Kinnaird Cup Final 2016: Glorious Twelfth for Dunbar
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04/04/16: The Kinnaird Cup Final at Eton yesterday was won for the sixth successive year by Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley, who beat James Toop and Matthew Wiseman 15-14, 12-6, 12-3 to clinch a record-breaking twelfth win in the competition for Tom Dunbar, who has now overtaken John Reynolds and is out on his own as the most successful player in the history of the competition.
In front of an enthralled crowd, the first game of the match turned into one of the longest and most exciting games of Fives this competition can ever have seen. The early stages were fairly cagy, with both pairs feeling their way into the match, all four players making a few unexpected errors here and there and neither pair able to establish a dominant position, although Toop and Wiseman were marginally on top, nudging a couple of points ahead on two or three occasions before being pegged back by Cooley and Dunbar, who were both having to defend impressively from the back court to stay in touch at times.
The first decisive action of the match came at 7-7 in the first game as Matthew Wiseman suddenly took the initiative on top step with three successive points, each won with some superb cut returning followed by some irresistible attacking volleying from close to the front wall. This was impressive play from Wiseman, playing in his first big final of the season having missed the London and Northern tournaments due to injury and work commitments, and testament to his enduring quality, his experience of playing in so many big matches over the years and his ability to prepare himself well for big games. When a fourth cut return then came back, the pressure was right on the defending champions, but they won that rally and immediately began to counter as the pace and quality of the play increased and the error count dropped from all four players. With Tom Dunbar beginning to find his return and volley game, the top seeds levelled at 10-10 and then moved into a 13-11 lead.
The results of previous matches between these two pairs - with Cooley and Dunbar always coming out on top despite some very close encounters - meant that winning the first game was obviously important for Cooley and Dunbar, but was absolutely vital for Toop and Wiseman and they continued to play some terrific Fives to level at 13-13. Seb and Tom made it to game ball first, but with Matt saving one game point with an astonishing defensive volley winner, the challengers levelled again at 14-14. Over an hour's Fives had come down to the last point and with one unreturnable cut followed by a trademark return from Tom the game was over, settled in favour of Seb and Tom.
Having played so well for long periods and got so close to winning the first game, it was no surprise to see Toop and Wiseman's level drop at the start of the second. With the first game under their belts, Cooley and Dunbar were visibly more relaxed as they took advantage of their opponents' dip in confidence to move quickly out to a 5-0 lead in the second game. With Tom now into his returning rhythm and Seb finding his range into the buttress from the mid court in particular, the lead quickly went out to 10-2. Two cut returns out of court from Tom followed by a stunning Toop mid court pick up and a Wiseman winner to the back bricks closed the gap to 10-6 and gave Matt and James a glimmer of hope, but Tom and Seb closed the game out clinically to 6.
With their backs now against the wall, Toop and Wiseman came out firing at the start of the third game, with tensions beginning to run a little high between the four players for a while as Matt and James won the first couple of points. The sting was quickly taken out of any potential comeback, however, in the space of one hand with Tom beginning to return everything and Seb nailing a series of attacking mid-court volleys to take six points in one hand, followed by four in the next to take them to the brink of victory, which was duly completed soon after.
We are fortunate indeed to have four such fantastic players playing our game at the moment and those who have been lucky enough to watch some or all of their encounters in recent seasons will know that they have seen Fives played almost certainly as well as it ever has been by anyone. The spectators watching yesterday's final were treated to a wonderful display of skill, reflexes, athleticism, teamwork and sportsmanship with the first game in particular keeping everyone watching on the edge of their seat for over an hour of magnificent drama.
This was also a significant historical moment in the game of Eton Fives as Tom Dunbar won his twelfth Kinnaird title in his fifteenth successive final, a quite remarkable achievement.
Thanks to Mike Hughes and Eton for hosting the final, to Mark Williams for his organisation and to EFA Chairman Richard Black for presenting the prizes.