Feb 2015: Barker & Houlden, Bracken & Reimer Take the U21 Honours
09/02/15: Now into its sixth edition, the Under 21 tournament has established itself as an important part of the Fives calendar and the 2015 version at Eton yesterday fulfilled its brief in great style, bringing the best school players together with recent leavers and University pairs to produce some excellent matches and provide a terrific day's Fives for all concerned.
The men's tournament had its strongest entry ever, with 14 pairs taking part, at least five of whom could have legitimate thoughts of winning with several others more than capable of causing an upset or two. The group stages were therefore both fascinating and unpredictable. The battle for the top spot in Group C came early in proceedings as Salopian brothers George and Henry Lewis beat the Etonian/Aldenhamian pairing of James Cobb and Andrew Rennie. Both pairs were pushed hard by the excellent Highgate U15 pair of Hopkins and Light (Hopkins in particular being only one letter away from being an outstanding player), who took Rennie & Cobb to 11-11 in one of their two games before losing the final point and then beat the Lewis brothers 12-11 in their first game, making the Salopian pair have to up their game to win the second and be sure of topping the group.
Universities champions Tony Barker and Riki Houlden from Cambridge made it through Group A unscathed, although they were pushed hard by the Rowse twins from Eton. The Rowses were unable to find the same level against Highgate's top pair of Holdsworth & Light, sending the Cholmeleians through in second and the Etonians in third. Group B was another two way fight for top spot, 2012 schools finalists Guy Williams and Sam Welti from Shrewsbury up against one of the favourites for this year's schools competition, Tom Weld and Tom Kirkby from Eton. The pairs met in the final game of the group and it was the Salopian pair who got off to the best start, establishing a convincing lead early on. The longer the game went on, however, the stronger the Etonian pair became and with Welti in particular seeming to tire, Weld & Kirkby caught and then passed their opponents to win 15-12 and qualify in first place. Another Etonian pair, Arthur Wellesley and Charlie Bashall, performed superbly to take the last quarter-final place with a 15-14 win over Rahul Wijeratne and Oskar Denby of Harrow.
Weld & Kirkby were inspired by their comeback win against Williams & Welti and dominated their quarter-final against Light & Holdsworth. Having come second in their group, Williams & Welti had to take on Cobb & Rennie, who produced their best Fives of the day to win 15-11 and send the much fancied (not least by themselves) Salopian pair crashing out. Barker & Houlden had no trouble dealing with Wellesley & Bashall. Most spectators were expecting a similar story in the other quarter-final with the Lewis brothers taking on the Rowse twins. Henry and George had already shown signs of vulnerability in their last group match and started poorly, allowing the rather unorthodox Rowse brothers to take a confidence boosting early lead. The match was highly competitive and spiky at times, without ever crossing the line, as the Salopians gradually clawed their way back to parity at 12-12 and seemed to have things under control. The Etonian pair had other ideas, however, and another couple of points took them to 14-12 and the brink of a major upset. Henry and George once again managed to raise their game when things were looking dicy, though, with some excellent foot down cutting and then a surge of their own to take them over the line and into the semi-finals.
Often in these tournaments, it is easy to predict a winner by the time things get to the semi-final stage. That certainly wasn't the case this time with all four semi-finalists fancying their chances. Weld & Kirkby continued their run of form in the first game against Lewis & Lewis, taking it 12-4. Henry and George had to fight and come from behind for the third time in as many matches and once again they improved as the match went on, taking the second game to 10-10, then 12-12 and a nailbiting few hands of sudden death Fives before finally the comeback kings met their match and the two Toms - semi-finalists last year - went one better with a 13-12 win taking them into the final.
In the other semi, underdogs Cobb & Rennie got off to a flyer against Barker & Houlden, going 5-0 and 11-6 up. Although they held on to win the game 12-10, it was clear from the latter stages of the first game that momentum was beginning to shift and the Cambridge pair were getting on top. With Rennie tiring and Cobb suffering from cramp, they were no match for Tony & Riki in games two and three, the Cambridge pair winning the second 12-4 and then racing through the third to to put them through to face the Toms.
The final was a fantastic match and encapsulated everything this tournament is about. Those lucky enough to have seen both the previous week's Northern tournament final at Shrewsbury and this one were treated to two of the best matches of the season in consecutive weekends. Weld & Kirkby are a formidable pair and have proved on the school circuit this season how hard they are to beat, with Kirkby's retrieving and fast dipping back court shots into the buttress complementing Weld's movement and volleying on the top step. Both also play with great tenacity and a never say die attitude that makes them even tougher to beat. Barker & Houlden are also a fine pair who complement each other on court. After two years away form the game, Olavian Barker has come back this year with a vengeance. His fierce cutting and dominating volleying make him a tough opponent to get on top of and Houlden's speed and agility around the court are the perfect foil. All four players were playing close to their best in the final, providing some terrific entertainment for the spectators; the first two games were shared 12-9, 9-12 and the third was poised at 9-9 and simply too close to call. It all came down to the last few rallies and in the end it was perhaps that little bit of extra age and experience that told, as Barker and Houlden found some inspiration to close the match out 12-9 and claim the title, a first for them both and a third successive win for a Cambridge University pair in this tournament.
If Cambridge have been on top in the men's tournament in recent seasons, then Highgate School have absolutely dominated the ladies tournament. Even with three time champion Eve Smith-Bingham not playing, Highgate's top two pairs still made it through to the final to play each other. Top seeds Phoebe Bracken and Amira Reimer were in cruise control throughout and made it into the final unchallenged, dropping only 8 points on the way. The second Highgate pair - Marjolaine Briscoe and Carolina Valensise - had to work much harder, winning their semi-final by the skin of their teeth (13-11 in the decider) against the Oxford University pair of Hannah Pritchard and Rosie Parr, who were bitterly disappointed not to have made it through but who can take consolation in having shown some excellent form in the build up to the Varsity match.
Marjolaine and Carolina were unable to repeat their heroics in the final, with Phoebe and Amira simply far too strong, with Amira in particular showing how her game has come on significantly since losing in the final of the ladies nationals last season. On this form they will undoubtedly be contenders for the senior title once again this year and are currently unchallenged at this level.
The plate competitions were hugely competitive and a real treat to watch. Plate A was an all-Salopian affair, recent leavers Jo Cull & Charlotte Harris defeating school pair Tilly Reynolds and Nina Lange. This was a spectacular tournament debut for Lange & Reynolds; by the end Nina was reduced to playing left-handed due to bruising on her right hand, bruising mainly sustained from the absolute battering her right hand was giving the ball earlier in the day. For a pair who have only been playing since September, these two are both terrific prospects and they played superbly in the group games, defeating Minna Griffiths and Thea Augustidis of Highgate 15-6 and pushing Parr & Pritchard all the way, only losing 15-13 to miss out narrowly on a semi-final place.
The Plate B final was one of the games of the day, Griffiths & Augustidis edging out Cambridge pair Susanna Xu & Emma Sewart 12-11, while the other Cambridge pair of Emma Shillam & Lizzie Tobin won Plate C with a 12-6 win over Oxford's Helena Khullar & Frankie Crossley, in her first tournament two weeks after stepping onto a Fives court for the first time. The other Oxford pair of Alice Stables and Martha Samano pulled out of the plate due to injury, but showed how much they have improved already in only their second term of playing.
Thanks are due to Mike Hughes and everyone at Eton for hosting the tournament, to Mike, Tony Brunner, Graham Dunbar and Seb Cooley for bringing their best school pairs, to Richard Black for presenting the trophies and to all who made the effort to come and play and who were rewarded with an excellent day's Fives.
T.Barker & R.Houlden beat A.Wellesley & C.Bashall 15-1
J.Cobb & A.Rennie beat S.Welti & G.Williams 15-11
T.Weld & T.Kirkby beat D.Light & M.Holdsworth 15-4
H.Lewis & G.Lewis beat M.Rowse & O.Rowse 15-14
T.Barker & R.Houlden beat J.Cobb & A.Rennie 2-1 (10-12, 12-4, 12-0)
T.Weld & T.Kirkby beat H.Lewis & G.Lewis 2-0 (12-4, 13-12)
T.Barker & R.Houlden beat T.Weld & T.Kirkby 2-1 (9-12, 12-9, 12-9)
1st - R.Wijeratne & O.Denby
2nd - C.Moore & B.Wang
3rd - H.Collins & J.Ayoub
4th - J.Alster & S.Thatcher
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat O.Hirschfield & G.Allen 2-0 (12-4, 12-0)
M.Briscoe & C.Valensise beat H.Pritchard & R.Parr 2-1 (10-12, 12-7, 13-11)
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat M.Briscoe & C.Valensise 2-0 (12-4, 12-0)
J.Cull & C.Harris beat N.Lange & T.Reynolds 12-5
M.Griffiths & T.Augustidis beat E.Sewart & S.Xu 12-11
L.Tobin & E.Shillam beat H.Khullar & F.Crossley 12-6