Andrew Aitken Trophy 2018
Laurie Brock reports:
10/09/18: Notwithstanding some late withdrawals (and one unfortunate diary mix-up) a healthy entry of 20 players assembled for the latest edition of the Westminster fives tournament. The ten pairs were split into two pools of five, with each pool match consisting of a single set to 15.
In Pool A, Matthew Lewin and debutant Alex Vinen got off to a poor start in their first match against Callum Brock and Hugo Young, who stormed out of the blocks to take a 4-1 and then an 8-3 lead. However, a set to 15 provides significantly more opportunity for comebacks than one to 12, and Matt and Alex stayed calm to work their way back into the match, before ultimately triumphing 15-13 (the first of many incredibly close matches on the day).
However, they faced another significant obstacle in the form of 2015 winner Harry DeQuetteville and Alfred Jackson, the latter short of practice but still dangerous. This was another hard fought and tense affair, with Alfred's sharp top step reflexes and Harry's elegant touch and long reach on full display, but Matt and Alex again held on to win 15-12, ensuring top spot in the Pool and passage through to the final.
Elsewhere, Brock and Young shook off the disappointment of their initial defeat to overwhelm Riki Houlden and first time attendee Paul Hooper 15-4, before edging to the narrowest of victories over the unlucky Kotka Lim and last year's winner Elana Osen to secure third place in the pool. Houlden and Hooper, meanwhile, improved as the afternoon went on and rounded off their day with a first win against Lim and Osen.
Pool B could not have been closer and saw a remarkable number of tight matches. The tone was set by the first round encounter between Ed Rose and school player Leo Doody and Conrad Shawcross and Will Capstick. Despite hitting an astonishing six cuts straight out of court, Shawcross and Capstick otherwise played well and established a 13-7 lead. However, with Rose's form returning and Doody showing impressive nerve under pressure (including a superb cut into the bricks when match point down) they fought their way back and snatched victory from the visibly dejected Shawcross and Capstick 15-14. Little did they know how important those 14 points would prove to be.
The second round produced another thriller between Can Koksal and Neil Margerison and Laurie Brock and James Alster. Again, one pair (Brock and Alster) looked to have the match in the bag with a 14-10 lead, only to let it slip in the space of a single hand and find themselves at 14-14. Whilst Brock and Alster were ultimately able to scrape over the line for a 15-14 win, their luck did not hold in the next round, as an inspired performance from Shawcross and Capstick saw them battle to a deserved 15-13 victory.
At this point, Rose and Doody looked set for the final (having comfortably seen off Margerison/Koksal and Shaneil Patel/Dan Cornwell), but their dreams were dashed by a terrible start to their final match against Brock and Alster. Despite a valiant effort in the second half of the game, an 8-0 deficit proved too much to recover from and they succumbed 15-9.
In a repeat of the very first year of this event, this left three pairs with three wins each (and unable to be separated by the head to head rule), meaning that the other place in the final rested on total points won. With 59 points, it was Capstick and Shawcross who went through, pipping Brock/Alster by a single point and Rose/Doody by only 5.
Despite none of the four players having appeared in the final before, there were few nerves on show in what was an excellent match (played again as a single set to 15).
Lewin and Vinen started the brighter, imposing their fast-paced, aggressive game on an initially slightly shell-shocked Shawcross and Capstick, and moving out to a 9-4 lead. However, Shawcross and Capstick had demonstrated battling qualities all day, and this game was no exception, as a combination of improved cutting and remarkable retrieving saw them close the gap (over a series of long rallies) to 9-10.
At this stage, however, Lewin and Vinen produced (fittingly) one of the most impressive passages of play of the day, cutting supremely to hold their opponents at bay and showing real steel (and no little skill) to edge towards, and ultimately cross, the winning line 15-9.
The win is testament to Matt's consistent improvement in recent years, whilst the apparently nerveless Alex became the first debutant (and youngest player) to win the event since 2015.
Matthew Lewin and Alex Vinen beat Conrad Shawcross and Will Capstick 15-9
Thank you to everyone for playing and also to those who attended the excellent dinner afterwards. I hope to see you all next year.