Under 25s: Young & Caplin and Briscoe & Valensise Victorious
27/09/21: The 2021 Under 25 tournament in association with Advanta Wealth returned to its traditional September slot at Eton on Sunday and produced an excellent tournament.
Recruitment for the women's competition had proved very difficult - who knew there were so many different reasons for not being able to attend a Fives tournament? - but three pairs made it to the starting line. Sophie Wisa & Darcy Clarke from Holyport were a little bit rusty but soon showed their potential in two opening best of three matches against the other pairs, Old Cholmeleians Marjolaine Briscoe & Carolina Valensise and Highgate school pair Catherine Vos & Lorenza Valensise.
The two Highgate pairs both won through to face each other in a best of five final, which threw up some intriguing subplots - Highgate School past v Highgate School present, Carolina Valensise against younger sister Lorenza, a first final since 2013 without Phoebe Bracken and a chance for Marjolaine Briscoe to make it four wins in a row. The younger pair had prepared well, putting in strong performances in last weekend's individual tournament, but Marjolaine had also looked in fine fettle there and she and Carolina are an experienced pair, and used to playing with each other after several years as partners at school and university. The match was of a very high quality throughout and Catherine & Lorenza held their own pretty well in the rallies. The set piece advantage, however, was clearly with the older pair, who cut and returned consistently better from start to finish, taking them through to a deserved 3-0 win, a fourth title in a row for Marj and a first win at this tournament for Caro.
The men's tournament featured 16 pairs with plenty of famililar faces and a strong Harrow school contingent, which was most pleasing to see. The morning group stages gave an opportunity to assess the form and see who the contenders might be. Defending champions and Kinnaird semi-finalists Hugo Young & Noah Caplin looked to be in formidable form, conceding only 2 points as they progressed serenely through to the knockout stages, with Harrow first pair Jonny Barley & Phoenix Ashworth taking the second Group A qualifying slot. Scratch pairing Prajeeth Sathiyamoorthy & Jack Pemberton started a bit late but once Prajeeth had made it, they quickly gelled as a pairing and dominated Group C, with Westminsters Can Koksal & Kotka Lim seeing off QEB old boys Akhil Shah & Viral Gudiwala to also make it through.
Alex Abrahams & Nathan Turnbull made efficient work of winning Group B, seeing off nearest challengers Olavians Yoann Bleunven & Tim Byrne 15-8. Group D was the one that produced the game of the morning, the Harrow past & present pairing of Oskar Denby & Fred Prickett coming from 13-7 down to beat highly fancied Westminsters Sahil Shah & Ismail Salim 15-13, a result which sent Sahil & Ismail heading into the top seeds' half of the draw for the knockout stages, opening up a slightly unexpected route to the final for one of the other pairs.
Oskar & Fred continued their impressive run, cruising past Yoann & Tim in the last eight, while Hugo & Noah saw off Can & Kotka without too much difficulty. Jonny & Phoenix were slightly disappointed to lose 15-7 to Prajeeth & Jack, but they were up against opponents with a lot more experience at this level and who were producing some fine attacking Fives. The Harrow pair can be pleased with their day's work and are definitely ones to watch for the future. The fourth quarter-final was the closest by far: Sahil & Issy continued to struggle to find their best form and were in trouble at 12-9 down to Alex & Nathan. They managed to find one good hand just at the right time, however, to move from 9-12 down to 14-12 up before closing the game out to 13 to make it into the semis.
The consequence of Sahil & Issy's morning defeat was that they found themselves up against Hugo & Noah in the semi-final and the defending champions were in no mood to hang around, continuing to conserve energy (with the exception of the occasional familiar Caplin verbals) and minimise their time on court with a ruthless 12-2, 12-0 win against their deflated opponents. The other semi-final was much closer and was the match of the day. Old Olavian Prajeeth and Berkhamsted school player Jack had never played together before the start of the day but you would never have guessed from the way they took the game to their Harrovian opponents right from the start. Oskar Denby is a proven high quality player, however, and with Fred Prickett providing fully committed and highly effective support, the Harrow pair kept the first game close and took it to 10-10. One of Prajeeth's great qualities is his ability to produce his best Fives at the business end of close games and he did it again here, as he and Jack found the extra gear to take the crucial first game 13-11. The second game was just as good and just as close up to 8-8, before the day's exertions finally began to tell on a tiring Fred and a cramping Oskar and Prajeeth & Jack again finished off the game in style to win 12-8 and take their place in the final.
The final was a classic case of underdogs v heavy favourites. Hugo & Noah had barely broken sweat all day and went into the final with a confidence born of an increasingly impressive set of results in all competitions over the past couple of seasons. By contrast Prajeeth & Jack were a scratch pairing who had had to fight hard and produce their best Fives to make it to the final. Once again, they gave their all and managed to trouble Hugo & Noah more than any other pair during the course of the day, but the top seeds were simply too fast, too accurate and too good for them, proving themselves to be head and shoulders above everyone else in the field as they raced to a 12-2, 12-5 win to retain their title in very impressive style.
The plate competition was as hard fought as ever. Poor Theo Santos had an alarm clock/cancelled train nightmare and never quite made it to Eton, with Karen Hird (not overly qualified to play in a men's U25 tournament, but saving the day to partner Salopian Bilal Anwar) stepping into the breach. They made the final of Plate B, where they lost to Nick Choustikov & Ed Habershon, who were in severe need of finding some redemption having lost 15-14 in Plate A from 10-3 up against Will Seath & Phil Wilkinson. The two other Harrow pairs performed strongly in Plate A, but it was the QEB & Cambridge partnership of Akhil Shah & Viral Gudiwala who proved themselves to be comfortably the best of the rest, showing some strong form to win all three of their plate A matches for the loss of only 10 points.
My thanks go to Karen Hird for organising the women's tournament (and playing in the men's!), to Ryan Perrie and Eton for hosting the tournament, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship, to Ian Hutchinson at Harrow for his support and to everyone who came and played and made it such an enjoyable day.
M.Briscoe & C.Valensise beat C.Vos & L.Valensise 3-0 (12-7, 12-5, 12-6)
H.Young & N.Caplin beat C.Koksal & K.Lim 15-0
S.Shah & I.Salim beat A.Abrahams & N.Turnbull 15-13
J.Pemberton & P.Sathiyamoorthy beat J.Barley & P.Ashworth 15-7
O.Denby & F.Prickett beat Y.Bleunven & T.Byrne 15-1
H.Young & N.Caplin beat S.Shah & I.Salim 2-0 (12-2, 12-0)
J.Pemberton & P.Sathiyamoorthy beat O.Denby & F.Prickett 2-0 (13-11, 12-8)
H.Young & N.Caplin beat J.Pemberton & P.Sathiyamoorthy 2-0 (12-2, 12-5)
E.Clutton & W.Tate beat J.Green & A.Taylor 15-13
C.Stone & N.Shepard beat B.Anwar & T.Santos* 15-12
A.Shah & V.Gudiwala beat A.Alsalihi & P.Nielsen 15-5
W.Seath & P.Wilkinson beat N.Choustikov & E.Habershon 15-14
C.Stone & N.Shepard beat E.Clutton & W.Tate 15-11
A.Shah & V.Gudiwala beat W.Seath & P.Wilkinson 15-2
A.Shah & V.Gudiwala beat C.Stone & N.Shepard 15-3
B.Anwar & T.Santos* beat J.Green & A.Taylor 15-11
N.Choustikov & E.Habershon beat A.Alsalihi & P.Nielsen 15-3
N.Choustikov & E.Habershon beat B.Anwar & T.Santos* 15-12
*Theo Santos was impersonated throughout the day by Karen Hird...