London 2018: Dunbar & Cooley Reign Supreme
03/12/18: The wet weather and damp courts failed to dampen spirits at a well-supported London tournament in association with Advanta Wealth at Harrow over the weekend. 53 pairs took part across two days and two tournaments with Seb Cooley & Tom Dunbar retaining their title with a sixth sucessive victory in the main competition.
Persistent rain meant that the courts at Harrow were difficult to play on all weekend, with varying degrees of slipperiness inside the courts and tricky run-offs outside. To the credit of all concerned, the players just got on with it without complaint and produced a spectacular weekend of Fives.
Twenty-four pairs entered the main tournament with Saturday morning's play consisting of four groups of six, playing games up to 15. Such was the depth of the field - with only a handful of the top players absent - that each group contained three or even four top quality pairs, with all 24 playing to a very high standard. This meant lots of tough, close matches and a real fight to qualify for the quarter-finals, with only the top two from each group making it through.
The two top-seeded pairs - defending champions Seb Cooley & Tom Dunbar and last season's breakthrough pair of Jonny Ho & Riki Houlden - won their groups in relative comfort. Salopians Tom Cox & Rex Worth looked strong behind Seb & Tom, seeing off the challenge of Andrew Rennie & Charles Plummer impressively to make it through. Another Salopian pair - eighth seeds Chris Hughes & Henry Lewis - found life much harder in the Ho/Houlden group, however, having to work very hard to see off Tom McCahon & Julian Black in the first game before coming unstuck against Cholmeleians Joe Marks & Matt Kovar. The Highgate pair beat Hughes & Lewis 15-8 to make it through, although not before McCahon & Black had given them a scare as well in the final round.
The two other groups produced some fascinating matches. Seeds 3-6 were all quite close on the rankings and fought it out to see who would face who and on which side of the draw in the quarter-finals. Fifth seeds Andrew Joyce & Laurie Brock produced an early statement of intent with a convincing group stage win over third seeds Ant Theodossi & Ryan Perrie. This put Andrew & Laurie into the third seeded slot and in the opposite half of the draw to Seb & Tom; it also meant, however, that they faced a quarter-final against James Toop & Tony Barker, who lost to Ed Taylor & Sunil Tailor in the morning but looked like they had plenty still in the tank for the knockout stages.
Seb & Tom were predictably too strong for Joe Marks & Matt Kovar in the last eight and Jonny & Riki were likewise rarely troubled by Tom Cox & Rex Worth. Brock & Joyce got their noses in front at 9-8 in the first game against Toop & Barker but that was as good as it got for the fifth seeds; the Olavian pair won the first game 12-9 and thereafter just seemed always to have that extra gear that kept them in front, much to Laurie & Andrew's frustration and disappointment. The fourth quarter-final was even closer and was a somewhat tetchy affair, eventually won by Ant & Ryan who kept their nerve to close out the very tight third and fourth games against Ed & Sunny.
Those who managed to swallow their disappointment at not making the last eight took part in a fine plate competition, which also featured several Harrow school pairs and even a brief guest substitute appearance from Harrow M-i-C Ian Hutchinson. In the end Tom McCahon & Julian Black were rewarded for their strong performances all day with a win in the final over Oxford's Noah Caplin & Hal Gibson-Leitao.
The weather forecast gave some hope that the courts might be drier on Sunday, but some morning North London drizzle quickly put paid to that and the semi-finals were played in conditions as tricky if not trickier than the day before. Ant & Ryan's successful tournament comeback after a year away came to a halt as they were unable to find a way past Tom & Seb, who were still in cruise control mode. Most attention was focused on the other semi-final, as Jonny Ho & Riki Houlden looked to reach a third successive major final but with the significant obstacle of James Toop & Tony Barker in their way - James with his formidable trophy-winning pedigree and Tony stepping up to this level on the back of a win at the Midlands tournament and some very impressive early season league results. The contest was added a little extra spice thanks to Riki & Tony's shared history as a former Cambridge University first pair.
Jonny & Riki got off to a confident start, taking the first game 12-8 with a strong finishing burst. They needed that ability to come through and close out games even more in the next game, in which they were behind nearly all the way, saving gameball points to turn an 8-11 deficit into a priceless 14-11 win to take a 2-0 lead. The two pairs then went toe to toe in the third game, with neither side able to get too far in front until James & Tony went from 11-12 down to 14-12 up in a single hand. Again, though, they couldn't take their chance and Riki & Jonny struck back immediately, picking up two points straight away to level at 14-14 before a cut off the ledge and out provided a rather unfitting conclusion to an excellent match.
This was a fine result for Jonny & Riki, who should take a great deal of satisfaction from their performance. Ultimately their goal is to dethrone the champions, however, and although they looked noticably more relaxed and confident against Tom & Seb in the final compared to the Kinnaird back in April, it is clear that there is still a significant gulf between Tom & Seb and the rest. This is no slight on the other pairs, more an acknowledgement of the ongoing mastery of what is surely one of the greatest pairs ever to play the game. The records continue to fall or perhaps more accurately continue to be extended - this was their sixth successive win in this competition and their seventh as a pair; it was Tom's twelfth London title. Perhaps most impressively of all, they remain unbeaten in eight years of playing as a pair and the number of games they have lost in that time remains comfortably in single figures.
While the top four pairs were fighting it out for the title, 24 more pairs graced the Harrow courts for the Festival competition. With the usual assortment of players, including good Olavian and Ipswichian contingents and the welcome sight of a 6th form pair from the City of Norwich school, the field gradually split into three sections to compete for the festival title itself, for Plate A and for Plate B. John Cooley and Ian Boadu did a magnificent job marshalling the Plate B field, and even managed to win the B2 plate themselves, with a win in the final over the Norwich pair of Robert Hunter & Aiden Dures. The B plate itself was won by Olavians Nav Madhavan and Prajval Haldia.
The A plate threw up a classic youth v experience final. Olavians Ishkaar Ujoodia & Vish Prashra only just made it out of their quarter-final after a 12-11 nailbiter over the impressive young Ipswich U14 pair of Rohan Soni & Harry Banks. They then found themselves up against the Monday Club pairing of John Tate & Julian Davies in what turned out to be one of the matches of the day. The Olavians looked like they had it in the bag but John & Julian dug in and fought back, just running out of time as Ishkaar & Vish made it over the line 15-12. Plate A2 for the losing A Plate quarter-finalists was won by Ipswichians Harry Dunnett & Sam Paisley.
Unusually for the Festival, only one school player made it into the quarter-finals, with the more experienced pairs filling the qualifying places. Steve Burnell & Tim Gregory looked in ominously good form against Isaac Weaver & Tony Stubbs, winning the battle of Ipswich 15-3. The other three quarter-finals were all close, tense affairs as Karen Hird & Charlotta Cooley overcame a slow start to beat Lancing pair Alex Abrahams & Matt Davis, the McCahon senior and junior pairing just about withstood the challenge of Marc Tavra & Matt Chinery and Chris beat Ashley in the battle of the Lumbards with Emily Scoones & Ralph Morgan there in a marital counselling capacity. All of this meant that Stubbsy was happily back in his natural habitat of a plate competition and he duly refound his misplaced mojo, partnering Isaac Weaver to a win in the quarter-finalists plate competition.
The semi-finals, meanwhile - as is often the case in these competitions - were just about the best matches of the day. Tom & David McCahon picked themselves up impressively after losing the first game of their match against Chris & Ralph 12-5 and came back strongly in the second to win 12-9 and level the scores. The third game was a thriller; both pairs were tiring and the match was one of those ebb and flow classics with tired mistakes mixing in with stunning winners to produce a cliffhanger that Tom & David eventually won 13-11. In the other semi-final, Steve & Tim's previously serene progress was suddenly interrupted by a ferocious assault from ladies champions Hird & Cooley, who pushed the Ipswich pair all the way to 15-13 in the first game. The second game was more of a formality as Karen & Charlotta rather lost confidence in their footing and were unable to overcome the disappointment of losing such a long and close first game.
As soon as the final started, it became clear that there was only going to be one winner; Steve & Tim looked rested and ready for action whereas Tom and David looked exhausted with little left in the tank. In front of the small and hardy band of remaining spectators, Steve & Tom romped through the two games needed to claim the title and get their hands on the winners' chocolates.
Our thanks go to Ian Hutchinson and everyone at Harrow for hosting the tournament. It is worth noting that as well as the significant handful of players who did not learn their Fives at school, the weekend featured players who had learned to play at Harrow, St.Olave's, Shrewsbury, Mill Hill, Aldenham, Westminster, Lancing, QEB, Highgate, Zuoz, Bryanston, Emanuel, Berkhamsted, City of Norwich, Ipswich, Repton, Uppingham and St.Bart's, Newbury - a real cross-section of the Fives world.
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley (1) beat J.Marks & M.Kovar 3-0 (12-1, 12-4, 12-2)
A.Theodossi & R.Perrie (3) beat E.Taylor & S.Tailor (4) 3-1 (12-8, 12-14, 14-12, 13-11)
J.Toop & T.Barker (6) beat L.Brock & A.Joyce (5) 3-0 (12-9, 12-7, 12-7)
J.Ho & R.Houlden (2) beat T.Cox & R.Worth (7) 3-0 (12-2, 12-3, 12-8)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat A.Theodossi & R.Perrie 3-0 (12-6, 12-0, 12-4)
J.Ho & R.Houlden beat J.Toop & T.Barker 3-0 (12-8, 14-11, 15-14)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat J.Ho & R.Houlden 3-0 (12-4, 12-4, 12-6)
N.Caplin & H.Gibson-Leitao beat S.Shah & M.Lewin 12-7
T.McCahon & J.Black beat C.Koksal & H.Young 12-8
T.McCahon & J.Black beat N.Caplin & H.Gibson-Leitao 12-7
T.McCahon & D.McCahon beat M.Chinery & M.Tavra 15-10
C.Lumbard & R.Morgan beat A.Lumbard & E.Scoones 15-10
K.Hird & C.Cooley beat A.Abrahams & M.Davis 15-11
S.Burnell & T.Gregory beat I.Weaver & T.Stubbs 15-3
T.McCahon & D.McCahon beat C.Lumbard & R.Morgan 2-1 (5-12, 12-9, 13-11)
S.Burnell & T.Gregory beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 2-0 (15-13, 12-3)
S.Burnell & T.Gregory beat T.McCahon & D.McCahon 2-0 (12-3, 12-1)
Losing Quarter-Finalists Plate
1. I.Weaver & T.Stubbs
2. M.Chinery & E.Scoones
3. A.Abrahams & M.Davis
W.Seath & O.Avery beat H.Dunnett & S.Paisley 12-7
I.Ujoodia & V.Prashra beat R.Soni & H.Banks 12-11
J.Davies & J.Tate beat A.Pandey & N.Tripathi 12-7
N.Chidipothu & I.Bhargana beat D.Puypalla & O.Upadhyay 12-2
I.Ujoodia & V.Prashra beat W.Seath & O.Avery 15-12
J.Davies & J.Tate beat N.Chidipothu & I.Bhargana 15-4
I.Ujoodia & V.Prashra beat J.Davies & J.Tate 15-12
H.Dunnett & S.Paisley beat A.Pandey & N.Tripathi 12-9
R.Soni & H.Banks beat D.Puypalla & O.Upadhyay 12-4
H.Dunnett & S.Paisley beat R.Soni & H.Banks
N.Madhavan & P.Haldia beat R.Bhagwat & S.Malaravan 12-4
J.Cooley & I.Boadu beat R.Hunter & A.Dures 12-3
F.Anderson & W.Kelly beat L.Free & O.Free 12-5
Shared: L.Rendell & Z.Pulchan & C.Brown & B.Clark