LADIES’ NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS
St. Paul’s School, Barnes, 7th December 2014
The Ladies Nationals was a very successful event this year, writes organiser Alex Steel, with many new and returning faces. As usual, it was an excellent day for the ladies and, with the improving standard, I only expect to see more ladies entering more competitions throughout the year.
As usual, the participants spanned the country: Kathleen Briedenhann and Tessa Mills from Eastbourne; Alexandra Steel, Sarah Greasley and Katarina Valieva from London; Maddy Raynor from Devon; Louisa Hotson from Oxford; Millie Richards, Kate Broad, Kirsty Martin and Lottie Harbottle from Rugby; and Claire Knowles from Manchester. I was especially impressed that the girls from Rugby still came to the competition despite an impending Carol Concert the same evening.
The day started off with the doubles and it was a round-robin, as we only had five pairs. Each game was to 15 and all were of excellent standard. Sarah and Louisa, newly paired, worked well together and enjoyed their matches, getting used to each other’s play within only a few games. Both Sarah and newcomer Louisa showed great potential, skill and love for the game, and we hope to see them at more competitions.
The standard of all the Rugby School girls was very impressive indeed. Their ability to move around the court and return fast, hard balls has improved greatly in a year. I feel that, if they continue to train under the watchful eye of Trevor White (currently) and then hopefully afterwards, they will quickly become major players in the Ladies circuit. The final of the doubles was between Alexandra & Maddy and Kathleen & Tessa. It was two games of absolute blood, sweat and tears, with fantastic rallies, skilled shots and power! Kathleen and Tessa, an experienced pair, put their known strengths to good use against first-time partners Alexandra and Maddy, who used their experience of training in Devon together effectively.
The match was fought extremely hard by both pairs and was a lot of fun, with Kathleen and Tessa finally winning 15-6, 16-15. Although the second game was valiantly fought by Alexandra and Maddy, who were not willing to give up, and the game included about 10 match points on both sides, it was won by a little drop shot return by Tessa. Well done, girls.
The singles started during the final of the doubles, as a few ladies had to get home. It was as exciting as the doubles with all ladies showing a high standard of Fives. The singles was a knock-out round with all girls playing 1 game to 15. Big News this year was the return of Claire Knowles, playing in the singles only but hopefully returning to doubles soon, too. Claire has been out of the game (competition-wise) for a few years through injury, but has been working slowly on getting back on court and it does not look like she has been out of action at all.
Claire beat Lottie Harbottle to make it through into the semi-finals, where she then faced Number 1 seed Kathleen. It was an exhausting match to ref, let alone play, and although Kathleen tried valiantly to defend her title, she was exhausted from the doubles final and Claire capitalised with clever, hard shots, winning by 15-5 and moving her to her first final since 2011.
At the other end of the draw, Millie Richards (Rugby) beat Kirsty Martin (Rugby), and went on to face Tessa Mills. Tessa then won her way through to the semis in untroubled fashion after Alexandra Steel (second seed) dropped out due to illness. Here Tessa faced Maddy in a match that was great to watch, won in the end by Tessa 15-5. That meant the final was between Claire and Tessa, and it was an excellent match to watch as both girls tried to bring their different experience to the game to win the points. With Claire’s power and fast shot and Tessa’s whip-cracking right arm, the spectators were guaranteed a great match.
Tessa battled with great purpose and tried to make it hard for Claire to return her shots but Claire’s experience allowed her to anticipate Tessa’s moves and be in place ready to return them. Claire was relentless and eventually won 15-3, 15-1, but as many of the spectators and players said, the scores do not reflect the effort by both girls during the match. Well done and welcome back, Claire! Especially as this win means that she has finally surpassed Paula Smith’s record 11 victories in the ladies’ Singles. I have organised this competition for a few years now and one of the things I have noticed is that the standard of the players coming up – and particularly the ladies from Rugby School – is truly wonderful. I hope to see you all in other competitions and look forward to seeing your progress in the future.
Well done, Ladies! A truly enjoyable day of Fives.
Semi-finals: Knowles bt Briedenhann 15-5 ; Mills bt Raynor 15-5
Final: Knowles bt Mills 15-3, 15-1
Final: Briedenhann & Mills bt Raynor & Steel 15-6, 16-15