2012 Under 25s: Defending Champions reign supreme
The Men's and Ladies' National Under 25 titles were retained by last year's winners Andrew Joyce and Laurie Brock and Karen Hird and Emily Scoones at Highgate on Saturday.
The 2012/13 edition of the tournament suffered a scare a few days before with the sudden unavailability of the Eton courts. Thankfully Highgate stepped in to save the day and succeeded in hosting a record entry for the tournament of 25 pairs.
The men's tournament was missing one or two major players, partly due to an unfortunate clash with an Old Salopian sporting event up in Shrewsbury, but there was nevertheless a good turnout with pairs from Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Cardiff Universities as well as a group of young Old Cholmeleians, which bodes well for that particular club, and a strong showing from the Old Westminsters. Last, but by no means least, it was great to see a very promising pair from Rydal Penrhos School in Colwyn Bay make the long trip to London to take part in the event.
The group stages went pretty much to form, with defending champions Andrew Joyce and Laurie Brock dominating Group A and 2011 London Tournament Festival winners Abhishek and Aroop Bhattacharya coming through Group B unbeaten. Group C was much closer with three pairs all in contention; in the end the Cranleighan/Cholmeleian combination of Archie Cameron-Blackie and Joe Marks came out on top, with Ryan Perrie and Ralph Morgan second and Old Westminsters Callum Brock and Sam Williams the third qualifiers. The quarter-final line-up was completed by Cardiff University pair and last year's Northern festival winners Alex Yusaf and Edward Leakey, the Oxford University combination of Fergus Imrie and Dan Byam Shaw and Old Cholmeleians Alec Noar and Sam Moulding.
The three group winners all duly won their quarter-finals and Perrie and Morgan won the battle of the runners-up with a 15-8 win over Noar and Moulding. That was as good as it got for them, however, as they came up against top seeds Brock and Joyce in the semis, losing 12-4, 12-1. The other semi-final provided the closest match of the day with Marks and Cameron-Blackie taking on the Bhattacharya brothers. Abs and Aroop won the first to 9, but Joe and Archie came back strongly in the second to level at 1-1. The third was anyone's game, but the extra home advantage, as well as their greater experience of playing together as a pair, was enough for the Bhattacharyas to claim their spot in the final.
No-one had been able to offer a challenge to the Berkhamsted/Westminster pairing of Joyce and Brock all day, and hard though the Bhattacharyas tried, the champions were simply too good in the final and proved themselves to be clearly the class of the field this year with a 12-3, 12-3 win to retain their title.
The ladies event was bolstered by the presence of a very young but very strong Highgate contingent, who were looking to use home advantage and claim a few older scalps. Standing in the way of the Highgate girls were 2011 winners Karen Hird and Emily Scoones and 2012 ladies national champion Lia Redmond, playing with former Cambridge captain Emmalina Thompsell. In the first semi-final, Redmond and Thompsell found themselves up against Hird and Scoones and it was the reigning champions who got onto the front foot from the start and booked their place in the final in straight games. The other semi-final was an all-Highgate affair with first pair Eve Smith-Bingham and Aimee Paul having the edge over Phoebe Bracken and Amira Reimer.
The two finalists had played each other in the quarter-finals of the Ladies Nationals earlier in the year at Eton and on that occasion Karen and Emily had squeezed through by the narrowest of margins. With this match being played on Eve and Aimee's home courts, another exciting encounter seemed to be on the cards and the four players didn't disappoint. Karen and Emily got off to a fast start, racing out to an early lead and holding on to take the first game. Eve and Aimee bounced back in the second game, however, to level at 1-1. The crucial third game was nip and tuck all the way and it took a Highgate cut flying out of court at 11-11 and sudden death to give the older pair the lead. When Karen and Emily clawed back a 6-10 deficit in the fourth to push the game all the way to 15, it looked like they might be about to win in four, but the Highgate girls are formidable opponents and raised their game when it mattered to take the match into a fifth and final game. All four players were beginning to tire, but with Emily providing strong support, particularly with her return of cut, it was the outstanding Karen Hird who dominated the fifth game with some aggressive cutting and attacking volleying to clinch the title for the second successive year.
The plate competitions were both fiercely contested as always, and produced wins for the two youngest pairs in their respective competitions, with the Highgate fourth pair claiming the ladies plate with a final win over Annabel Griffiths and Sarah Greasley of the Bateman Badgers and the Rydal youngsters Tomus Cotterell and Adam Sabri capping an outstanding afternoon's Fives in the plate competition with a fine win over old Westminsters George Illingworth and Minheer Chanrai.
Thanks are due to Highgate, especially Anthony Brunner and Susy Prosser-Harries, for hosting the tournament at such short notice, to Annabel Griffiths for her excellent organisation - as ever - of the ladies tournament and to all who made the effort to take part.
A.Joyce & L.Brock beat F.Imrie & D.Byam Shaw 15-4
R.Perrie & R.Morgan beat A.Noar & S.Moulding 15-8
J.Marks & A.Cameron-Blackie beat A.Yusaf & E.Leakey 15-9
A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya beat S.Williams & C.Brock 15-8
A.Joyce & L.Brock beat R.Perrie & R.Morgan 2-0 (12-4, 12-1)
A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya beat J.Marks & A.Cameron-Blackie 2-1 (12-9, 5-12, 12-7)
A.Joyce & L.Brock beat A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya 2-0 (12-3, 12-3)
Plate (Round Robin)
T.Cotterell & A.Sabri
K.Hird & E.Scoones beat L.Redmond & E.Thompsell 2-0
E.Smith-Bingham & A.Paul beat P.Bracken & A.Reimer 2-0
K.Hird & E.Scoones beat E.Smith-Bingham & A.Paul 3-2 (12-6, 10-12, 12-11, 10-15, 12-6)
Highgate 4 beat A.Griffiths & S.Greasley