Ipswich Tournament: Fives Free Won Two One
Setting the tone is always important and the first Fives tournament of the decade got everything off to a great start with a vintage edition of the Ipswich Tournament.
The Graves Cup weekend is now over forty years old, but - unlike some of its participants - is getting better with age and still going from strength to strength. Eighteen pairs gathered at the Ipswich courts on Saturday morning, anxious to find out who they had been paired up with by the seeding committee of Boughton, Cox and Cooley and placing bets on exactly how late the tournament organiser was going to be this year. The answer turned out to be a fairly respectable 20 minutes, but it was minus the printed draw, so while PVB disappeared off into the bowels of the school to find a working printer, Charlotta Cooley seized the reins to get some pairs onto the courts and kick start the competition.
Saturday saw the field divided into four groups, battling it out to produce eight quarter-finalists and a plate field for Sunday's play. There were also some serious questions to answer: Were Boughton & Cox the oldest pair to play in any Fives tournament anywhere ever? Could Mandie Barnes win a game this year? Was that really Seb Cooley or had Bobby Charlton taken up Fives? Could Singapore's number one player Oli Watts remember what to do? Had anyone warned Tim Wyndham he would need ear plugs to play with Faye Kerr?*
On court, the standard was high and the competition fierce. Seb, playing with year 8 pupil Owen Free, generally had things under control in Group A, with Peter Forrest & Will Carron taking second place ahead of Charlotta Cooley & Andrew Whitehead thanks to a 15-14 victory. Group B failed to follow a predictable pattern, with the wild card pairing of Tony Stubbs & Sam Clark causing havoc by winning games they were supposed to lose and losing games they were supposed to win. Disaster was narrowly averted at the last thanks to a win for Boughton & Cox, putting the uberveterans into the last eight and returning Stubbs to his natural habitat of the Plate competition. Group C was dominated by the all-schoolboy Ipswich/KES pairing of Isaac Weaver & Tom Hoskins who dispatched all-comers in impressive style, Tom Fletcher & Natasha Gregory also making it through as best of the rest and Group D was a threeway battle between Karen Hird & Oli Watts, Steve Burnell & Alex Williams and Gareth Hoskins & Will Kelly, with Steve & Alex the unlucky ones to miss out.
The Saturday night dinner was well-attended and much enjoyed by all. One or two of the "in my day" old-timers - well Caudle anyway - bemoaned the relatively small amount of port consumed, but Messrs Williams, Morgan and Watts did their best to keep some traditions intact. Pleasingly, 17 of the 18 pairs made it back on the Sunday intact (only Simon Woolfries & Matthew Johnson not going the distance), with no chopping or changing required and after the obligatory Greyhound fry-up it was down to the serious business of competing for the shiny new Graves Cup (the previous one having ended its life in at least two pieces) and the unique piece of original Tony Stubbs artwork designated as the plate trophy.
Boughton & Cox's bid to cast aside the zimmer frames and relive their glory years ran into a Cooley-shaped obstacle in the first quarter-final; Watts showed some impressive Sunday morning resilience (years of practice) as he and Karen Hird won the battle of the mixed pairs against Fletcher & Gregory jr; Gregory sr & Will Woods won ruthlessly against Forrest & Carron and Saturday stars Weaver & Hoskins jr suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of Will Kelly & Hoskins sr, who came from behind to sneak through 15-14. The semis went much as expected, with Cooley & Free always doing just enough to keep ahead of Hird & Watts, while Gregory & Woods against Hoskins & Kelly produced a close and exciting game - possibly the match of the tournament - which went all the way to 12-9 in the third. All four players were at the top of their game throughout, with Gareth & Tim both pushing hard and their young partners responding well and raising their own games impressively. Gregory & Woods had the better of the first game, but Hoskins & Kelly gained the upper hand in the second and at the start of the third before a late momentum swing in favour of Gregory & Woods took them over the line and into the final.
Tim & Will got off to a great start in the final, picking up where they had left off in the semi and playing with an intensity and at a level that Seb & Owen hadn't yet had to produce in their run to the final. Having lost the first game 12-4, however, Seb began to engage a few of the gears that none of the other players in the tournament were able to reach and with Owen providing solid and increasingly confident support, they took control of the match early on in the second game and never let go, taking the next two games to 8 and 7 to claim the title.
The biggest shock of the day was unfolding in the plate competition, however, as it became increasingly clear that plate specialist Stubbs was not even going to make the final this time round. He and Sam Clark picked up wins against Ralph Morgan & Mandie Barnes, Tim Wyndham & Faye Kerr and Simon Cass & Elliot Caldwell but came a cropper against Steve Burnell & Alex "Pixie" Williams who topped Group B to make it into the final, where they found themselves up against Charlotta Cooley & Andrew Whitehead, who had beaten Mark Graves & Hugh Catchpole, Oscar Taylor & Dmitri Seymour-Howell and Steve Bland & Luke Free to head Group A. Few people - least of all Pixie himself - would have put much money either on Saturday or Sunday morning on him still being on court for the final match of the weekend and indeed winning it, but so it was that he and Steve saw off the challenge of Charlotta & Andrew 15-8. OI Club President Tim Kiddell had presented the Graves Cup to the overall winners earlier on and it was perhaps just as well that he wasn't there to witness Stubbsy's mangled plastic mince pie tray being handed over to the winners by the man himself; as speechwriter to Boris Johnson he is however presumably used to dealing with jibbering incompetents, so maybe it wouldn't have been quite so unfamiliar.
As always our thanks go to Peter Boughton and everyone at Ipswich School for running and hosting the tournament and to all those who attended and helped get the new year and the new decade off to a flying start. Same time next year...
*Answers: Almost certainly, sadly not, still not sure, never in doubt and thankfully yes.
S.Cooley & O.Free beat P.Boughton & N.Cox 15-7
K.Hird & O.Watts beat Tom Fletcher & N.Gregory 15-10
T.Gregory & W.Woods beat P.Forrest & W.Carron 15-7
G.Hoskins & W.Kelly beat I.Weaver & T.Hoskins 15-14
S.Cooley & O.Free beat K.Hird & O.Watts 2-0 (12-8, 15-14)
T.Gregory & W.Woods beat G.Hoskins & W.Kelly 2-1 (12-8, 6-12, 12-9)
S.Cooley & O.Free beat T.Gregory & W.Woods 2-1 (4-12, 12-8, 12-7)
S.Burnell & A.Williams beat C.Cooley & A.Whitehead 15-8