London Tournament 2015: A Shuffling Of The Pack But Cooley And Dunbar Are Still The Aces
07/12/15: The 2015 London Tournament at Harrow at the weekend was a huge success with a total of nearly 50 pairs taking part in the main competition and festival tournament over the course of the two days. It was business as usual for Seb Cooley and Tom Dunbar, who retained their title with ease, but further down the list there were some significant upsets, some intriguing results and some interesting narratives created that will continue to play out at the Northern tournament and the Kinnaird Cup later in the season.
Eighteen pairs entered the main tournament, which started on Saturday morning with four fiercely contested pools. The late withdrawal of Matt Wiseman due to injury gave the tournament a very different dynamic; top seeds and defending champions Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley were still heavy odds-on ante-post favourites but with James Toop now playing with Olavian schoolboy Tom Gallagher instead of Matt, there were suddenly a whole group of pairs sensing an opportunity to reach a major final. The ranking system did its job in setting the seedings, with seeds 2 (Dave Mew and Richard Tyler), 3 (Andrew Joyce and Doug Foster) and 4 (Ant Theodossi and Ryan Perrie) separated by the smallest of margins. With Tom Gallagher not yet having played enough tournaments to have a ranking, he and Toop became dangerous floaters in the draw, and with Laurie Brock & Ed Rose, Jitesh Patel & Sunil Tailor, Howard Wiseman & Kosi Nwuba, Chris Hughes & Tom Welti, Tony Barker & Riki Houlden, Ismail Salim & Samson Yick, Jeremy O'Neill & Charlie Nicholls and Jack Flowers & Sam Welti all fancying their chances, battle lines were drawn early on.
In Group A, Midlands champions Barker and Houlden got the better of Old Millhillian pair Tailor & Patel to take the second qualifying place behind Dunbar & Cooley. Theodossi & Perrie put in some strong performances to win Group B, with Hughes and Welti holding off the less experienced Yick & Salim to make it through to the quarter-finals. Mew & Tyler were unable to withstand the challenge of Toop & Gallagher in the first game of their two game match, going down heavily 12-3 and leaving themselves a lot to do in the second game to make up the lost ground. Mew & Tyler put in a much stronger performance in the second game but the damage was already done and Toop & Gallagher took that one 12-9 to overturn the seedings and claim the second seeds spot in the last eight.
The biggest casualties of the group stages were third seeds and 2015 Kinnaird semi-finalists Foster & Joyce. A 15-10 defeat at the hands of Brock & Rose was a bad start, leaving top spot in the group at the mercy of the Westminster pair, but worse was to follow as they then went down narrowly to an inspired performance by Howard Wiseman and Kosi Nwuba. In a tough group, Flowers & Welti nearly had their say as well, taking Wiseman & Nwuba to the wire, but it was the Olavians who held on to win 15-13 and make it through in second place behind Brock & Rose.
The quarter-finals on Saturday afternoon were a fascinating set of matches. For Mew & Tyler, the consequence of defeat at the hands of Toop & Gallagher was a last eight match against Dunbar & Cooley, who perhaps didn't quite fully hit their straps in the first game, but who were subsequently in a rather more unforgiving mood. Theodossi & Perrie continued to impress, holding off a strong second game challenge from Wiseman & Nwuba by the skin of their teeth to win in three. The other two matches were even tighter. Hughes & Welti had shown back in February at the Northern Tournament that they are a coming force in the game and they confirmed that impression at the start of their match against Toop & Gallagher, winning the first game 12-8. Toop, however, is not easily beaten and a combination of his innate class and his fierce tenacity, with his sixteeen year old partner settling more and more into the slightly unfamiliar rhythms of Fives played at this level, meant that the Olavian pair took the second and third games to go 2-1 up. A nasty bout of cramp finally caught up with Tom Welti in the fourth and they were forced to concede what had up until then been a terrific match.
The final quarter-final was the closest of the lot and a classic of its kind. Laurie Brock and Ed Rose have a reputation for getting involved in long matches and also have had something of a knack in recent seasons of narrowly falling at the final hurdle when it comes to reaching the semi-finals of major tournaments. On this ocasion they established a 2-1 lead over Barker & Houlden after three hard fought games and seemed to be in pole position; perhaps mindful of maintaining the reputation referred to above, they then had a bit of a meltdown in the fourth, with the Cambridge pair taking it 12-1 and Ed Rose in particular struggling to find his game (if it could only talk, a courtside bin would testfy to Ed's frustration at his own dip in form). Surely the fifth game would be a formality? Not so, as Ed refound his mojo - possibly terrified into playing better again by a look at the manic intensity in the eyes of partner Brock - and the deciding game turned into a real nailbiter. A couple of chances came and went for the Westminsters at 11-9 and the Cambridge pair levelled at 11-11. Again Brock and Rose took the initiative and this time they managed to convert a chance, taking the game 14-12 and the match 3-2.
The consequences of such a long hard match were clear to see the following morning, as a rather stiff-looking Brock & Rose took to the Harrow courts once again, taking on Toop & Gallagher in their quest to reach a first major final. It was never one-sided, but the Olavian pair always looked a bit fresher, a bit sharper and a bit more precise and they duly won in straight games to make it through to the final, where, predictably, they were to face Dunbar & Cooley, who had brushed aside Theodossi & Perrie for the loss of just 7 points.
The final was an interesting match up, featuring three of the four players who have dominated the game over the last few years plus the sixteen year old Tom Gallagher, the youngest player ever to make the final of this tournament. Tom and Seb have always had the edge in recent encounters with James and his usual partner Matt Wiseman, so it was no surprise that they won in straight games on this occasion and without maybe hitting the heights that they are both capable of. That notwithstanding, this was a fine performance by Toop & Gallagher, with James again giving Tom the perfect example of the consistency and steadiness required at the top level and Tom responding well, his play visibly maturing during the course of the weekend as he adapted to the demands of playing in this sort of company. The highest praise one can give him is to say that despite the defeat, he didn't look out of place on the court alongside three of the best players ever to play the game, and it will only be a surprise if we don't see him back in more finals in the years to come.
EFA Chairman Richard Black presented the trophy to the winners, commending them on continuing to set the highest of standards. Still unbeaten in what is now their sixth season playing together, Tom and Seb are a truly remarkable pair and it will take some effort from someone to dslodge them from their current lofty perch.
The beauty of the London Tournament is that the semis and the final of the main tournament don't take place in unwatched isolation, but rather in the midst of the teeming mass of Fives humanity that pitches up for the Sunday Festival.
This year more than ever, truly all Fives life was there: from uberveteran Nigel Cox to 12 year old Gwydion Wiseman, from the Australian number one to the best player from Ukraine, from father and son and father and daughter pairings to some of the top ladies pairs, from serial trophy winners like Peter Boughton to plate specialists like Tony Stubbs. Oh and John Cooley and Wendy Carling, without whom no Fives Festival would be complete.
The morning group stages produced some tremendous matches and some wonderful sights, including Jonathan Asquith realising that the combined age of the other three players on his court was still less than his own (a regular occurence for uberveteran Cox of course), Dominique Redmond being the tallest player on court in one of her matches and Charlotta Cooley's amazing flying glasses.
Eventually the groups produced a bunch of non-qualifiers to contest Plate B and sixteen pairs who headed into the knockout stages still dreaming of glory. Gradually hopes were dashed and would be winners dispatched unceremoniously until the last two pairs standing came together in the final - Olavian schoolboys Vish Shetty and Coby Plews and Cambridge students Alistair Stewart and Sudhir Balaji. The uncertain nature of many of the day's matches was reflected in the final, which swung first towards the Cambridge pair and then towards their younger opponents. Eventually it was Alistair and Sudhir who prevailed in the deciding third game, winning it 12-6 to clinch the title and Sudhir's first ever Fives tournament win of any description, a fitting reward for a fine day's work.
Plate A - for those knocked out in the Last 16 - featured the long awaited clash between Australia (Mark Haines) and Ukraine (Bogdan Dovgyy) with Europe just edging things to secure intercontinental bragging rights and was won in dominant style by ladies champions Charlotta Cooley and Karen Hird, who were unsurprisingly motivated by the lure of chocolate for the winners.
Plate B - for those who never made it out of the groups - was inevitably won by career plate specialist Tony Stubbs, playing with Ipswich schoolboy Charlie Tweedy, who performed an amazing turnaround to defeat Ashley Lumbard & Elana Osen 12-4, 12-4 in the final, having lost heavily to them earlier in the day. There was at least some consolation for Ashley, who won her domestic battle as she and Elana defeated Chris Ballingall & Chris Wheeler in a 12-11 semi-final thriller.
My thanks go to Mark Williams for his organisational assistance, to Richard Black for presenting the prizes, to Graham Dunbar and Harrow for allowing us to use their facilities and to all those who played and made it such an enjoyable weekend.
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat R.Tyler & D.Mew 3-0 (12-4, 12-0, ret)
A.Theodossi & R.Perrie beat H.Wiseman & K.Nwuba 3-0 (12-1, 14-11, 12-2)
L.Brock & E.Rose beat T.Barker & R.Houlden 3-2 (12-7, 10-12, 12-8, 1-12, 14-12)
J.Toop & T.Gallagher beat C.Hughes & T.Welti 3-1 (8-12, 12-8, 12-7, 5-4 ret)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat A.Theodossi & R.Perrie 3-0 (12-2, 12-5, 12-0)
J.Toop & T.Gallagher beat L.Brock & E.Rose 3-0 (12-8, 12-8, 12-7)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat J.Toop & T.Gallagher 3-0 (12-6, 12-1, 12-0)
J'O'Neill & C.Nicholls beat K,Hird & C.Cooley 15-3
H.Collins & J.Ayoub beat S.Welti & J.Flowers 15-13
J'O'Neill & C.Nicholls beat H.Collins & J.Ayoub 2-0 (12-2, 12-2)
J.O'Neill & M.Skelton beat J.Asquith & H.Asquith 15-0
A.Stewart & S.Balaji beat A.Rennie & A.Grubb 15-6
V.Shetty & C.Plews beat J.Prior & J.Tate 15-14
C.Plummer & I.Kidd beat N.Cox & S.Thatcher 15-13
A.Stewart & S.Balaji beat J.O'Neill & M.Skelton 15-8
V.Shetty & C.Plews beat C.Plummer & I.Kidd 15-10
A.Stewart & S.Balaji beat V.Shetty & C.Plews 2-1 (12-9, 6-12, 12-6)
1. K.Hird & C.Cooley
2. B.Dovgyy & S.Kelly
3. I.Watts & E.Scoones
T.Stubbs & C.Tweedy beat A.Ibbetson & D.Canning 12-8
A.Lumbard & E.Osen beat C.Wheeler & C.Ballingall 12-11
T.Stubbs & C.Tweedy beat A.Lumbard & E.Osen 2-0 (12-4, 12-4)
M.Winch & J.Moore beat J.Cooley & W.Carling 12-7