Oxford Again In The Universities Mixed
17/02/20: Serial title winners Hugo Young and Marjolaine Briscoe added yet another trophy to their recent hauls as they teamed up at Eton yesterday to win the Universities Mixed competition.
The overall entry this year was a decent one of 11 pairs, but the disappointing aspect was the absence of any non-Oxbridge pairs, with only the presence of Andrew Whitehead (Oxford Brookes) and Will Seath (Royal Holloway) breaking up the Light and Dark Blue domination. Several potentially strong pairs - Wales, Birmingham, Durham, LSE and Imperial all spring to mind - never made it to the start line, a combination of injury, exams, travel and other sporting commitments depriving the tournament of some variety and strength in depth.
That the numbers were high was therefore a testament to the Oxford and Cambridge clubs for rounding up the troops and braving the tricky weather and travel conditions to make it to Eton (eventually) for a slightly delayed start. Oxford 1 - fresher Hugo Young and 2018 and 2019 champion Marjolaine Briscoe - were heavy favourites right from the start and they cruised through their morning group without really breaking sweat. The Cambridge first string of club captains Viral Gudiwala and Clara Calderbank had to work a bit harder to qualify in second place but saw off the other challengers to take their place in the semi-finals ahead of Cambridge 3 (Arthur Clover & Jessye Tu) in third place and the Oxford/Royal Holloway combination of Alix Quersonnier & Will Seath in fourth. Those two pairs qualified for Plate A while Cambridge 5 (Sze Lynn Yuen & Harshal Kalaiya) and Cambridge 7 (Emily Marr & Alex Butcher) headed for the sunny uplands of Plate B.
The other group was rather less clear cut, with the damage being done by the Cambridge fourth pair of Annalise Whitehead & Henry Lyle. Inexperienced in Fives terms, but both talented ball players, they first of all took the scalp of Oxford 3 (Amelia Hepburn & Edwin Gosnell) and then followed that up by taking an 11-1 lead against Cambridge 2 (Sophie Lumsdon & Nick Choustikov) and holding on when the inevitable fightback came to win 15-12. They qualified in second behind group winners Oxford 2 (Freya Butler & Andrew Whitehead) who gained in confidence as the group stage went on. Cambridge 6 (Becky Diston & Rupert Swallow) headed for Plate B with no wins but some encouraging performances.
With the Barber Cup semi-finals on the adjacent courts, the driving wind and rain of the morning disappearing, a smattering of spectators arriving and a few rays of sunshine poking through, the latter stages of the competition took on a rather more enjoyable aspect, especially for the rather bedraggled tournament organiser.
The matches were getting closer and more exciting as pairs began to gel, getting to grips with the mixed format and finding themselves up against pairs of similar ability. In the main competition, the giantkilling exploits of Annalise Whitehead & Henry Lyle quickly came to an abrupt end at the hands of Oxford 1, but the other semi-final was turning into the match of the tournament with little to choose between the two pairs. In both games, Oxford's Freya Butler & Andrew Whitehead got to 10 first but both times the games ended up being set, first to 15 and then to 14 and it was the Cambridge pair of Clara Calderbank & Viral Gudiwala who managed to produce the right shot at the right time in the final stages to come through 15-12, 14-13 and set up an Oxford 1 v Cambridge 1 final and a first appearance in the final for a Cambridge pair since 2017.
The Oxford pair came into the final with the winning pedigree - Marj has won this tournament for the last two years alongside first Tom Kirkby and then Sam Oppenheimer and Hugo has swept all before him this season with wins in the U21s, U25s, Universities and Midlands competitions as well as a semi-final and the scalp of James Toop & Howard Wiseman at the Northern a couple of weeks ago. For Cambridge, Viral was in his first EFA tournament final and Clara only took up the game at University; although they lost the final to Hugo & Marj, they played very impressively and raised their game notably from earlier in the day, not an easy feat against such top quality opponents and having just made it through an extremely tight semi-final. The scoreline of 12-6, 12-9 shows just how well they played and how hard they pushed the Oxford pair in the second game especially. Their performance also strikes an encouraging note ahead of the Varsity match in three weeks time.
The Plate competitions were fought for just as seriously as they should be; Cambridge 2 overcame the disappointment of their early exit in the group stages to see off first Oxford/RH and then Oxford 3 in the final to claim fifth position overall. Cambridge 3 came from behind to win the 7th/8th place battle in three tight games against RH/Oxford in the last match of the day to finish and the order of the lower Cambridge pairs was reinforced as pair 5 finished ahead of pair 6, who finished ahead of pair 7 in Plate B.
My thanks go to the Jesters for their sponsorship of this event and their travel subsidy, which is crucial to its success, to Eton for hosting the tournament and to everyone who defied the weather, came and played and made it such an enjoyable day.
Oxford 1 (M.Briscoe & H.Young) beat Cambridge 4 (A.Whitehead & H.Lyle) 2-0 (12-5, 12-1)
Cambridge 1 (C.Calderbank & V.Gudiwala) beat Oxford 2 (F.Butler & A.Whitehead) 2-0 (15-12, 14-13)
Oxford 1 beat Cambridge 1 2-0 (12-6, 12-9)
Oxford 2 beat Cambridge 4 12-8
Oxford 3 (A.Hepburn & E.Gosnell) beat Cambridge 3 (J.Tu & A.Clover) 15-7
Cambridge 2 (S.Lumsdon & N.Choustikov) beat Oxford/Royal Holloway (A.Quersonnier & W.Seath) 15-5
Cambridge 2 beat Oxford 3 2-0 (13-11, 12-8)
Cambridge 3 beat Oxford/RH 2-1 (9-12, 15-11, 12-9)
Plate B (Round Robin)
1. Cambridge 5 (S-L Yuen & H.Kalaiya)
2. Cambridge 6 (B.Diston & R.Swallow)
3. Cambridge 7 (E.Marr & A.Butcher)