2015 Under 25s: Andrew and Riki Re-Joyce at Houlden the Trophy
14/09/15: The 2015/16 Fives season got underway at Eton yesterday with the first major tournament of the year played out amid a pleasing backdrop of blue skies, enthusiastic spectators and hordes of young Etonians watching some top class Fives and in many cases getting the gloves on themselves for the first time.
Both men's and ladies' tournaments were similar in many ways to last year with 19 pairs there in total - not a huge entry but one high on quality with many of the top young players in the country there to battle it out.
The men's tournament featured a long and in some cases gruelling group stage with four pairs marking themselves out as the ones to watch: four-time champion Andrew Joyce, bidding to make it five in his final year at this level and playing in a new pairing with reigning U21 and Universities champion Riki Houlden; 2014 schools' champions James Cobb and James Piggot; 2015 schools' winner Tommy Weld alongside Salopian Chris Hughes; and fittingly, given that they were competing for the John Rimer trophy, Aldenhamians Carl and Andrew Rennie. These four made it through comfortably, taking the top two slots in each group.
Further down the batting order, competition was fierce to claim the remaining quarter-final slots. The young Highgate pair of Oliver Light and James Hopkins won a couple of 12-11 thrillers to clinch third spot in Group B ahead of Etonians Arthur Wellesley and Jack Capstick-Dale, with Harrow's Taylor and Ayoub just missing out along with Etonians Tom Kirkby (a finalist in 2014) and Will Ponsonby. The other Harrovian pair of Collins and Huo fared better in Group A, winning the key final match against ex-Cambridge pair Alex Rattan and Jack Weller to take fourth place in the group. Olavians Harry Ravi and Brian Wang played solidly to come third and Etonians Barnaby Harrison and Oliver Rowse can consider themselves a little unlucky not to have made it through.
The quarter-finals went to form, with the top four pairs from the morning's games advancing without incident. Joyce and Houlden then confirmed themselves as favourites for the title with a convincing 15-7 semi-final win over the Rennie brothers. The other semi-final produced the game of the day as Cobb & Piggot took on Hughes & Weld, with Mike Hughes watching on as three of his recent Eton schools' winners did battle along with his son. This match always looked like it was going to be close, and close it was with both sides having chances at 14-14 before Cobb and Piggot struck the final blow to take them through to their first U25 final by the skin of their teeth.
As is often the case in these tournaments, especially after an epic semi-final, the final itself was something of an anticlimax. Cobb and Piggot fought hard and played some excellent Fives; their harder passage through to the final was beginning to show, though, as they began to run out of steam when put under pressure by the classy Joyce and the indefatigable Houlden. There were some terrific passages of play and the overall standard was high, but the result was never in doubt and Andrew and Riki duly won 12-4, 12-5, giving Andrew an outstanding fifth and final U25 win and enabling Riki to add the U25 crown to the U21 and University titles he already holds.
The ladies' tournament - expertly organised by Karen Hird - was also notable for the strength in depth this year; the fact that reigning Universities champions Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd Smith didn't make it out of the group stages and were left to contest the plate competition tells you everything you need to know. As always, the Highgate girls were the pairs to beat, with multiple age group winners and last year's winners Amira Reimer and Phoebe Bracken back to defend their title. A convincing 15-6 group stage win over one of their main challengers - Harriet Asquith and Emily Scoones - provided an early confidence boost and an equally strong semi-final victory over the Highgate second string of Marjolaine Briscoe and Carolina Valensise put them through to the final.
Marjolaine and and Carolina and made it through to the semis thanks to a terrific win over Elana and Olivia, coming from 9-2 down in the first game to win 12-11, 12-10. The group was won, however, by the scratch pairing of Ipswichian Sarah Frost and Zuozer Franziska Kuenburg, schools' champion in 2009 and back in the UK for a year and immediately showing the power and quality that were apparent in that victory over six years ago. They came up against Asquith and Scoones in the second semi-final, a pair who certainly won the award for most miles travelled to play, with Harriet driving up from her current placement in Dorset and Emily flying in from Stuttgart for her first Fives since March. With the rust well and truly shaken off, Emily's attacking volleying and Harriet's steadiness from the back of the court overcame the tough challenges posed by Sarah and Franziska, a 12-8, 12-8 win taking them through to the final, Emily's fifth and Harriet's second at this tournament.
Emily and Harriet knew that they would have to be at their absolute best to beat Phoebe and Amira, and although they played well in patches, especially in the first half of the second game, the Highgate pair were too good for them, with Amira Reimer in particular proving herself to be the tournament's outstanding player. Phoebe Bracken played the supporting role very impressively and the 12-6, 12-6 scoreline was a fair reflection of their dominance in the final.
My thanks go to Karen Hird for running the ladies tournament so well, to Richard Black for presenting the trophies, to Mike Hughes and Eton for hosting the event and to all those who played and contributed to an excellent day's Fives.
A.Joyce & R.Houlden beat A.Wellseley & J.Capstick-Dale 15-0
C.Rennie & A.Rennie beat H.Ravi & B.Wang 15-5
J.Cobb & J.Piggot beat J.Hopkins & O.Light 15-6
C.Hughes & T.Weld beat A.Huo & H.Collins 15-3
A.Joyce & R.Houlden beat C.Rennie & A.Rennie 15-7
J.Cobb & J.Piggot beat C.Hughes & T.Weld 15-14
A.Joyce & R.Houlden beat J.Cobb & J.Piggot 12-4, 12-5
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat M.Briscoe & C.Valensise 2-0 (12-1, 12-3)
H.Asquith & E.Scoones beat F.Kuenburg & S.Frost 2-0 (12-8, 12-8)
P.Bracken & A.Reimer beat H.Asquith & E.Scoones 2-0 (12-6, 12-6)
F.Kuenburg & S.Frost beat M.Briscoe & C.Valensise 2-0 (12-11, 12-11)
1. E.Osen & O.Prankerd Smith
2. M.Griffiths & V.Ruggi
3. E.O'Malley & N.Loh