Universities 2014: Cambridge at the Double

03/11/14: The 2014 Universities tournament threw up some impressive numbers this year: a record-equalling 34 pairs, 20 different Universities represented, over 120 individual games of Fives played, all 16 courts at Eton in use simultaneously and two wins out of two for Cambridge University, winners of both the men's and ladies tournaments for the first time since 2009.

This tournament has rapidly become one of the most enjoyable events on the Fives calendar and throws up all sorts of interesting combinations - old school rivals suddenly find themselves on the same side, some players find their way back on to a Fives court for the first time since leaving school or for the one opportunity they may get during the year and some players get to experience life on an Eton Fives court for the first time full stop. This was a year of "finallys" as Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd-Smith finally got their hands on the ladies trophy in their sixth and final year as students at Cambridge and Old Olavian Tony Barker finally got back on court in this his third year at Cambridge, teaming up with Old Westminster Riki Houlden to win the men's tournament in fine style.

As well as Cambridge, this year's tournament featured representatives from far and wide: Oxford, Bristol, Queen Mary's, Sheffield, Loughborough, UCL, Imperial, Warwick, Durham, BPP, Middlesex, Imperial, Liverpool, Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Leicester, Birmingham, Swansea and Reading. The men's tournament saw 23 pairs split into four groups and while this is a notoriously difficult tournament to predict, the fancied pairs made it into the quarter-finals pretty much as expected. Cambridge 1 and Oxford 1 dominated their groups, with UCL 1 and Bristol winning the others, pushed hard by Imperial and QM respectively. The BPP/Middlesex combo of Zuozer Alex Constantine and Aldenhamian Andrew Rennie and Oxford's second pair, Cholmeleians Max Wintle and Alec Noar, completed the quarter-final line-up. Cambridge 1 - Olavian Tony Barker and Westminster Riki Houlden - continued to look impressive as they dismantled the QM threat of Westminsters Sam Williams and Adam Robinow and Oxford 2 were seen off by Bristol, as the West Country duo of Etonian Charlie Fairbanks-Smith and Cholmeleian Charlie Noble moved inthe the last four. UCL1 featured another Eton/Highgate pairing of James Tugwell and Joe Marks, and they just had enough to stay ahead of BPP/Middlesex. Oxford 1's Westminsters (James Alster and Sacha Mehta) looked in control of the last quarter-final as they established a 14-10 lead over Imperial's Chris Self and Darshan Patel. The Olavian/Aldenhamian duo dug in, though, and gradually fought their way back to 14-14, clinching the match as an Oxford cut went out of court off a ledge.

The Imperial pair were unable to continue their form into the semi-finals as Cambridge 1 powered through to a comfortable victory. With Riki Houlden scampering and retrieving as if his life depended on it and Tony Barker dominating the top step as if he'd never been away from the game, they finished in double quick time and were able to sit back and watch the match of the day unfold in the other semi-final as Eton & Highgate took on Eton & Highgate in the guise of UCL v Bristol. This was one of those matches where there was virtually nothing to separate the pairs right from the off. All three games were set; all three could have gone either way and were decided by the narrowest of margins. Bristol's pair of Charlies won the first 13-10 and had a match point in the second before losing 12-11. Remarkably, the decider saw another match point come and then go for the Bristol pair as James Tugwell and Joe Marks squeezed through into the final 13-12.

As is often the case in these one day tournaments where one semi is much closer than the other, the final was something of an anticlimax, with the much fresher Cambridge pair ruthless in taking advantage of their opponent's tiredness. James and Joe tried hard, but they were a spent force after their epic victory in the semi-final and were no match for the impressive Barker and Houlden, who won at a canter to take the trophy back to Cambridge once again.

The Plate competitions were many and varied and all fought for with great enjoyment and enthusiasm; Liverpool's Aroop Bhattacharya and Alice Brett narrowly failed to defend their Plate A title form last year, losing 12-11 in an epic semi-final to the Leicester/Birmingham pair of Ben Hart and Chris Davey, who went on to lose the final to Oxford's Dan Byam Shaw and Charlie Kershaw. The other semi-finalists were Old Emanuel Tom McCahon and David Butler - a Rugby Fives star playing in his first Eton Fives competition - of Durham, who kept going remarkably well after their 5:30am start form the North East. The other Durham pair of Alex Tansey (Highgate) and Alpesh Mapara (QEB) made it to the Plate B final, where they lost to Salopians Adam Morris and Elen Murphy from the University of Wales. Plate C was won by Saj Patel and Dan Scott of Cambridge who beat the Old Aldenhamian pair of Oli Kyte (Sheffield) and Elliot Worsley (Loughborough) inthe final.

The Ladies tournament was dominated by pairs from Oxford and Cambridge, including several pairs of beginners and a large majority who hadn't played before University. The standard was therefore remarkably high across the board, with all the pairs involved impressing and all of the newcomers making rapid strides throughout the day. Alongside the Oxbridge contingent were the fancied London pair of Harriet Asquith (UCL) and Sarah Greasley (Imperial) and a hybrid pair from Swansea (Berkhamstedian Melody Chan) and Reading (Oakhamian Isobel Neill-Smith, back on court for the first time in nearly three years).

The three top seeds - Cambridge 1, Oxford 1 and London - all navigated the group stages comfortably as expected, although the stinging 12-1 win by Cambridge's Elana Osen & Olivia Prankerd-Smith over Oxford's Izzy Watts & Scarlett Maguire certainly raised a few eyebrows. They were joined in the semi-finals by Oxford 2's Lucy Rands and Kate Hodkinson who beat their Cambridge 2 counterparts Hannah Rapley & Sophie Kelly 12-5 to clinch their last four spot.

Elana and Olivia continued their impressive form in the semi-finals, beating Oxford 2 comfortably, while the other two favoured pairs fought it out in a three game thriller. London looked like they had the edge initially, Harry and Sarah winning the first game 12-7, but Izzy and Scarlett are made of stern stuff and fought back to win the second 12-10 and the third 13-10 to leave the London pair disappointed and give themselves a chance of avenging their group stage defeat at the hands of the Cambridge pair.

Elana and Olivia are both in their sixth and final year as Cambridge students and in that time have consistently and steadily improved as individual players and as a pair. Success in this tournament has always eluded them, and having lost in the final to Izzy and Alice Walker last year, there was a steely determination in their play all day as they looked to make their last chance count. They won the first game of the final easily 12-4, and although Izzy and Scarlett played much better in the second, providing much more attacking threat, it was the Cambridge pair's superior cut returning that laid the foundations for a 12-9 win to finally get their hands on the trophy.

Cambridge 2 won plate A, ahead of Cambridge 3, Swansea/Reading and Oxford 3 (a special mention here for Clare Jamison and Alice Stables, playing in their first tournament having only seen a court for the first time four days before, and winning two group matches to qualify for the higher plate competition) and Cambridge 5 (Susanna Xu & Rhonda Shiels) won Plate B to complete a very successful day for the Light Blue team.

My thanks go to Eton and Mark Williams and Mike Hughes for hosting us, to Abhishek Bhattacharya for his support and medical skills (when we actually needed him he was nowhere to be seen), to Karen Hird for her magnificent dinosaur cakes, supersub skills and ambulance driving, to Saj Patel, Sophie Kelly, Dan Byam Shaw, Scarlett Maguire, James Tugwell and Alex Tansey for their excellent team management and to all those who made the effort to come to Eton and take part in what was a fantastic day's Fives.

Results

Men's Tournament

Quarter-Finals

Bristol (C.Noble & C.Fairbanks-Smith) beat Oxford 2 (M.Wintle & A.Noar) 15-4

UCL 1 (J.Tugwell & J.Marks) beat BPP/Middlesex (A.Constantine & A.Rennie) 15-10

Imperial (C.Self & D.Patel) beat Oxford 1 (J.Alster & S.Mehta) 15-14

Cambridge 1 (T.Barker & R.Houlden) beat Queen Mary's (S.Williams & A.Robinow) 15-3

Semi-Finals

UCL 1 beat Bristol 2-1 (10-13, 12-11, 13-12)

Cambridge 1 beat Imperial 2-0 (12-2, 12-2)

Final

Cambridge 1 beat UCL 1 2-0 (12-1, 12-1)

Plate A Quarter-Finals

Oxford 3 (D.Byam Shaw & C.Kershaw) beat Cambridge 3 (J.Crawford & C.Moore) 12-10

Durham 2 (T.McCahon & D.Butler) beat UCL 2 (A.Ibbetson & D.Chandra) 12-2

Leicester/Birmingham (B.Hart & C.Davey) beat Warwick (G.Lianos & D.Seymour-Howell) 12-7

Liverpool (A.Bhattacharya & A.Brett) beat Oxford 4 (S.Packer & S.Thatcher) 12-6

Plate A Semi-Finals

Oxford 3 beat Durham 2 12-7

Leics/Bir beat Liverpool 12-11

Plate A Final

Oxford 3 beat Leics/Bir 12-8

Plate B Semi-Finals

Wales (A.Morris & E.Murphy) beat Cambridge 4 (A.Stewart & N.Walker) W/O

Durham 1 (A.Tansey & A.Mapara) beat UCL/Cam (T.Chen & S.Balaji) 12-8

Plate B Final

Wales beat Durham 1 12-2

Plate C Final

Cambridge 5 (S.Patel & D.Scott) beat Sheffield/Loughborough (O.Kyte & E.Worsley)

Quarter-Finalists Plate Final

Oxford 2 beat QM

Plate A Quarter-Finalists Plate Final

UCL 2 beat Warwick

 

Ladies Tournament

Semi-Finals

Cambridge 1 (E.Osen & O.Prankerd-Smith) beat Oxford 2 (L.Rands & K.Hodkinson) 2-0 (12-4, 12-0)

Oxford 1 (I.Watts & S.Maguire) beat London (H.Asquith & S.Greasley) 2-1 (7-12, 12-10, 13-10)

Final

Cambridge 1 beat Oxford 1 2-0 (12-4, 12-9)

Plate A Semi-Finals

Cambridge 3 (B.Hreben & A.Cave) beat Oxford 3 (A.Stables & C.Jamison) 15-2

Cambridge 2 (H.Rapley & S.Kelly) beat Swansea/Reading (M.Chan & I.Neill-Smith) 15-1

Plate A Final

Cambridge 2 beat Cambridge 3

Plate B

1st: Cambridge 5 (R.Shiels & S.Xu)

2nd: Cambridge 4 (E.Shillam & L.Tobin)

3rd: Oxbridge (A.McDonald & H.Murdoch)

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