Universities 2015: Oxford and Durham Take the Honours
24/10/15: The 2015 Jesters Universities Tournament took place at Eton on Saturday with a terrific turnout of 29 pairs from 17 different universities - Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Swansea, Cardiff, Durham, Liverpool, Loughborough, Leicester, Bath, QM, King's, LSE, UCL, Middlesex, Imperial and RVC.
The standard in the men's tournament was as high as has been seen in recent years, and the morning group stages produced some fantastic matches as several very good pairs failed to advance to the knockout stages. Group A was won by defending champions Tony Barker and Riki Houlden from Cambridge, who have been the dominant force in age group and university Fives over the last twelve months. Second place went to the Old Aldenhamian London partnership of Andrew Rennie and Darshan Patel who took the runners-up spot ahead of UCL's Westminsters Matt Lewin and Will Capstick.
Group B was a tight one, Oxford's second pair of Jack Flowers and Tom Kirkby and QM medics Adam Robinow and Sam Williams finishing in the qualifying positions, ahead of Cambridge's third string of Alistair Stewart and Ben Merrett. Groups C and D were both won easily by two fancied fresher pairings, Oxford's Etonians James Cobb and James Piggot and LSE's Westminster/Salopian combo of Ismail Salim and Sansom Yick, with both pairs looking in fine form. An early Varsity Match marker was thrown down in Group C as Oxford 3 (Max Wintle and Sam Oppenheimer) finished ahead of Cambridge 2 (Jack Parham and Sudhir Balaji) to make it through to the last eight, and the quarter-final line-up was completed by Edinburgh's James Lawson Baker (Harrow) and Alex Green (Berkhamsted) who won their key encounter 15-12 over the Leicester/Bath Wulfrunian duo of Tom Weston and Ben Hart.
The four group winners all won their quarter-finals without being pushed too hard, with Salim & Yick in particular impressing with a 15-0 whitewash of the tiring Edinburgh pair. The way the draw worked out meant that Cobb and Piggot were having to work their way through their Oxford team mates to reach the final, defeating Oppenheimer & Wintle in the quarters and then Flowers & Kirkby in the semis. The other semi-final was the game of the tournament with favourites and defending champions Barker and Houlden up against the explosive Yick and Salim. The experienced Cambridge pair won the title last year without really being tested but soon realised that they were in a fight as the speed - both of foot and reaction - of the younger pair gave them the edge at the end of a tight first game, which they took 14-11. Often in such circumstances, the favoured pair regroup between games and manage to reassert their authority over the challengers and many watching expected Barker and Houlden to do just that. Sensationally, however, the opposite happened as Yick and Salim simply increased the pace and hit a purple patch that the Cambridge pair were unable to cope with. The LSE pair raced into an 11-1 lead before closing things out to record a memorable victory and claim their place in the final.
The final promised much, but unfortunately the effort - both mental and physical - required to win their semi-final took a lot out of the LSE pair, who were unable to sustain the speed and intensity that had carried them to victory in the last four. Much of the credit must also go to Oxford's Cobb and Piggot, who after a few weeks back in the groove looked much more like the pair that won the schools' title in 2014 than the pair who were overwhelmed by Houlden and Andrew Joyce in the final of the Under 25s a few weeks ago. Cobb had a lot more energy in the tank on this occasion and was moving well around the court while Piggot's languid appearance belied the high level of skill and placement in his play and the LSE pair never came to terms with his awkward left-handed angles. The Oxford pair were in control right from the start to win 12-2, 12-4, ending the unbroken run of success from Cambridge in this event stretching back to 2007.
The strength in depth of the tournament was shown by the high quality of all of the plate competitions. Cambridge 3 won the all-Westminster Plate A final over UCL , Durham 1 (Tom McCahon and Harriet Asquith, subbing in and doing a pretty good impression of her Durham student brother Matt) beat Cambridge 4 (Nic Walker and Nathan Turnbull) to win Plate B and Oxford 4 (Stephen Thatcher and Felix White-Thomson) beat Durham 2 (Alex Tansey and Alpesh Mapara) to win Plate C.
While the Durham pairs in the men's tournament were having some succes in the plate competition, Durham's ladies pair of Old Ipswichian Sarah Frost and Old Emanuel Lucy Pugh were setting their sights on the main prize. The ladies tournament was wide open this year, with no previous winners either available or still at university, and both the Oxford and Cambridge clubs - the traditional powerhouses in this tournament - in transition this year.
The Durham pair had no problems securing top spot in Group A, winning all of their matches comfortably. Second place was hotly contested between the University of Wales (Swansea's Melody Chan and Cardiff's Beth Parlane) and Cambridge 2 (Susanna Xu and Rhonda Shiels). Their two game group encounter was winner takes all; Cambridge won the first game 12-10 and Wales the second 12-11, putting the Cambridge pair into the semi-finals by a single point. The other group was a threeway battle between Cambridge 1, Oxford 1 and King's/Loughborough. The King's/Loughborough pair were something of a wild card entry; Kate Sophoclides and Marguerite Boyle had been a very good pair at school together at Berkhamsted but neither had set foot on a Fives court for the best part of five years. They quickly showed they were a force to be reckoned with, though, winning their first game 12-11 against Cambridge 1's Hannah Rapley and Sophie Kelly, who had to fight hard to come back and square the match 12-7 in the second. The Cambridge pair clinched their place in the semis with a 2-0 win over Rosie Parr and Alice Stables of Oxford, leaving the Oxford pair needing a 2-0 over King's/Loughborough to go through. The lack of playing time was beginning to catch up on the Berkhamstedian pair already, with both starting to suffer from bruised hands, and Rosie and Alice looked to be taking advantage as they got to 11 first in the first game. Kate and Marguerite weren't giving up, though, and gritted their teeth, played through the pain and came back to win 12-11 and then 12-7 to claim second place in the group and a semi-final spot.
Injury was taking its toll, however, and despite a valiant effort they were no match for the increasingly confident Durham pair. Cambridge 1 overcame Cambridge 2 in the other semi-final to set up what looked like it should be a good contest in the final. Sarah and Lucy had other ideas, however. With Sarah dominating the top step, volleying hard and hitting aggressvely to the back corners and with Lucy showing some classy touches and returning cut well, the Cambridge pair never managed to get any kind of foothold in the game, the Durham pair winning 12-3, 12-0 in double quick time to claim a well-deserved victory.
Wales beat Oxford in an exciting plate final and the Oxford and Cambridge beginners pairs showed how much they had all improved during the day in the plate B final, which was won in the end by Oxford.
My thanks go to Mike Hughes and Eton for allowing us to use their facilities, to Seb Cooley for representing the Jesters and presenting the trophies and to all those who played, watched and helped organise teams and pairs. We would especially like to thank the Jesters club for their continued sponsorship of this event, which allows us to refund players' travel costs and is a crucial ingredient in making this tournament such a success.
Cambridge 1 (T.Barker & R.Houlden) beat QM (S.Williams & A.Robinow) 15-4
LSE (S.Yick & I.Salim) beat Edinburgh (J.Lawson Baker & A.Green) 15-0
Oxford 2 (J.Flowers & T.Kirkby) beat Imperial/Middlesex (D.Patel & A.Rennie) 15-7
Oxford 1 (J.Cobb & J.Piggot) beat Oxford 3 (S.Oppenheimer & M.Wintle) 15-6
LSE (S.Yick & I.Salim) beat Cambridge 1 (T.Barker & R.Houlden) 2-0 (14-11, 12-4)
Oxford 1 (J.Cobb & J.Piggot) beat Oxford 2 (J.Flowers & T.Kirkby) 2-0 (12-8, 12-2)
Oxford 1 (J.Cobb & J.Piggot) beat LSE (S.Yick & I.Salim) 2-0 (12-2, 12-5)
Leics/Bath (B.Hart & T.Weston) beat Cambridge 4 (N.Turnbull & N.Walker) 12-4
Cambridge 3 (A.Stewart & B.Merrett) beat Durham 1 (T.McCahon & H.Asquith) 12-6
Cambridge 2 (J.Parham & S.Balaji) beat UCL 2 (A.Ibbetson & D.Chandra) 12-10
UCL 1 (M.Lewin & W.Capstick) beat Liverpool (A.Bhattacharya & A.Brett) 12-7
Cambridge 3 (A.Stewart & B.Merrett) beat Leics/Bath (B.Hart & T.Weston) 15-13
UCL 1 (M.Lewin & W.Capstick) beat Cambridge 2 (J.Parham & S.Balaji) 15-7
Cambridge 3 (A.Stewart & B.Merrett) beat UCL 1 (M.Lewin & W.Capstick) 15-14
Durham 1 (T.McCahon & H.Asquith) beat Cambridge 4 (N.Turnbull & N.Walker) 15-3
Oxford 4 (S.Thatcher & F.White-Thomson) beat Cambridge 5 (K.Bilimoria & X.Lin) 15-2
Durham 2 (A.Tansey & A.Mapara) beat Oxford 5 (A.Jones & R.Badiani) 15-5
Oxford 4 (S.Thatcher & F.White-Thomson) beat Durham 2 (A.Tansey & A.Mapara) 15-7
Durham (S.Frost & L.Pugh) beat King’s/Loughborough (K.Sophoclides & M.Boyle) 2-0 (12-7, 12-3)
Cambridge 1 (H.Rapley & S.Kelly) beat Cambridge 2 (S.Xu & R.Shiels) 2-0 (12-4, 12-4)
Durham (S.Frost & L.Pugh) beat Cambridge 1 (H.Rapley & S.Kelly) 2-0 (12-3, 12-0)
Wales (B.Parlane & M.Chan) beat Cambridge 3 (N.Lim & N.Leung)
Oxford 1 (R.Parr & A.Stables) beat Oxford 2 (M.Samano/F.Crossley/F.Tay)
Wales (B.Parlane & M.Chan) beat Oxford 1 (R.Parr & A.Stables) 2-1 (12-2, 8-12, 12-6)
Oxford 2 (M.Samano/F.Crossley/F.Tay) beat Cambridge 3 (N.Lim & N.Leung)