Scoones & Ho Win The Mixed
11/04/22: The 2022 Mixed Tournament in association with Advanta Wealth was won at Eton yesterday by Emily Scoones & Jonny Ho, with perhaps the highest quality mixed field ever assembled fighting it out for the title.
This year's turn out was down a bit on some previous years, which was a shame, but that was more than compensated for by the quality of the competition, as thirteen pairs fought it out for this year's Mixed title.
With only three groups in the first phase of the competition, there were some titanic battles right from the off with the seeding positions for the knockout stages up for grabs. Last year's winners Karen Hird & Hugo Young got off to a solid start in Group A, seeing off the twin threat of Rachel Wood & Tom McCahon and Ashley Lumbard & Aroop Bhattacharya with the minimum of fuss. Rachel & Tom played a near perfect game to score a convincing win over Ashley & Aroop, who qualified in third place ahead of Sophie Wisa & Rupert Swallow and Charlotte Bowman & Lewis Drummond, with Sophie & Rupert winning the game between those two pairs.
Champions from 2012-2019 Charlotta & Seb Cooley also looked in fine fettle, comfortably finishing top of a tough-looking group with wins over three times former champions Dom Redmond & Howard Wiseman, Oxford's Freya Butler & Ben Hart and Darcy Clarke & Alex Abrahams. Darcy & Alex played some excellent Fives without quite being able to get past any of the other pairs and it was Dom & Howard who won the battle for second place, coming from 9-11 down to defeat Freya & Ben 15-11 in one of the best games of the group stages.
The third group pitted Jonny Ho against Riki Houlden, Jonny playing with Emily Scoones and looking to reach the final for the first time after several near misses and Riki playing with another Old Cholmeleian in Marjolaine Briscoe. The two pairs played each other in the last match of the group stages and gave the good number of spectators a first glimpse at what the latter stages of the tournament would look like, with some thrilling rallies and superb Fives from all four players. It was the more established pair of Jonny & Emily who had the edge, though, winning 15-9 to top the group. The other two pairs in the group also contributed, Ipswich's Tim & Natasha Gregory coming third ahead of Oxford's Carolina Valensise & Andrew Taylor. Natasha & Tim then played off against Freya & Ben for the final quarter-final place in another exciting and close match. Freya & Ben came through 15-12 to qualify, leaving Natasha & Tim the consolation of being able to set their sights on winning the "Dossi Dish" plate competition.
This the Gregory father and daughter pair duly did, but not without some tough games. Caro & Andrew improved on their morning performance and ran Natasha & Tim close; Charlotte & Lewis were undoubtedly the most improved pairing over the course of the day, reversing the morning result against Sophie & Rupert and taking 8 points off the Gregorys. Darcy & Alex picked up a couple of good wins, but in the end it was the Ipswich pairing who got their hands on the trophy, following in the footsteps of Charlotte Gregory, who won the dish in 2019 alongside Steve Burnell.
The quarter-finals were played as one game up to 15 and there were no shocks, with the top four seeded pairs all winning. The quality of the matches was already ramping up, though, a taste of things to come. Freya & Ben's fine run came to an end at the hands of Karen & Hugo, the Cooleys saw off Ashley & Aroop, Rachel & Tom were unable to make much of an impression on Emily & Jonny and Marj & Riki put in an impressive performance to end Dom & Howard's chances of regaining the trophy. The four losing quarter-final pairs played an excellent mini-plate competition, with Ashley & Aroop playing their best Fives of the day despite losing 13-15 to Dom & Howard and Rachel & Tom making up for the disappointment of not being able to get closer to Emily & Jonny in the quarters by beating Freya & Ben in the semis and then overcoming Dom & Howard 15-9 to claim the "best of the rest" title.
The top four meanwhile moved on to the semi-finals and three matches that took the breath away in terms of quality and excitement, all of them won and lost by tiny margins as all four pairs took Mixed Fives to a new level.
Karen & Hugo finally managed to dethrone the Cooleys in last year's tournament, but any thoughts of a possible rematch had to be put to one side as they took on Marj & Riki. Both games were set - the first at 10-10 and the second at 11-11 as the Briscoe/Houlden masterplan kept the defending champions in check. Marjolaine defended superbly throughout and she and Riki worked tirelessly to deny Karen & Hugo attacking opportunities and chances to reel off runs of points on Karen's serve as well as picking their own moments to attack. Both times, though, they weren't quite able to see it through at the very end of the game, Karen finally getting her run at 10-10 in the first and then successfully opting to go for sudden death at 11-11 in the second. 15-10, 12-11 and the champions were through into the final.
But who would they be playing? Emily & Jonny were in their sixth successive semi-final, the previous five all ending in (frequently very narrow) defeat. Charlotta & Seb's long-term aura of invincibility had finally been broken last year by Karen & Hugo, but could Emily & Jonny also find a way past them and break their semi-final hoodoo? The Cholmeleian pair played a fantastic first game, Jonny finding the calmness and rhythm that had slightly eluded him at times in the Kinnaird final the week before and Emily playing like a woman possessed, with some of her defensive volleying in the buttress having to be seen to be believed. 12-8 to Emily & Jonny in the first. The margins at the top level of mixed Fives are very small, though, and Charlotta & Seb turned the tables in the second game, imposing themselves on the match a bit more and winning the key points. 12-8 to Charlotta & Seb and into a decider. Often in the past, this would be the moment where Charlotta & Seb would go into overdrive and blow their opponents away; this time it was the other way round, and while the Cooleys were most certainly not blown away, Emily & Jonny most definitely did find an extra gear, playing some outstanding Fives. Jonny was once again rock solid, his shot selection and execution of the highest order while Emily got back into her first game "zone" and if anything took it up a notch, playing with huge determination and intensity and backing it up with the skill level and coolness under pressure needed to win the decider 12-6 against a champion pair.
It would have been easy and perfectly understandable had Emily & Jonny struggled at the start of the final, given the emotional and physical intensity of their semi-final win, but the opposite happened, as they picked up against Karen & Hugo where they had left off against Charlotta & Seb, and it was the defending champions who took a while to get back up to speed, by which time they were 6-0 down. The "one serve only for the man" rule makes pulling back a large lead even harder in mixed Fives than it is normally and Karen & Hugo couldn't manage it. The fact that they made it up to 8, however, showed that they were in back in the match and possibly even beginning to establish themselves as the stronger pair by the end of the first game. They continued in this vein in the second, Karen getting into her cut-returning groove and controlling rallies in and around the buttress and Hugo picking and choosing his moments to attack well with Emily struggling with cramp at times. 12-8 to Karen & Hugo in the second and an exact repeat of the semi-final scoreline for Emily & Jonny. The deciding game was simply epic - Emily found the physical reserves from somewhere to maintain her level and all four players were at the top of their game, trading blow for blow and point for point. From about halfway through the game, there seemed to be a certain inevitability that it would be going all the way. Emily & Jonny did get to 11-9 and had one serve at match point; it came as no surprise to anyone that Karen produced a perfect cut and then two returns to level at 11-11. From that point on it was more or less the toss of a coin as to who was going to win. 11-11 became 12-12. Karen & Hugo went 13-12 up; Emily held her nerve to cut Karen down before Jonny took over, hitting three successive winners to the bottom of the buttress to save the second match point, level at 13-13 and then take the match 14-13.
This was a fittingly brilliant end to a brilliant final and a brilliant tournament. Emily & Jonny fully deserved their win having done it the hard way - playing and winning against the pairs who effectively finished second, third, fourth and fifth on the day - and showing skill, stamina and coolness under pressure in equal measure to finally get their hands on the trophy.
Thanks go to Eton for hosting the tournament, Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship and to everyone who played and made it such an enjoyable day.
K.Hird & H.Young beat F.Butler & B.Hart 15-5
M.Briscoe & R.Houlden beat D.Redmond & H.Wiseman 15-9
E.Scoones & J.Ho beat R.Wood & T.McCahon 15-5
C.Cooley & S.Cooley beat A.Lumbard & Ar.Bhattacharya 15-7
K.Hird & H.Young beat M.Briscoe & R.Houlden 2-0 (15-10, 12-11)
E.Scoones & J.Ho beat C.Cooley & S.Cooley 2-1 (12-8, 8-12, 12-6)
E.Scoones & J.Ho beat K.Hird & H.Young 2-1 (12-8, 8-12, 14-13)
D.Redmond & H.Wiseman beat A.Lumbard & Ar.Bhattacharya 15-13
R.Wood & T.McCahon beat F.Butler & B.Hart 15-6
R.Wood & T.McCahon beat D.Redmond & H.Wiseman 15-9
Plate A for the Dossi Dish (Round Robin)
1. N.Gregory & T.Gregory
2. C.Valensise & A.Taylor
3. D.Clarke & A.Abrahams
4. C.Bowman & L.Drummond
5. S.Wisa & R.Swallow