Midlands Tournament 2013: Young at Heart
The 2013 edition of the Midlands Tournament took place at Repton over the weekend of November 2nd/3rd. Presided over as usual in their own inimitable style by Howard Wiseman and Dominique Redmond, this year’s tournament featured over 30 pairs and the excellent Saturday night dinner in a local hotel.
The pairs were divided up into four larger groups on the Saturday with the aim of sorting themselves out into a top sixteen for the main competition and the rest for the coveted festival on the Sunday. It was hard to pick a favourite during the course of Saturday’s play – Westminsters Laurie Brock and Riki Houlden looked full of beans, Berkhamsted pairs Ant Theodossi/Dave Smith and Andrew Joyce/Ali Leighton were hitting their stride nicely and Ryan Perrie/Andrew Rennie were looking like a pair to avoid. Anyone looking for an outside bet might have been tempted to have a flutter on outsiders the Bhattacharya brothers (less tempted probably had they accompanied them into Derby on Saturday night) or even veterans Nick Bunyan and Rez Malik.
On the subject of veterans, the most talked about pair were last year’s semi-finalists Seb Cooley and uberveteran Nigel Cox, with Cox making another attempt to win the Midlands tournament, 51 years after his first appearance in the event and 43 years after his last final, both in its previous incarnation at KES, Birmingham. Emerging in first place from the “Group of Death” on the Saturday (it produced three of the eight quarter-finalists), all was looking rosy for the Cooley/Cox combination as the field reconvened at Repton on Sunday morning, ready to compete for the two trophies on offer.
The last sixteen saw the seven pairs mentioned above all make it through to the quarter-finals, and saw the demise of the Chris Wheeler/Ralph Morgan pairing, impressive qualifiers from their group and authors of Saturday’s shock of the day with their win over Doug Foster and his Berkhamsted schoolboy partner. The line-up was completed by Gareth Hoskins and Karen Hird who came from 13-8 down to win the battle of the mixed pairs over organisers Howard Wiseman and Dom Redmond.
Hoskins and Hird made little impression on the Westminster pair of Brock and Houlden, who cruised into the semis without breaking sweat. A much tougher time was had by Joyce and Leighton who won an epic “Battle of Berkhamsted” 12-11 in the third against Theodossi and Smith. Cox kept his hopes of victory alive by impressing in a spectating/support capacity as he and Cooley took out the mildly dehydrated Bhattacharya brothers. At least there were two doctors on court, just in case. In the last quarter-final, Perrie and Rennie were made to work extremely hard due an impressive effort from Bunyan and Malik; after losing the first game, Rez and Nick roared back to win the second, level the tie and put themselves in the frame to achieve a shock victory. It wasn’t to be, however, as Ryan and Andrew regained their composure and reasserted their authority to win in three.
That was as good as it got for Perrie and Rennie as, buoyed by their exhilarating last eight win, Joyce and Leighton brushed them aside 12-5, 12-5 in the first semi-final in emphatic fashion. In the other semi-final, Brock and Houlden were holding the Cooley onslaught at bay to go 1-0 up; at this point Seb found his mojo, and with Nigel providing solid support, the Cooley/Cox pairing raced to a 9-2 second game lead. At this point the wheels began to come off, though – Cooley’s miraculous winners started to turn into costly errors and he was forced into making two mistakes and having to change three times. Nigel stepped in to stem the flow manfully, but the momentum had shifted irreversibly and it was the young Westminster pair who grasped their opportunity and shattered the Cox dream for another year.
As often happens in this tournament, with its scratch pairings and unusual combinations, it was the two most balanced pairs who made it through to the final. With the four competitors having a combined age not far north of that of Dr Cox, it was also the youngest final seen in any major tournament for a while. The two pairs were also beautifully symmetrical with Brock and Joyce near contemporaries and a couple of years out of University and Houlden and Leighton both in their first year out of school.
Things were close on court too in the first game, with nothing to choose between the pairs. Leighton and Houlden responded well to their first match at this level, Leighton impressing with his footwork and volleying and Houlden with his speed around the court and fast reflexes. With Joyce playing well, and producing more of the inspirational Fives he is capable of rather than the unforced errors that can sometimes flow when he is off form, it needed Brock and Houlden to be at their Duracell Bunny best to stay in contention. This they did, however, and with the game set at 10-10 it was the Westminsters who got to step first. One serve and one unreturnable cut from Joyce was all they got, though, before two quick points from the Berkhamsted pair turned the game around to win 13-12. This was the crucial moment in the match – in a best of three encounter, recovering from the loss of the first game in that fashion is always tough and hard as they tried they could never quite keep up with the Berkhamsted duo, Joyce and Leighton closing out the second game 12-6 in impressive style to take the trophy for the first time.
The Festival was, as always, as keenly contested as the main tournament and produced a Berkhamsted v St.Olave’s school final. The U16 Berkhamsted pair had embarrassed the more senior Berkhamsted school pair in the semi-final, winning in three tight games to claim internal Berko bragging rights and they then found themselves in another thrilling encounter in the final. The main tournament was already done and dusted, which meant that a large crowd gathered to watch them take on a feloow U16 pair from St.Olave’s in a deciding third game with the score delicately balanced at 1 game all. The Olave’s boys had their noses in front but the Berkhamsted boys, their confidence high after their semi-final triumph, gradually clawed their way back into the match to set it and take it right down to the wire. A series of breathlessly exciting rallies ensued, with all four players rising to the occasion and playing their very best Fives, before finally the Olavian pair came through to win the trophy, a fitting end to an excellent weekend.
Thanks are due to Howard and Dom for their organisation and unflappability, to Hugo Tobias for looking every inch a Mark Williams in training and to Repton for hosting us. If you’ve not yet sampled the delights of the Midlands weekend, make sure you’re there next year!
A.Joyce & A.Leighton beat P.White & J.Staley 15-2
A.Theodossi & D.Smith beat R.Morgan & C.Wheeler 15-2
R.Perrie & A.Rennie beat H.? & L.? 15-2
N.Bunyan & R.Malik beat T.Walters & B.Christie 15-10
N.Cox & S.Cooley beat C.? & N.? 15-2
A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya beat D.Foster & M.Maciver 15-12
L.Brock & R.Houlden beat S.? & C.? 15-1
G.Hoskins & K.Hird beat H.Wiseman & D.Redmond 15-13
A.Joyce & A.Leighton beat A.Theodossi & D.Smith 2-1 (12-6, 5-12, 12-11)
R.Perrie & A.Rennie beat N.Bunyan & R.Malik 2-1 (12-7, 8-12, 5-1)
N.Cox & S.Cooley beat A.Bhattacharya & A.Bhattacharya 2-0 (12-3, 12-5)
L.Brock & R.Houlden beat G.Hoskins & K.Hird 2-0 (12-0, 3-0 ret)
A.Joyce & A.Leighton beat R.Perrie & A.Rennie 2-0 (12-5, 12-5)
L.Brock & R.Houlden beat N.Cox & S.Cooley 2-0 (12-5, 12-9)
A.Joyce & A.Leighton beat L.Brock & R.Houlden 2-0 (13-12, 12-6)