Houlden & Young Win At Shrewsbury
06/02/24: Riki Houlden & Hugo Young retained the Northern Tournament in association with Advanta Wealth at Shrewsbury at the weekend with an exciting four game win over Tom Dunbar & Seb Cooley in the final.
The focus of the Fives world was on Shrewsbury at the weekend with the annual trip to Shropshire for the Northern Tournament. As usual, the tournament was split into two halves, with many of the top players on show fighting it out for the main competition title while their younger, older and less ambitious counterparts set their sights on the coveted Festival shields.
Most of Saturday was taken up with the group phase in each competition: 21 pairs divided up into four groups in the Main and 30 pairs divided into five groups in the Festival. There were some fine matches in the main tournament and some strong performances (two wins out of four matches for Ipswich youngsters Elliot Caldwell & Will Woods for example) but no real shocks to speak of. The closest came in Group B where defending champions Riki Houlden & Hugo Young did well to hold off a rampaging Ed Taylor & Noah Caplin, who at one stage were 12-10 up in a game to 15. It was the eight highest ranked pairs who all made it through to the quarter-finals, though, the only other pair to be challenged being Alex Abrahams & Ben Merrett, who had to dig in to fight off the ever-threatening pairing of Mike Hughes & Grant Williams 15-11.
The eight qualifiers played their best of five quarter-finals on Saturday afternoon; the top two seeds were clearly determined to spend as little time as possible on court (the lure of free drinks on Advanta at the Boathouse? or the attraction of the monopoly board?), Tom Dunbar & Seb Cooley brushing aside Alex & Ben for the loss of only four points and Riki & Hugo matching that in defeating Gwydion Wiseman & Prajeeth Sathiyamoorthy. The other two matches were much closer, with Salopians Chris Hughes & Sam Welti quickly out of the blocks and threatening an upset on their home courts against third seeds and former champions Howard Wiseman & James Toop. They blitzed their way through the first game winning 12-4 before the Olavian pair had a chance to settle. The second was closer and at 8-8 the Salopians were looking at a possible 2-0 lead. This was where their challenge began to fizzle out, however, as Howard & James began to find their rhythm, taking the second game 12-8 and then taking control of the match from that point onwards, winning the third and fourth relatively comfortably.
The final quarter-final pitted the fourth and fifth seeds in a rematch of their all left-handed London Tournament encounter. Sunil Tailor & Charles Plummer won that battle decisively against Ed Taylor & Noah Caplin, but Ed & Noah had already served notice in the group stages that they were finding the form that had proved elusive at Harrow in November. This was a terrific match, with a good number of spectators watching and enjoying the close contest and the unusual sight of four top class left-handers on the same court. The contrast between the laconic, laidback Tailor & Plummer partnership and the fired up, all action Taylor & Caplin pairing also made for great viewing as the momentum of the match swung one way and then the other. Sunil & Charles took the lead twice but were pegged back both times and the fifth game could have gone either way. In the end it was Sunil & Charles who came out on top, winning the fifth 12-9 in a game noteworthy not just for the excitement and the quality of the play, but also for the terrific sportsmanship and offering and declining of lets even in a couple of crucial rallies towards the end of the fifth game.
The quarter-final performances from the top two seeded pairs suggested that quite a lot would have to go wrong (or indeed right for their semi-final opponents) to prevent them meeting in the final and so it proved. James & Howard had put Riki & Hugo under quite a lot of pressure at times in last year's final but were never able to get a foothold in the game this time round, the Westminster pairing racing through for the loss of only seven points in three games. Tom & Seb were in even more of a hurry - although it is probably fair to say that Sunil & Charles were still celebrating their quarter-final win to some extent - and conceded only three points on their way to a straight games win.
The final saw the first meeting between the two top ranked pairs since Seb & Tom's 3-1 triumph in the Kinnaird final last April. A large crowd gathered to watch and the players didn't disappoint with a fabulous first game, full of long rallies, fast volleying in attack and defence, scarcely believable retrieving and a level of precision and accuracy that took the breath away at times. Seb & Tom were ahead for most of the way, but Riki & Hugo held on and took it to 10-10 before Seb & Tom finally moved ahead to take it 15-12. It was clear, though, that Seb was somewhat under the weather and that the first game had taken a lot out of him; the feet weren't quite moving as they usually do (that is to say he was moving around the court like a normal person) and the longer the match went on, the more Riki & Hugo were able to take control and find the winner or force the error at the end of the rallies. The standard was still sky high, but the Westminster pair had the edge and the ability and focus to stay in control and stay ahead on the scoreboard in each of the next three games, winning to 5, 8 and 8.
For various reasons, it is a while now (2018 and 2020) since Tom & Seb won either the London or Northern Tournaments, with Riki now having won three in a row at Shrewsbury and four in a row at Harrow with either Jonny Ho or Hugo Young. The Kinnaird, however is still very much their domain and while they would of course have wanted to win this weekend, their focus is very much centred on claiming a fourteenth consecutive win in the blue riband competition later in the year. Riki & Hugo still have that barrier to overcome, but they will have gained confidence from this excellent win and will no doubt be keen to take on that challenge; if nothing else, this final has proved that Tom & Seb will need to be at or very near their best form if they want to keep the Kinnaird Cup in their possession for another year.
The other main tournament pairs - those who hadn't been finished off by Saturday's play anyway - took part in plate competitions on Sunday, which culminated in Gwydion & Prajeeth narrowly defeating Ben & Alex in the quarter-finalists plate final and Olavians Tommy Farmer & Tanish Arjaria coming out on top in Plate A.
The Festival followed a similar pattern, with Saturday devoted to the group stages and a first knockout round, setting up a three tier competition on Day Two - the top eight pairs contesting the quarter-finals, the next eight fighting it out for Plate A and the rest targeting Plate B glory. There were strong showings from Ipswich, St.Olave's and Shrewsbury plus a four pair contingent of staff and pupils from St.Bees, back for a second successive year and showing how much they have improved in the last twelve months.
Some pair switching from Ipswich on arrival produced a slightly uneven draw, with one group quickly becoming the archetypal Group of Death. Nevertheless, by the end of Saturday's play, things had pretty much worked themselves out and - more by accident than design - the quarter-final draw had divided neatly into a top half containing four more "mature" pairings and a bottom half with only one player not still in their teens, pretty much ensuring that the final would eventually be a contest between youth and experience.
The first quarter-final saw defending champions, Ian Mitchell & Jeff Lawrence from Windsor & Eton, take on the most junior of the seniors, Ipswichians Alex Yusaf & Alex Williams. This was one of the matches of the tournament with hardly anything separating the two pairs, Ian & Jeff squeaking through 13-11, 14-13. Meanwhile, the most senior of the seniors, Messrs Bunyan & Boughton, were up against the scratch pairing of EFA Chair Matt Chinery & 1977 National Schools' Champion Jon Shorrocks. Nick & Peter didn't really get going in the first game but fought back well in the second, pushing Matt & Jon all the way before finally succumbing 15-12. In the junior half of the draw, the Ipswich/Shrewsbury pairing of Charlotta Cooley & Anisha Mupesa ran into Olavians Henry Etherington & Oscar Rushton, who had started slowly in the Saturday Group of Death, but who were now hitting their stride nicely. The final match was a titanic all-Ipswich battle between Matt Williams & Sam Allen and Daniel Ingram & Sam Cook, which went the way of Matt & Sam, the older pair, much to the disappointment of their younger opponents.
Jeff and Ian were involved in another nailbiter in the semi-final but having come out on the right side in their first match of the day, they were unable to do it again against Matt & Jon, losing the first game 13-12 and then letting slip an 8-4 lead in the second to bring their title defence to an end. Matt & Sam had had the better of Oscar & Henry in their Saturday meeting, but the Olavians were a different proposition by this stage of proceedings and won the first game of their semi-final. Matt & Sam fought back well to win the second, setting up a decider that went all the way to 10-10 before Oscar & Henry produced the finishing touches to take them into the final.
The final again produced a repeat of one of the Saturday games, which had gone the way of Matt & Jon. This time, Henry & Oscar were unable to turn things around and despite continuing to produce some excellent Fives, the set piece expertise and knowhow of the Chinery/Shorrocks partnership proved to be a bit too much for the Olavian pair, the final ending in a 12-9, 12-7 win to Matt & Jon.
There was an Olavian win further down the running order, however, as Luke Whitnall & Krivi Bhavsar won the Plate A round robin, while experience prevailed in Plate B as Mandie Barnes & Fiona Barnes went through their Sunday undefeated.
Our thanks go to Shrewsbury and Adam Morris for hosting the competition, to Andrew Mitchell for his sterling organisational work and to Advanta Wealth for their continued sponsorship.
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley (1) beat A.Abrahams & B.Merrett 3-0 (12-0, 12-2, 12-2)
S.Tailor & C.Plummer (4) beat E.Taylor & N.Caplin 3-2 (12-6, 8-12, 12-9, 7-12, 12-9)
J.Toop & H.Wiseman (3) beat C.Hughes & S.Welti 3-1 (6-12, 12-8, 12-6, 12-5)
R.Houlden & H.Young (2) beat G.Wiseman & P.Sathiyamoorthy 3-0 (12-2, 12-1, 12-1)
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat S.Tailor & C.Plummer 3-0 (12-0, 12-2, 12-1)
R.Houlden & H.Young beat J.Toop & H.Wiseman 3-0 (12-1, 12-4, 12-2)
R.Houlden & H.Young beat T.Dunbar & S.Cooley 3-1 (12-15, 12-5, 12-8, 12-8)
G.Wiseman & P.Sathiyamoorthy beat A.Abrahams & B.Merrett 2-1 (9-12, 12-6, 13-10)
T.Farmer & T.Arjaria beat E.Gosnell & A.Cameron-Blackie 15-3
I.Mitchell & J.Lawrence beat L.Gribble & B.Simpson 15-5
A.Williams & A.Yusaf beat A.Shetty & A.Sumanan 15-6
N.Bunyan & P.Boughton beat W.Meyer & M.Milbank 15-6
M.Chinery & J.Shorrocks beat J.Hepburn & T.Goodman 15-0
H.Etherington & O.Rushton beat L.Whitnall & K.Bhavsar 15-6
C.Cooley & A.Mupesa beat Barard & Leverton-Griffiths 15-7
S.Allen & M.Williams beat L.Malanaphy & F.Ogilby 15-4
S.Cook & D.Ingram beat G.Davies & E.Hurford 15-9
I.Mitchell & J.Lawrence beat A.Williams & A.Yusaf 2-0 (13-11, 14-13)
M.Chinery & J.Shorrocks beat N.Bunyan & P.Boughton 2-0 (12-4, 15-12)
H.Etherington & O.Rushton beat C.Cooley & A.Mupesa 2-0 (12-3, 12-4)
S.Allen & M.Williams beat S.Cook & D.Ingram 2-0
M.Chinery & J.Shorrocks beat I.Mitchell & J.Lawrence 2-0 (13-12, 12-9)
H.Etherington & O.Rushton beat S.Allen & M.Williams 2-1 (12-9, 7-12, 13-10)
M.Chinery & J.Shorrocks beat H.Etherington & O.Rushton 2-0 (12-9, 12-7)
L.Whitnall & K.Bhavsar won on a round robin basis
M.Barnes & F.Barnes beat A.Beardsmore & M.Fraser-Andrews 2-0 (12-2, 12-2)
L.Williamson & K.Lower beat B.Clark & M.Parry 14-13