett and Mills struggled a little with injuries picked up in their morning matches and succumbed to the improving Oxford pair of Fergus Imrie and Jack Flowers in the first semi-final. The second semi was the battle of the brothers with Aldenham's Carl and Alasdair Rennie coming out on top against Highgate's Alex and Sam Tansey. The Rennie brothers had beaten Imrie and Flowers 12-10 in the group stages but the Oxford pair were beginning to find their form by the afternoon and got their revenge by winning the plate final 12-7, 12-7.
The main tournament semi-finals were both terrific matches. Noble and Berriman got off to an absolute flyer against Houlden and Nelson-Jones and raced to a 12-2 first game win. The Westminster pair refound their focus in the second and forced a much closer contest, but in the end the Highgate pair were able to produce a little more consistency to win the second 12-9 and claim a place in the final.
In the other semi-final, Abbott and Wilson were being made to work extremely hard by Smith and Lawson-Baker, who were determined to make up for the disappointment of losing their last group game by taking out the number one seeds. The Cambridge pair won the first game 12-8 but came under some severe pressure in the second, which the Harrovians won 13-12 to take the match into a decider. At this point, Abbott and Wilson began to assert themselves with some strong cutting and measured back court play to move away from their schoolboy opponents and take the third game 12-5.
The final was therefore a repeat of the earlier group match, which had produced a 12-6 win for the Cambridge pair. As the final started it was clear that Wilson and Abbott were determined to use the psychological advantage this gave them. Noble and Berriman played some fine Fives in the final and threw everything they had at the older pair but as in their semi-final, Wilson and Abbott produced some excellent cutting and their range of mid and back court spin shots put the Highgate pair on the back foot too often for them to get close. The final score of 12-6, 12-5 was an accurate reflection of the Cambridge pair's dominance on the day.
The Ladies tournament suffered from a couple of late withdrawals and perhaps more importantly from a strong group of players now being a year too old for this competition. Finding some new challengers in this age group is clearly a priority. The exception to this, of course, are the Highgate School girls who followed up their win in the Black Cup earlier in the year with another exhibition of terrific Fives to dominate the competition. The Oxford pairing of Harriets Asquith and Allan and the Cambridge pair Olivia Prankerd-Smith and Anneliese O'Malley played some good Fives and showed a lot of promise during the day but the superior footwork and consistency of the Highgate girls was too much for them in the end.
Marjolaine Briscoe and Olivia Hirschfield showed their continued improvement to finish third but the final was between the two top Highgate pairs - Eve Smith-Bingham & Aimee Paul taking on Amira Reimer & Phoebe Bracken. All four girls are still in the Under 14 age group, but they have all played a lot of Fives now and that experience shows in the way they all play the game. Eve and Aimee are the pair who have won all before them for the last couple of years, but Phoebe and Amira are not far behind and a shock looked like it might be on the cards as the second pair took the first game 12-7. This was a good test for the defending champions, who had to dig deep to come back; it was also a test for the underdogs, to see if they really had the self-belief to hang on and win against the supposedly superior pair. In the end, Aimee's power and Eve's class shone through in the second and third games as they came from behind to win the last two games 12-7 and 12-3 and retain their title.
Thanks are due to all who played, all the schools who supported the tournament and to Eton for allowing us to use their courts.
R.Wilson & J.Abbott beat Z.Smith & J.Lawson-Baker 2-1 (12-8, 12-13, 12-5)
C.Noble & J.Berriman beat L.Nelson-Jones & R.Houlden 2-0 (12-2, 12-9)
R.Wilson & J.Abbott beat C.Noble & J.Berriman 2-0 (12-6, 12-5)
F.Imrie & J.Flowers beat C.Rennie & A.Rennie 2-0 (12-7, 12-7)
E.Smith-Bingham & A.Paul beat P.Bracken & A.Reimer 2-1 (7-12, 12-7, 12-3)