Ladies Championships 2021: Here Come Repton...
07/06/21: The qualifying rounds for the 2021 Ladies Championships in association with Advanta Wealth took place at Eton on Saturday, attracting an encouraging entry - including three pairs from Repton - and producing a fabulous day of Fives.
If you were going to choose the ideal time to attract a large entry to the Ladies Championships, then a Saturday in June in the middle of school half-term and university exams would probably not be high up the list. With the disruption caused to this year's calendar and the limited current availability of the Eton courts, there was no choice this year, however, and it was therefore pleasing that 15 pairs entered. The absence of several key players due to holidays, exams, injuries and maternity leave meant that there was an opportunity there for a younger or more unheralded pair to make it through to a national semi-final and this was just one of a number of intriguing sub-plots in what was an excellent day of Fives.
The 15 pairs were divided into three groups of five, with each group headed by one of the three top-seeded pairs, none of whom had any difficulty in winning all of their group matches. Below them, though, the competition was fierce as the next four pairs - Highgate school pair Catherine Vos & Lorenza Valensise, Berkhamstedians Freya Butler & Zoe Nicholls, veterans Mandie Barnes & Fiona Barnes and Cholmeleians Georgia Allen & Minna Griffiths - fought it out for seeding positions, with the tantalising prospect of getting into the wide open fourth semi-final place. The third group contained the next batch of pairs - Zara Kirsten & Millie Roxburgh from Highgate, Repton's top pair Scout Butler & Hattie Nieper and the scratch pairings of Emily O'Malley & Emily Tucker and Vanda Scholey & Grace Day - all aiming to clinch the final quarter-final spot. Looking to overturn the rankings and cause an upset were two further Repton pairs - Ellie Barlow & Jessie Milligan-Manby and Molly Bowman & Zara Knowles - the St.Bart's pairing of Annabelle Grant & Ellie Walsh and the Berkhamsted/Oxford combination of Bronte Capaldi & Jessica Howie.
With the top three pairs looking untouchable, the other big winners from the morning groups were Catherine & Lorenza and Freya & Zoe, who won their key matches to put themselves into the fourth and fifth seed positions, setting up a quarter-final clash to decide who would make the last four. Mandie & Fiona also qualified to take on Emily & Rachel and Georgia & Minna combined well to make it through to take on Dom & Elana. The final quarter-final slot, complete with the chance to take on the defending champions, was won by the two Emilys, who won tight matches against Grace & Vanda and Scout & Hattie before coming from behind to squeak through 15-13 against the young Highgate pair of Millie & Zara.
This was a fine effort from a scratch pairing, with the experienced Olavian Emily O'Malley providing a steadying influence and her young partner from St.Bart's, Emily Tucker, showing a huge amount of promise with her strong attacking game, but a quarter-final against Karen Hird & Charlotta Cooley was always going to be a tough ask, and the defending champions duly cruised through to the semi-finals for the loss of just one point. Dom Redmond & Elana Osen were similarly efficient in ending Georgia & Minna's tournament and Fiona & Mandie were unable to make much of an impression on Emily Scoones & Rachel Wood, stepping up this year in the absence of Emily's usual partner Ashley Lumbard (huge congratulations by the way to Ashley & Chris on the recent birth of Orson Wilbur Lumbard, who we look forward to seeing on court in a few years time...).
The fourth quarter-final was the match of the day as Catherine & Lorenza took on Freya & Zoe, with both pairs looking to become semi-finalists in this competition for the first time. Highgate schoolgirls Catherine & Lorenza were largely in charge of the first two games, with Catherine's powerful cut and range of attacking shots particularly effective. Freya - next year's Oxford University captain - has improved rapidly in the last year and is a tenacious opponent. Zoe, despite limited playing opportunities at university in Sheffield, is a very talented player with a formidable volley and the Berkhamsted pair started to turn the tide in the third game, recovering from 9-6 down to win 12-9 and put the match back in the balance. The fourth game was the closest of the match with all four players producing some excellent Fives in both attack and defence; Freya & Zoe got their noses in front for most of the game and it looked like it would be going to five, but Catherine & Lorenza found an extra gear just at the right time, to level at 10-10 and then go on to claim the game 13-10 and the match 3-1.
Some hurried diary checking revealed that Catherine would be unavailable to play the semi-final on the scheduled date of July 4th, so Karen & Charlotta agreed to play the semi-final straight away. The Highgate girls had already more than exceeded expectations by making the semi-finals and this was always likely to be a step too far for them at this stage. They produced some very impressive Fives in the second game in particular but over the course of the three games Karen & Charlotta were able to demonstrate just how big the gap still is between the elite players and the chasing pack in the women's game. The other semi-final, between Dom & Elana and Emily & Rachel, will take place on Sunday July 4th, with the final on the following Saturday.
The seven pairs who hadn't made it through to the quarter-finals took part in the afternoon Festival, which turned into a memorable competition. It was played as a large round robin with matches up to 8 points and produced some fabulous games with six matches going to 7-7 and sudden death, no pair failing to win a match and no pair remaining undefeated, mayhem being caused especially by Grace Day and her new partner (Vanda Scholey having been traded in for daughter Jana), who ended up beating the pair who came top of the table and losing to the pair who came bottom (both 8-7 naturally). At the start of the final round there were still three pairs in contention - Scout & Hattie, Zara & Millie and Bronte & Jessica - but in the end it was Scout & Hattie who came out on top, tying with Zara & Millie but taking the title having won the head to head game between the two pairs (8-7 again, of course). This was a terrific result and the enthusiasm and quality of the three Repton pairs, all relative newcomers to the sport with the school only taking up Fives again seriously in the last year or so, is hopefully just a taste of things to come.
Thanks got to Mandie Barnes and Ian Mitchell for their hard work organising the competition, to Ryan Perrie and everyone at Eton for hosting it, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship and to all those who came, played and supported and made it such an enjoyable day.
K.Hird & C.Cooley (1) beat E.O'Malley & E.Tucker (8) 3-0 (12-0, 12-1, 12-0)
C.Vos & L.Valensise (4) beat F.Butler & Z.Nicholls (5) 3-1 (12-5, 12-8, 9-12, 13-10)
E.Scoones & R.Wood (3) beat M.Barnes & F.Barnes (6) 3-0 (12-1, 12-0, 12-2)
D.Redmond & E.Osen (2) beat G.Allen & M.Griffiths (7) 3-0 (12-1, 12-1, 12-1)
K.Hird & C.Cooley (1) beat C.Vos & L.Valensise (4) 3-0 (12-0, 12-2, 12-0)
D.Redmond & E.Osen (2) v E.Scoones & R.Wood (3) at Eton 04/07/21 at 2:30pm
1. S.Butler & H.Nieper P6 W5 L1*
2. M.Roxburgh & Z.Kirsten P6 W5 L1
3. B.Capaldi & J.Howie P6 W4 L2
4. G.Day & J.Scholey P6 W3 L3
5. E.Barlow & J.Milligan-Manby P6 W2 L4
6. A.Grant & E.Walsh P6 W1 L5
7. M.Bowman & Z.Knowles P6 W1 L5
*S.Butler & H.Nieper come top having won the head to head match against M.Roxburgh & Z.Kirsten