Ladies Championships 2022
15/02/22: The 2022 Ladies Championships in assocation with Advanta Wealth got underway at Eton on Sunday.
A small but high quality field took to the courts at Eton on Sunday to play the qualifying rounds and quarter-finals. Although the Festival suffered several late covid-related withdrawals, there was still an encouraging turnout, with representatives from Ipswich and Shrewsbury alongside several adult pairs and the hugely pleasing appearance of three young pairs from Rydal Penrhos.
Both tournaments started along similar lines, with a group phase to sort out the qualifying positions for the knockout stages. The one game to 15 format meant that the higher seeds in the main tournament were under pressure from the start, unable to afford a sloppy spell or poor game if they were to maintain their position in the draw. There were some fine matches in the group stages but the top pairs all held their nerve and performed well, with all results going to form. The last two matches in the group stages were the closest, as defending champions Karen Hird & Charlotta Cooley held off Dominique Redmond & Elana Osen to take top spot and Emily Scoones and the returning Ashley Lumbard got off to a strong early start to ensure a group-winning victory over Harry Asquith & Marjolaine Briscoe, the two defeated pairs taking the third and fourth seeded slots respectively having won all of their other matches.
Emily & Ashley (in a hurry to get back to a hungry baby) made short work of their quarter-final against Mandie Barnes & Fiona Barnes and Karen & Charlotta also progressed comfortably against Jessye Tu & Natalie Lilienthal despite a good showing from Natalie & Jessye, in the first game especially. Dominique & Elana had a potentially tricky challenge to overcome in the "wild card" pairing of Shrewsbury School's Rachel Ellis and Issy Wong, back from a winter's cricket in Australia and always a dangerous opponent. The Salopians' strong cutting and attacking game caused a few problems for the third seeds, in the second game in particular, which went to 10-10, but Dominique & Elana stayed calm and showed their quality to produce a strong finish to the second game before racing through the third in double quick time to book their semi-final slot. The final quarter-final looked like a potentially tough tie for Harry & Marj, up against 2021 finalist Rachel Wood and Marjolaine's former school and university partner Carolina Valensise, but Harry & Marj took control early on and never let up, their dominant set piece the cornerstone of a routine straight games victory.
The Festival groups took rather longer to complete, but featured some close, exciting and most importantly fun matches for all taking part. The top two pairs from each group made it into the semi-finals and the Ipswich management were hoping for an all Ipswich final, with a pair in each match. Aisha Parker & Laura Eaden looked in sparkling form against the Shrewsbury pair of Jess Fraser-Andrews and Alice Beardsmore and were in control of the match when an unfortunate injury to Jess ended things prematurely. The other Ipswich pair were finding things much tougher, Elise Lau & Kezia Lower up against the scratch pairing of Darcy Clark (ex-Holyport) and Sophie Clifford-King (one of this year's crop of Oxford University beginners). Darcy & Sophie had been getting better as a pair all day and took the first game to 9, with Darcy's cutting and volleying power and Sophie's ever-improving movement around the court much in evidence. They then got off to a great start in the second game and the Ipswich girls were unable to find a way back into the match as Darcy & Sophie powered through to the final.
The final was a terrific match, with two well-matched pairs playing fast, attacking Fives. Sophie & Darcy seemed to have the edge in the early stages, getting to 9-6 in front at one point. Aisha & Laura kept going, though, and began to take advantage of Sophie & Darcy just losing their accuracy and consistency (especially in the cutting, which had been their strong suit up until then), and some attacking volleys from Aisha and precise shots into the buttress from the back court by the left-handed Laura turned the game in their favour, first levelling at 10-10 then going on to win it 15-12. The second game was just as entertaining to watch and contained some fine play by all four players, but the momentum had shifted towards the Ipswich pair at the end of the first game and never quite left them, Laura & Aisha winning the second game 12-8 to claim the Festival title.
The other pairs all took part in various plate finals, with the Rydal girls in particular impressing everyone - having overcome some initial nerves - with their enthusiasm, their fast improvement and the quality of their play given their inexperience. They benefitted further from some extra games and coaching from Karen, Charlotta, Rachel and Carolina at the end of the day, and hopefully made the long trip back to North Wales fired up and keen to get back on court and keep improving. We look forward to seeing them again before too long!
My thanks go to Eton for hosting the event, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship and to Mandie Barnes for all of her organisational hard work.
The semi-finals of the main tournament will take place at Eton on Sunday 27th March.
K.Hird & C.Cooley (1) beat N.Lilienthal & J.Tu 3-0 (12-4, 12-0, 12-1)
H.Asquith & M.Briscoe (4) beat R.Wood & C.Valensise 3-0 (12-5, 12-2, 12-4)
D.Redmond & E.Osen (3) beat I.Wong & R.Ellis 3-0 (12-6, 15-10, 12-0)
A.Lumbard & E.Scoones (2) beat M.Barnes & F.Barnes 3-0 (12-0, 12-0, 12-0)
R.Farquharson & E.Hurford beat S.Whittal & L.Clarke 15-9
S.Clifford-King & D.Clark beat E.Lau & K.Lower 2-0 (12-9, 12-3)
A.Parker & L.Eaden beat J.Fraser-Andrews & A.Beardsmore 2-0 (12-2, 1-0 ret)
A.Parker & L.Eaden beat S.Clifford-King & D.Clark 2-0 (15-12, 12-8)
O.Millar & C.Taylor beat F.Pierce & K.Luke 15-3
C.Rocheteau & L.Rowley beat A.Creer & G.Tavernor 15-7
A.Lower & I.Lock beat A.Butcher & S.Basemera 15-9
K.Hird & P.Roberts beat C.Cooley & C.Tilman Lennon 12-10