Westminsters And Cholms Are Forever Young
24/09/19: It was a case of the new and the old in the Under 25s in association with Advanta Wealth at Eton on Sunday as Riki Houlden and Phoebe Bracken picked up their fifth and sixth titles respectively, with Marjolaine Briscoe continuing her trophy-winning run and Hugo Young winning his first ever competition at national level.
The first tournament of the season produced an extremely healthy entry with 29 pairs taking part across the two tournaments. Although there were some notable absentees at the top end, there were still plenty of high quality pairs and it was hugely encouraging to see such a wide range of pairs entering, with players - including quite a few who didn't go to Fives-playing schools - from Holyport, Newbury, Cambridge, North Oxford, Stowe, Westway and Royal Holloway all taking part as well as pairs from some of the more traditional heartlands of the game.
Karen Hird did her usual fantastic job of co-ordinating the women's tournament, which saw a repeat of last year's final between defending champions Old Cholmeleians Phoebe Bracken & Marjolaine Briscoe and the current Highgate school first pair of Mia Barry & Emma Williets. The result of the final was the same as before but the younger pair showed plenty of improvement from last year, were less in awe of their more senior opponents and pushed them hard in both the group stage game and the first game of the final. Emma & Mia had also performed well to overcome the Oxford past & present pairing of Rosie Parr & Carolina Valensise in a close and exciting semi-final, while the last four line-up was completed by the scratch pairing of the much improved Emily O'Malley and Sasha Howgate from Newbury, who is one to watch out for in the next couple of years.
Earlier on in the competition, Emily & Sasha had edged out Salopians Sarah Jackman & Erin Leatherbarrow in the group stages, and Sarah & Erin went on to win the plate, although not without a scare against the inexperienced but hugely impressive Eleanor Malone (staking a claim to be Australia's number one female player) and Westway newcomer Lucy Craughwell-Franks, another player to watch out for in future competitions. The rest of the field consisted of younger pairs from Newbury, Highgate and Holyport, all of whom acquitted themselves well, played with enjoyment and improved significantly during the course of the day, which bodes well for the future of women's Fives.
The men's competition has been dominated in recent years by Riki Houlden, who was playing in his final tournament and looking to notch up a record fifth win. Even more remarkably, he was looking to do it with both a fifth different partner and a fifth different haircut. Following in the footsteps of Andrew Joyce, Tom Gallagher, James Piggot and Andrew Rennie was Hugo Young, this year's partnership having a special resonance as Riki and Hugo were attempting to become the first Old Westminster pair to win a title at national senior level. Up against them were a group of keen hopefuls, including Alex Abrahams & Noah Caplin, Tom McCahon & Josh Ravi, Ben Merrett & Can Koksal and some of the best schoolboy talent from Highgate, Shrewsbury and St.Olave's.
The group stages went more or less as expected, with Merrett & Koksal winning the battle against McCahon & Ravi to top Group C and Marc Tavra's late arrival hindering his chances of partnering Poom Hall to a quarter-final place at the expense of Salopians Pete Clark & Marcus van Wyk. The Shrewsbury boys performed well to claim the second qualifying spot in Group D behind Abrahams & Caplin, who had started the day with a Barber Cup match between Lancing and the Barbarians, which got their eye in for the tournament but also put some early miles into their legs. The Highgate pair of Sochor-Grethe & Robb also made the last eight, qualifying in second place behind Houlden & Young and the quarter-final line-up was completed by the St.Olave's pair of Isaac Jochim and Prajeeth Sathiyamoorthy - looking to add the U25 title to his U21 win earlier in the year - and ex-Cambridge students Nathan Turnbull & Akhil Shah, who held off the challenge of Steve Gore & Chris Davey to make it through.
The Shrewsbury and Highgate school pairs found the step up in quality at the quarter-final stage too much to handle and exited at the hands of Houlden & Young and Abrahams & Caplin respectively, having both impressed during the course of the day. Turnbull & Shah were unable to find a way past Merrett & Koksal, who were translating their strong early season league form to the tournament stage and the fourth quarter-final was the closest as Sathiyamoorthy & Jochim took on McCahon & Ravi. Group stage form perhaps favoured the younger Olavian pair, but it was Tom & Josh who got their act together at the right time, asserting their seniority and clinching a tight game 15-12 to make the last four.
Riki & Hugo continued to look in complete control as they cruised past Tom & Josh in the first semi-final and were able to put their feet up and watch their potential opponents slug it out on the next door court. For the first half of the match Merrett & Koksal looked the more likely winners and an all Westminster final looked like a distinct possibility. The OW pair were maintaining the high level they had produced all day and Abrahams & Caplin were beginning to look as if they were feeling the effects of their early start, with Alex in particular struggling to shake off cramp. The match hinged on the end of the first game, which was set to 15; a win there for Ben & Can would have left Alex & Noah a lot to do. To their credit, though, Alex & Noah dug deep to produce their best Fives of the match to take the first game 15-12 and once they had got their noses in front, the Westminster resistance crumbled and they raced throuigh the second game to make their first major final as a pair.
The final was an interesting match up - the vastly experienced Riki Houlden with his four titles in a row and two Kinnaird final appearances alongside possibly the three most improved players on the circuit in the last twelve months, all of whom were playing in their first final at this level. After their Barber Cup and semi-final heroics, Alex & Noah had to dig deep again and they managed to do so in impressive style, belying their underdog status for a large chunk of the first game and imposing their fast attacking game on their more measured opponents to take a 6-4 lead. Riki & Hugo didn't panic, however, and when their chance came they seized it in spectacular fashion, racing from 4-6 to 12-6 in a couple of hands with Hugo finding a run of returns and Riki turning the screw with his precision, consistency and speed around the court. The second game followed a similar pattern, with Alex & Noah causing problems and keeping the score tight for the first half of the game before the elastic snapped once again and the Westminster pair powered though to claim the trophy.
Thanks to George Thomason and Eton for hosting the tournament, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship, to Karen Hird for organising the women's competition and to all those who played and helped put pairs together and bring them along on the day.
P.Bracken & M.Briscoe beat E.O'Malley & S.Howgate 2-0 (12-4, 12-1)
E.Williets & M.Barry beat R.Parr & C.Valensise 2-0 (12-8, 12-9)
P.Bracken & M.Briscoe beat E.Williets & M.Barry 2-0 (12-8, 12-4)
S.Jackman & E.Leatherbarrow beat E.Malone & L.Craughwell-Franks 2-0 (15-10, 12-6)
1 D.Clarke & S.Wisa
2 L.Tomasson & M.Pettit
3 E.Tucker & A.Holland
R.Houlden & H.Young beat P.Clark & M.van Wyk 15-5
T.McCahon & J.Ravi beat P.Sathiyamoorthy & I.Jochim 15-12
B.Merrett & C.Koksal beat N.Turnbull & A.Shah 15-8
A.Abrahams & N.Caplin beat J.Sochor-Grethe & J.Robb 15-7
R.Houlden & H.Young beat T.McCahon & J.Ravi 2-0 (12-2, 12-4)
A.Abrahams & N.Caplin beat B.Merrett & C.Koksal 2-0 (15-12, 12-1)
R.Houlden & H.Young beat A.Abrahams & N.Caplin 2-0 (12-6, 12-6)
W.Seath & O.Avery beat P.Wilkinson & N.Choustikov 15-8
S.Gore & C.Davey beat J.Rathe & T.Ragazzi 15-13
E.Evans & M.Bevans beat A.Clover & E.Porter 15-14
M.Tavra & P.Hall beat T.Santos & K.Mikowski 15-6
S.Gore & C.Davey beat W.Seath & O.Avery 15-8
M.Tavra & P.Hall beat E.Evans & M.Bevans 15-7
M.Tavra & P.Hall beat S.Gore & C.Davey 15-7
P.Wilkinson & N.Choustikov beat T.Santos & K.Mikowski 15-8
J.Rathe & T.Ragazzi beat A.Clover & E.Porter 15-4
J.Rathe & T.Ragazzi beat P.Wilkinson & N.Choustikov 15-4
A.Clover & E.Porter beat T.Santos & K.Mikowski w/o
G.Poole & R.Buchanan beat E.Bramwell & M.Dobson 2-1