London Tournament 2013: Last Hurrah for Highgate
The weekend of December 7/8 saw the end of an era as the top courts at Highgate were used for the final time before being knocked down. The 2013 London Tournament gave them a terrific send off, with a weekend of high quality Fives and great entertainment. The main tournament was won by top seeds Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley who beat defending champions Peter Dunbar and George Campbell in a repeat of last season's Kinnaird final. The Festival was won by Carl and Andrew Rennie, who had the honour of winning the final point on the courts.
The entry for the London tournament this year was a little light in terms of quantity but very high in terms of quality and right from the start there were some terrific matches in the group stages of the main tournament. Fourth seeds Peter Cohen and Peter White found themselves immediately under pressure from Al Taylor and Rez Malik, who got themselves into a winning position in the first game before the two Petes managed to get their game together and come through 12-10, 12-2. They were unable to withstand the next challenge, however, from an inspired Doug Foster and Andrew Joyce, and although both pairs qulified from the group, it was Foster and Joyce who took the fourth seeded slot in the draw. Elsewhere, the intriguing "wildcard" scratch pairing of Ed Taylor and Matt Wiseman were beginning to find their feet, seeing off Cambridge pair Robert Wilson and Jamie Abbott and the Cholmeleian Bhattacharya brothers to top their group. Jamie and Robert were too strong for Abs and Aroop and they also made it through, matching their Kinnaird quarter-final appearance from earlier in the year.
Defending champions Peter Dunbar and George Campbell had to negotiate the potential banana skin of a group game against Ant Theodossi and Ryan Perrie, a match made all the more tricky due to this being Peter's first appearance of the season on his return from working abroad. A 12-5 first game win gave them a nice cushion and despite a fightback in the second, George and Peter won that 12-10 to top the group, Ant and Ryan going through as runners-up.
Top seeds Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley didn't play in the London tournament last year and they were keen to regain the trophy they last won in 2011. They duly won their group comfortably with Laurie Brock and Jeremy O'Neill qualifying in second place.
The Saturday afternoon quarter-finals were a real treat for the watching crowd with 16 of the country's finest players playing some fantastic Fives. Wilson and Abbott acquitted themselves very well indeed in the first match but were unable to make much of an impression on the scoreboard against Dunbar and Cooley, who booked their place in the semis in double quick time. Dunbar and Campbell were having to work rather harder against Cohen and White, especially in the third game, but also managed to make it though in straight games. Wiseman and Taylor against Brock and O'Neill produced some fantastic rallies; the number three seeds won the first game 12-5, but the second was nip and tuck all the way, with Brock and O'Neill finding their very best form to put the more experienced pair under intense pressure. The last 10-15 minutes of the second game was one of the best spells of Fives to watch of the whole tournament, but in the end it was Wiseman and Taylor who emerged victorious 14-13 to set up another three game win. The final quarter-final pitted Theodossi and Perrie against Foster and Joyce and right from the start it seemed as if this was destined to go to five. Ant and Ryan sneaked the first game from 7-11 down before Doug and Andrew began to assert themselves to win the next two 12-7 and 12-6. Back came Ant and Ryan, though, storming through to win the fourth 12-4 and set up a potentially thrilling decider. The fifth was once again incredibly close and the only disappointment was the slighlty anticlimactic ending; with Doug unable to return and play on the Sunday, he and Andrew were forced to shake hands and concede the match at 11-9 up, with the crowd unfortunately denied the excitement of a nailbiting finish.
Meanwhile, the main tournament plate competition was also producing some epic contests. Plate B was a threeway battle between Cholmeleians Alex Tansey and Max Wintle, Westminsters Majid Mostafavi and George Illingworth and Karen Hird and John Cooley and was won fittingly in the end by the two Highgate players in their last game on their old courts.
Plate A saw four evenly matched pairs contest some thrilling matches, with both of the semis and the final going to a deciding game. The Bhattacharyas lost the first game 8-12 to Aldenhamians Andrew Rennie and Darshan Patel but somehow managed to come through at the business end of the next two games, squeezing through 15-13 and 15-10. In the other semi-final veterans Nick Bunyan and Jeff Lawrence drew first blood 12-8 against the Edwardian/Salopian combination of Rez Malik and Al Taylor but as in the first semi, the next two games went the way of Al and Rez, 12-10 and 12-7. The final was similarly close: the Bhattacharyas won the first 12-3 but looked as if they were running out of steam as Al and Rez struck back to win the second 12-7. Abs and Aroop then found some inspiration from somewhere and stormed back in the third to produce a second Cholmeleian plate win of the day with a 12-6 third game victory.
Sunday morning started with the main tournament semi-finals and another comfortable win for the imperious Dunbar and Cooley, 12-6, 12-4, 12-1 winners over Theodossi and Perrie. The other semi-final was an intriguing match up: defending champions and second seeds Peter Dunbar and George Campbell against two former winners of the tournament, Ed Taylor and Matt Wiseman, playing together for the first time and seeded third. The first game was close but Pete and George always had their noses in front to win 12-8. The second game was a lot tighter - the two left handers were beginning to gel with the Taylor left hand haymaker wreaking havoc on the top step and Matt Wiseman looking back to his best, cutting superbly, quick on his feet, volleying aggressively and even rushing forward from the back to return cuts, with his partner serving and going under the wall. With Pete and George also in fine form and playing at the standard you would expect of defending champions and Kinnaird finalists, the watching spectators were treated to a real spectacle. Matt and Ed reached gameball first and were denied a seemingly inevitable victory on more than one occasion, including one miraculous recovery shot by Pete from what appeared to be a certain Taylor volley winner. Peter and George pulled it back to 11-11 and after a lengthy interruption for a discussion over the granting (or not) of a controversial let, it was Peter and George who came away with a 14-12 win and a 2-0 lead. The drama and controversy weren't over, however, as Pete was forced into taking an injury break in the third game as he began to struggle with cramp. Ed and Matt sensed an opportunity, with Peter struggling a little; surely if they could win the third, the match would be theirs for the taking with Peter unlikely to go the distance. Peter and George knew this too, adding extra layers of intrigue to the tense final stages of the third game, as Peter and George swapped over so that George could play on top step and Matt and Ed looked to chip away at the early third game lead that had been established by the second seeds. In the end the game finished with an Ed Taylor cut flying out off the ledge at 10-11, bringing an end to a thrilling match.
Unfortunately, his semi-final exertions had taken a lot out of Peter and he and George were unable to mount much of a sustained challenge in the final. There were some flashes of quality and some excellent rallies, and Peter and George gave everything they had, but Tom and Seb were able to remain in the cruise mode that they had been in all weekend to comfortably win the final in straight games and regain the London tournament trophy, presented to them by EFA Chairman Richard Black.
The Festival tournament was also taking place, with a glorious mixture of pairs of varying ages, genders and abilities. The sharp end of the tournament was a mirror of the previous day's plate competition, with both semi-finals and the final going to three games. The first semi saw the Rennie brothers up against the father and son Walters combination, son Jake back on court for the first time in several years and showing that he hadn't forgotten what to do. The Walters won the first game 12-10, but cramp and tiredness caught up with them after that and Carl and Andrew comfortably won the next two to go through to the final to face Nick Bunyan and Jeff Lawrence, who had to use all of their wiles and experience to see off the Westway youngsters Noah Caplin and Dan Arwas 13-14, 13-11, 12-8.
The final was another three game epic, and an historic occasion as the last match to be played on the courts. Happily the four players managed to do the occasion justice, serving up an entertaining seesaw match with the Rennies finally coming through 12-7 in the third to take the title. Earlier the Festival Plate round robin competition had produced more excitement with every pair winning at least one match, no pair winning all of their matches and Westway's Freddie Rowe and James Caplin emerging victorious from the pack.
My thanks go to everyone who took part and to Highgate School and Anthony Brunner for hosting us and making us so welcome. We look forward to returning to Highgate for the London Tournament in the not too distant future, hopefully on a brand new set of courts.
S.Cooley & T.Dunbar beat R.Wilson & J.Abbott 3-0 (12-2, 12-3, 12-4)
A.Theodossi & R.Perrie beat D.Foster & A.Joyce 3-2 (12-11, 7-12, 6-12, 12-4, 9-11 ret)
M.Wiseman & E.Taylor beat L.Brock & J.O'Neill 3-0 (12-5, 14-13, 12-6)
P.Dunbar & G.Campbell beat P.Cohen & P.White 3-0 (12-5, 12-2, 12-9)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat A.Theodossi & R.Perrie 3-0 (12-6, 12-4, 12-1)
P.Dunbar & G.Campbell beat M.Wiseman & E.Taylor 3-0 (12-8, 14-12, 12-10)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat P.Dunbar & G.Campbell 3-0 (12-2, 12-1, 12-4)
Main Tournament Plate A
A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya beat A.Rennie & D.Patel 2-1 (8-12, 15-13, 15-10)
A.Taylor & R.Malik beat N.Bunyan & J.Lawrence 2-1 (8-12, 12-10, 12-7)
A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya beat A.Taylor & R.Malik 2-1 (12-3, 7-12, 12-6)
A.Tansey & M.Wintle beat G.Illingworth & M.Mostafavi 15-12
J.Cooley & K.Hird
A. Rennie & C.Rennie beat A.Walters & J.Walters 2-1 (10-12, 12-4, 12-3)
N.Bunyan & J.Lawrence beat N.Caplin & D.Arwas 2-1 (13-14, 13-11, 12-8)
A. Rennie & C.Rennie beat N.Bunyan & J.Lawrence 2-1 (13-10, 9-12, 12-7)
F.Rowe & J.Caplin