Winchester Fives Mixed Doubles Championship
Bradfield College, Berkshire, May 7th 2017
Six pairs took to the courts at Bradfield for the 2017 Winchester Fives Mixed Doubles Championship. And, if there was any slight disappointment at a relative lack of numbers, that was more than made up for by the quality of play on show during what turned into a very long day. In fact, by general consensus, this was highest-quality of mixed doubles play in many years.
The day’s play started with a round-robin (with the top two pairs going on to play the final), in which each pair played one game to 15 against each other pair; and the quality of play was obvious right from the start. Although experienced campaigners Andy Pringle & Alex Steel and Jim Hughes & Maddy Raynor won their opening two matches, they had to work hard.
In particular, they had to adapt their regular Rugby Fives tactics to overcome the unique challenge posed by Eton Fives specialists Gareth Hoskins & Karen Hird, who were only too happy to venture well up the court and try to find winning volleys into the buttress. Meanwhile, the maturity of play from the Sumner siblings belied the fact that they are still both at school.
The first crunch match of the day pitted Alex & Andy against Jim & Maddy, and it was a tough match. However, former champions Alex and Andy eventually prevailed 15-11, giving them a 100% record in their first three games.
Meanwhile, the slightly late-arriving Eastbourne contingent – Spencer, Kathleen and Tessa – had taken to the courts, with Ollie Arnold partnering Tessa to victory over the other two. Indeed, it was the quality of their play that marked them out as potential favourites for the title, and they duly went on to match Andy & Alex, with a 100% record in their opening three games.
That meant that the clash between these pairs would be a strong indication of the ultimate destination of the winner’s trophy; and, the clash didn’t disappoint. It was the toughest match of the day up to that point, and fortunes ebbed and flowed throughout. Tessa & Ollie went into an early lead and seemed set for a comfortable win, only for Andy and Alex to peg them back. Almost inevitably, the game went to 14-all, but in the end it was Tessa & Ollie who secured the vital two points for a 16-14 win.
Following this with a win in their next game, that meant a 100% record in the round-robin game, and a place in the final. It also meant that the very last match of the round-robin – between Alex & Andy and Spencer & Kathleen would be crucial: a win for the former would see them into the final, but if the latter pair it would mean awkward maths and difficult discussions for the organiser (Alex!) as it would leave three pairs with three wins in the round-robin…
The opening few minutes seemed to suggest that such an outcome was all too possible, as Spencer & Kathleen went into a 10-5 lead. From then, though, Alex & Andy started to find their form, and with their opponents seeming to tire, they eventually closed out the game 15-11 to clinch a place in the final for the fifth consecutive year.
After the round-robin clash went to 16-14, much was expected of the final, and the four players more than delivered. It was a match full of tremendous Fives, with no quarter given or asked, and played in a superb spirit.
It was a best-of-three games final, and almost inevitably it went the distance, with Andy & Alex coming back well after losing the first game to really find their form in the second and send the match into a deciding third game.
For the first few minutes, they continued that fine form and eked out an 8-4 lead. However, at that point, Tessa & Ollie began to fight back: a run of four quick points drew them level, and then they eked out a small lead, although they were never significantly ahead. Even with them 13-10 up, the game was too close to call.
Trouble was, no one had told Tessa, and she nonchalantly found two clean winners into the buttress in successive rallies to clinch the game – and, with it, the title. It was a fitting end to the finest match of the day, and without doubt the best mixed doubles match in recent memory.
The Players: Alexandra Steel & Andy Pringle; Tessa Mills & Ollie Arnold; Kathleen Briedenhann & Spencer Beal; Maddy Raynor & Jim Hughes; Karen Hird & Gareth Hoskins; Katie Sumner & Joseph Sumner
Alex & Andy bt Kathleen & Spencer 15-11, lost to Tessa & Ollie 14-16, bt Maddy & Jim 15-1, bt Katie & Joseph 15-3, bt Karen & Gareth 15-2; Kathleen & Spencer lost to Tessa & Ollie 8-15, lost to Maddy & Jim 9-15, bt Katie & Joseph 15-2, bt Karen & Gareth 15-13; Tessa & Ollie bt Maddy & Jim 15-12, bt Katie & Joseph 15-1, bt Karen & Gareth 15-1; Maddy & Jim bt Katie & Joseph 15-5, bt Karen & Gareth 15-6; Katie & Joseph lost to Karen & Gareth 8-15
1st Tessa & Ollie, 2nd Alex & Andy, 3rd Maddy & Jim, 4th Kathleen & Spencer, 5th Karen & Gareth, 6th Katie & Joseph
Final: Tessa & Ollie bt Alex & Andy 15-8, 7-15, 15-10