London Tournament Returns After Two Years
30/11/21: The London Tournament in association with Advanta Wealth returned to Harrow for the first time since 2019 at the weekend.
The 2020 tournament was a victim of lockdowns so it was great to be able to return to Harrow last weekend for the 2021 London Tournament. The players were greeted by the traditional winter cold snap, with temperatures hovering around 0° all weekend and the wind whistling around the courts. The main tournament entry of 19 pairs - a late withdrawal reducing it from a nice neat 20 - were divided into four groups to battle it out for a place in the quarter-finals. There was immediate drama as top seeds Seb Cooley & Tom Dunbar - hoping to regain the title they lost two years ago - were sadly forced to withdraw after Tom turned his ankle on the top step early on in proceedings. He did play on for a bit but was unable to put any weight on it at all and had to bow to the inevitable. This had several consequences, opening up an unexpected route into the last eight for one of the other pairs in Group A and opening up one side of the draw. The initial benefits were felt by Vishal Bhimjiyani & Sunil Tailor, who went through in top spot in that group and also by young Harrovians Oskar Denby & Fred Prickett, who won a tough match against Westminsters Harry de Quetteville & Can Koksal to qualify in second place.
There may have been less drama in the other groups, but there was certainly no lack of interest or excitement. Holders Jonny Ho & Riki Houlden qualified pretty comfortably in Group D, with the dangerous pairing of Laurie Brock & Ryan Perrie in second place. Group B was won by Olavians James Toop & Howard Wiseman (a late replacement for the unavailable Tony Barker) with youngsters Charlie Nicholls & Hal Gibson-Leitao producing some fantastic Fives to qualify at the expense of the experienced duo of Richard Tyler & Manuel de Souza-Girao, winning the crucial match 15-9. The final group was won by third seeds Hugo Young & Noah Caplin, who started a little tentatively against the tricky Highgate pair of Chris Blackaby & Joe Marks but who came through well and then began to hit their stride, finishing the group in fine style. Possibly the tensest match of the morning was the second place decider between Joe & Chris and Tom McCahon & Sahil Shah, a match which swung back and forth all the way through before finally being won by Tom & Sahil 15-13, enabling them to make a second successive major tournament quarter-final.
Charlie & Hal and Oskar & Fred had performed superbly in the morning to make the knockout stages but quickly met their match in the afternoon against Riki & Jonny and Hugo & Noah respectively, the second and third seeds cruising into the semi-finals in straight games. The unfortunate withdrawal of Seb & Tom meant that the quarter-finals in the other side of the draw took on an even greater significance with the prospect of a place in the final without having to get past the top seeds the prize. The two lower seeded pairs both started strongly - Ryan & Laurie were quicker out of the blocks than Howard & James and dominated the first game, winning it to 5. The second was much closer and went all the way to 14-14 before Laurie & Ryan clinched the deciding point to take a 2-0 lead. The famed tenacity and resilience of Howard & James was being sternly tested and unsurprisingly they were not found wanting; despite going 7-3 down in the third game they found a way to get back into the match, frequently switching positions to allow James to play more on the top step while Howard patrolled the back court. They got their noses in front in the nick of time to win the third 12-10 then dominated the fourth game 12-2 and with Ryan struggling with a leg injury, he and Laurie were forced to retire before the start of the fifth. In the next door court, Tom & Sahil had also got off to a flyer, full of energy and attacking Fives to win the first game 12-8 against Sunil & Vishal. The OM pair are experienced campaigners, however, and tightened things up in the second game, making fewer errors and beginning to impose themselves on the match in a way they hadn't been able to do at the start. The second and third games went their way and it looked as if they were well on their way to victory. Much to Tom & Sahil's credit, however, they found a second wind in the fourth game, regaining some of the initiative and taking it 12-10; they couldn't sustain the comeback into the fifth game, though, and thoughts of a potential nailbiting decider were quickly snuffed out as Sunil & Vishal clinically got a grip on proceedings from the very first rally of the fifth game, racing out to a 6-0 lead and never ceding back control, winning 12-2 in no time at all to claim their place in the semi-finals.
Entry for the plate competition was a little bit down on what might have been expected, with a combination of injury, tiredness, exam revision and disappointment at not qualifying leading to the withdrawal of several pairs at the end of the group stages. Those who were in for the long haul were joined by four of Harrow's senior pairs, who were able to come along for the afternoon, showing their quality and gaining valuable experience in the process. The school first pair of Phoenix Ashworth & Jonny Barley were particularly impressive, reaching the final with four wins out of four in their group and they found themselves up against Ipswichians Steve Burnell & Tim Gregory in the final, Steve & Tim having managed to go through the other group unbeaten. The final was only one game to 12 but was a remarkable match: Phoenix & Jonny went 9-0 up in no time and it looked all over, but Steve & Tim began to gain a foothold just in time and began to rack up the points themselves. In fact, they got all the way back to 9-10 before the Harrovians managed to win the last couple of points and just get themselves over the line.
Sunday morning saw the two semi-finals take place and both were won in straight games, Howard & James defeating Sunil & Vishal 5,8 and 4 and Riki & Jonny fighting off a strong early challenge from Hugo & Noah to win 9,6 and 3. The final was not played as no agreement could be reached about the ball to be used; a resolution to this will hopefully be reached soon.
Sunday at the London Tournament is also Festival day. For reasons which are not immediately obvious, the entry for this has yo-yoed up and down in recent years; this year there were 18 pairs on the start line, with all points of the Fives compass represented as usual. The format mirrored the main tournament, with four morning groups producing eight afternoon quarter-finalists and ten plate participants. The last eight qualifiers were mainly drawn from the more experienced adult ranks, with two Olavian school pairs (Franklin Baron & Ethan Smith and Thanmay Sachi & Neil Tripathi) joining Karen Hird & Andy Bishop, Spencer Chapman & Nick Choustikov, Matt Chinery & Rachel Wood, Peter Boughton & Charlotta Cooley, Emily Scoones & Ralph Morgan and Marc Tavra & Stefan Nowinski to battle it out for the coveted chocolate prize. With the tension mounting, Thanmay & Neil bowed out, victims (not the first and unlikely to be the last) of the legendary Boughton cunning (Charlotta may also have had a hand in their 15-9 win!). Old Citizens Spencer & Nick - looking for a second successive Festival win after their Kinnaird triumph in the summer - had too much firepower for Stefan & Marc, while their opponents in that Kinnaird Festival final - Karen & Andy - came a cropper against the impressive Franklin & Ethan, who flew the school player flag into the last four. The semi-final line-up was completed by Matt & Rachel, thanks to a fine win over Ralph & Emily. That proved to be the highpoint of the day for Matt & Rachel, who were unable to stop the Olavian schoolboy juggernaut. Franklin & Ethan headed into a final against Spencer & Nick, who finally put an end to the Cooley & Boughton show in a tight encounter. The final promised to be close and it was; Ethan & Frankin were marginally the better pair in the first game and won it 12-10; Nick & Spencer will probably feel that they had the better of things for most of the second game and should perhaps have taken it to a decider. They failed to take their chances, though, and Ethan & Franklin wrapped up the second game 12-10 as well to claim the prize at the end of a long but enjoyable day.
The plate competitions were equally hardfought, with the Mill Hill contingent rising to the occasion, Billy Briggs & Robert Ebner-Statt improving game by game to win Plate A, while Charlie Granville and his Olavian partner Abhishek took home Plate B, much to the delight of their new coach Isaac Jochim, who even managed to bag a final win himself, stepping in for Marc Tavra to partner Stefan Nowinski to a win in the quarter-final losers plate.
Thanks go to Ian Hutchinson and everyone at Harrow for their help and for hosting the tournament, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship and to the players for braving the arctic conditions. It was good to be back!
V.Bhimjiyani & S.Tailor beat T.McCahon & S.Shah 3-2 (8-12, 12-6, 12-7, 10-12, 12-2)
J.Toop & H.Wiseman beat L.Brock & R.Perrie 3-2 (6-12, 14-15, 12-10, 12-2, ret)
H.Young & N.Caplin beat O.Denby & F.Prickett 3-0 (12-3, 12-5, 12-5)
J.Ho & R.Houlden beat C.Nicholls & H.Gibson-Leitao 3-2 (12-2, 12-1, 12-2)
J.Toop & H.Wiseman beat V.Bhimjiyani & S.Tailor 3-0 (12-5, 12-8, 12-4)
J.Ho & R.Houlden beat H.Young & N.Caplin 3-0 (12-9, 12-6, 12-3)
No agreement could be reached about the ball to be used for the final, which was not played.
P.Ashworth & J.Barley beat S.Burnell & T.Gregory 12-9
N.Choustikov & S.Chapman beat M.Tavra & S.Nowinski 15-6
P.Boughton & C.Cooley beat T.Sachi & N.Tripathi 15-9
M.Chinery & R.Wood beat E.Scoones & R.Morgan 15-9
E.Smith & F.Baron beat K.Hird & A.Bishop 15-9
N.Choustikov & S.Chapman beat P.Boughton & C.Cooley 2-0 (12-8, 15-12)
E.Smith & F.Baron beat M.Chinery & R.Wood 2-0 (12-4, 12-5)
E.Smith & F.Baron beat N.Choustikov & S.Chapman 2-0 (12-10, 12-10)
I.Jochim & S.Nowinski beat T.Sachi & N.Tripathi 12-10
E.Scoones & R.Morgan beat K.Hird & A.Bishop 12-9
I.Jochim & S.Nowinski beat E.Scoones & R.Morgan 12-6
R.Ebner-Statt & B.Briggs beat T.Farmer & C.McMichael 12-8
Charlie & Abhishek beat Mathias & Ishaan 12-5