A Midlands Victory Made In Wales
01/11/21: The former Rydal School pupil and coach pairing of Will Sissons & Abs Bhattacharya won the 2021 Midlands Tournament at the weekend, the first competition played on the newly refurbished courts at Repton School.
In the two years since the last edition of the Midlands Tournament a lot has changed, not least in the profile of Fives at Repton. After years of little or no activity, the sport is now thriving again under the leadership of Headmaster Mark Semmence, Master-in-Charge David Exley and coach Charles Plummer. The twelve courts - for so long a great facility in need of some TLC - have undergone major renovation work over the summer with a new roof, new lighting, new brickwork and buttress tops on many of the courts returning them to their former glory.
The weather at this year's tournament certainly gave the new roof a thorough test at times and it coped perfectly well, allowing the 32 pairs gathered for the weekend to enjoy a terrific two days of competition. Day one saw the field divided into four large groups of eight, producing loads of matches and sorting everyone into sixteen pairs for the main competition and sixteen pairs for the Festival on day two. There were plenty of familiar faces on show as well as some welcome new ones including a large delegation from the thriving Berkhamsted club and local pairs from both the school and the growing local Repton club.
After a Saturday evening spent enjoying the hotel facilities, local curry houses or the nightspots of Derby (depending on preference), the knockout stages started on Sunday morning with both tournaments wide open and up for grabs.
Most of the last sixteen matches in the main tournament produced relatively comfortable victories for the more favoured pairs, although there was a strong showing from local pair Stuart Kirby & J-P Hourlier against Chris Wheeler & Seb Cooley and the Berkhamsted duo of Jack Pemberton & Chris Davey left it late to sneak through against North Oxford's Matt Chinery & Gareth Hoskins. Mojito twins Andrew Rennie & Ollie McGuinness held it together well despite losing to the impressive Abs Bhattacharya & Will Sissons, Emily Scoones & Hugo Tobias gave Alex Abrahams & Marc Tavra a first game scare, while the Howard Wiseman/Joey Prior, Charles Plummer/Archie Cameron-Blackie, Ryan Perrie/Giles Cadge and Alex Rattan/James Holroyd pairings all progressed without alarm at the expense of Genesis Nsega/Ethan Smith, Tommy Farmer/Aditya Anoop, Karen Hird/Charlotta Cooley and Peter Boughton/Dom Redmond respectively.
As the competition reached the quarter-final stage, things started to heat up a little. Pemberton & Davey found an extra couple of gears to surprise Wiseman & Prior with a straight games win; Perrie & Cadge's impressive run ran into a Cooley & Wheeler shaped wall, Bhattacharya & Sissons wore down Rattan & Holroyd after a close start and Plummer & Cameron-Blackie kept local hopes alive with a resounding win over the dangerous Abrahams & Tavra combination. It was a treat to see Chris Wheeler - one of the great success stories of Westway Fives - in the semi-finals and he did a fantastic job, finding himself on a court with an eleven time Kinnaird winner, a 2019 schools champion and an experienced and high quality tournament campaigner and more than holding his own. In the end, though, the class of Will Sissons and the discovery by Abs Bhattacharya after twenty years that he could actually see the ball if he played wearing his glasses were too much for the Wheeler/Cooley partnership and it was the Rydal (by way of Highgate and Shrewsbury) pairing that made it through into the final 12-7, 12-10. The other semi-final was not quite so close as Pemberton & Davey's luck finally ran out against Plummer & Cameron-Blackie, although the Berkhamsted pair bowed out with their heads held high after an excellent tournament.
The final was a fascinating match up and a first post-school meeting between two of the most exciting young players on the circuit in Charles Plummer and Will Sissons, both left-handers with terrific reflexes in and around the buttress. With Abs still revelling in his new-found ability to see the ball and Archie stepping up impressively in his first big final, the stage was set for a terrific battle and with a good sized crowd still watching, the match didn't disappoint. The game was played at a frenetically high pace - impressively so after a long weekend of Fives - and some of the top step exchanges between Will & Charles in particular were spectacular. Two left-handers on the court also meant that the ball was pinging around the court at all sorts of weird and wonderful angles but even then the basics of how to win a Fives match remain - win the set piece and kill the ball in the buttress when you get the chance and you won't lose many games. Neither pair was able to establish dominance in either of these areas in the first game, which went to 10-10 before eventually being won by Plummer and Cameron-Blackie 15-13. From thereon in though, the tide began to turn in favour of Bhattacharya & Sissons and the adopted home pair's challenge began to fade away, slowly at first (the second game went 12-8 to Will & Abs) but more quickly in the third, which went 12-4 to give Will victory in the competition at the first attempt and Abs a first win after several near misses in recent years.
The pairs who had been knocked out in the earlier knockout rounds continued to play (in most cases anyway) in various plate competitions and it was the youthful legs of Olavian school pair Ethan Smith & Genesis Nsenga who outlasted the rest in the main competition plate. Eton coach Ryan Perrie and Berkhamsted club player Giles Cadge pipped Abrahams & Tavra in a tight quarter-finalists plate final.
The Festival, meanwhile, was progressing in parallel with the main tournament and producing some classic encounters, with a higher proportion of close games than the main. One of the delights of the Festival is always the contrasting styles on display as distinguished veterans battle it out with experienced club players, returning players trying to remember what to do and enthusiastic young school pairs cutting their teeth in senior competition. All were very much present and correct in the Festival with the added bonus of no one being quite sure who would come through to claim the trophy. There were a couple of epic matches in the early rounds, Berkhamstedians Will Roen-Tate & Bronte Capaldi scraping through the first round against young Olavian opposition 11-12, 12-11, 12-11 and the Exley brothers flying the Repton flag with a run to the semis that included an 11-12, 12-11, 12-6 quarter-final win over mercurial Old Olavians Vish Shetty & Coby Plews. There were a couple of familiar faces also making their way through the draw, with Anthony Theodossi partnering Berkhamsted M-i-C Martin Pett and Highgate's David Mew wearing his Old Olavian hat to play alongside Olavian schoolboy Bombi Adenugba. The Theodossi/Pett combo fell at the last eight stage, victims of wily veterans Jeff Lawrence & Jon Shorrocks, while Mew & Adenugba looked strong as they progressed to the final, ending the run of the exhausted Exleys. There they found themselves up against Jeff & Jon, winners in the semis against Ian Mitchell & Mandie Barnes, who had themselves put in a couple of very solid performances to reach that stage but who finally ran out of steam with a place in the final in sight. The final itself was something of an anti-climax as Jeff & Jon were unable to raise their game yet again faced with the experienced Mew and his impressive young partner, going down 12-6, 12-1.
The Festival also featured a multitude of plate competitions, allowing several pairs who had found it hard going up until that point to hit some form and show what they could do. These included the Westwood père et fils partnership and also the elder statesmen of the competition John Cooley & Stefan Nowinski who made it all the way to the plate final before finally falling at the hands of Repton school pair Barton & Sheikh - fitting winners to kickstart the Repton Fives renaissance - in a match that rivalled the Kinnaird Festival plate final from earlier in the year for the difference in combined ages of the two opposing pairs (comfortably into three figures if not quite in Boughton/Cox territory yet). Perhaps even more impressively, Capaldi & Roen-Tate found the energy to follow up their earlier match with a run to the final of the quarter-finalists plate and an almost inevitable 15-14 win over Olavians Anton Lewis & Conor McMichael. Top marks for persistence and holding their nerve there.
Our thanks go to Repton for their work on the courts and for hosting the tournament and to Howard Wiseman & Dom Redmond for their organisational efforts.
H.Wiseman & J.Prior beat G.Nsenga & E.Smith 2-0 (12-3, 12-6)
J.Pemberton & C.Davey beat G.Hoskins & M.Chinery 2-1 (5-12, 12-11, ret)
A.Abrahams & M.Tavra beat E.Scoones & H.Tobias 2-0 (12-11, 12-6)
C.Plummer & A.Cameron-Blackie beat T.Farmer & A.Anoop 2-0 (12-0, 12-7)
R.Perrie & G.Cadge beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 2-0 (12-1, 12-8)
S.Cooley & C.Wheeler beat S.Kirby & J-P.Hourlier 2-0 (12-6, 12-11)
Ab.Bhattacharya & W.Sissons beat A.Rennie & O.McGuinness 2-0 (12-8, 12-6)
A.Rattan & J.Holroyd beat D.Redmond & P.Boughton 2-0 (12-1, 12-1)
J.Pemberton & C.Davey beat H.Wiseman & J.Prior 2-0 (12-9, 12-9)
C.Plummer & A.Cameron-Blackie beat A.Abrahams & M.Tavra 2-0 (12-2, 12-8)
S.Cooley & C.Wheeler beat R.Perrie & G.Cadge 2-0 (12-8, 12-6)
Ab.Bhattacharya & W.Sissons beat A.Rattan & J.Holroyd 2-0 (12-9, 12-2)
C.Plummer & A.Cameron-Blackie beat J.Pemberton & C.Davey 2-0 (12-6, 12-1)
Ab.Bhattacharya & W.Sissons beat S.Cooley & C.Wheeler 2-0 (12-7, 12-10)
Ab.Bhattacharya & W.Sissons beat C.Plummer & A.Cameron-Blackie 2-1 (13-15, 12-8, 12-4)
K.Hird & C.Cooley beat S.Kirby & J-P.Hourlier 15-5
G.Nsenga & E.Smith beat M.Chinery & P.Boughton 15-9
G.Nsenga & E.Smith beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 15-2
R.Perrie & G.Cadge beat A.Abrahams & M.Tavra 15-13
D.Exley & M.Exley beat P.Westwood & A.Westwood 2-0 (12-6, 12-2)
C.Plews & V.Shetty beat Sheikh & Barton 2-0 (12-7, 12-7)
B.Capaldi & W.Roen-Tate beat S.Shetty & Marko 2-1 (11-12, 12-11, 12-11)
F.Adenugba & D.Mew beat B.Kirk & B.Singh 2-0 (12-2, 12-0)
I.Mitchell & M.Barnes beat Wilson & Bingham 2-0 (12-3, 12-4)
A.Lewis & C.McMichael beat J.Cooley & S.Nowinski 2-0 (12-5, 12-10)
A.Theodossi & M.Pett beat C.Yates & R.Christie 2-0 (12-2, 12-8)
J.Lawrence & J.Shorrocks beat R.Doe & D.Livingston 2-0 (12-0, 12-2)
D.Exley & M.Exley beat C.Plews & V.Shetty 2-1 (11-12, 12-11, 12-6)
F.Adenugba & D.Mew beat B.Capaldi & W.Roen-Tate 2-0 (12-3, 12-4)
I.Mitchell & M.Barnes beat A.Lewis & C.McMichael 2-1 (12-10, 9-12, 12-4)
J.Lawrence & J.Shorrocks beat A.Theodossi & M.Pett 2-0 (12-8, 12-4)
F.Adenugba & D.Mew beat D.Exley & M.Exley 2-0 (12-4, 12-5)
J.Lawrence & J.Shorrocks beat I.Mitchell & M.Barnes 2-0 (12-7, 12-0)
F.Adenugba & D.Mew beat J.Lawrence & J.Shorrocks 2-0 (12-6, 12-1)
J.Cooley & S.Nowinski beat C.Yates & R.Christie 15-10
Sheikh & Barton beat P.Westwood & A.Westwood 15-8
Sheikh & Barton beat J.Cooley & S.Nowinski 15-5
Festival Quarter-Finalists Plate
B.Capaldi & W.Roen-Tate beat A.Lewis & C.McMichael 15-14