North of England Championships
Durham; Saturday/Sunday February 27/28th 2016
A huge draw of 29 players in the singles descended upon Durham Racecourse for the 2016 North of England Open – most notably including a record entry of two women. Also present, 11 students from the Durham club and three schoolboys from Scotland. With the first ball to be struck at 9am and the final scheduled for 7pm, it was going to be a long day. All went smoothly in Round 1, with just one three-gamer that saw Ben Chua book his place in against three-times champion Will Ellison. Matches continued to run to schedule, until James Tilston took Julian Aquilina into a third and looked to be on for an upset – however, the organiser snuck through 11-9. Andrew Boyd also closed out Tom Dean in three games, and so the eight seeds would feature in the quarter-finals.
The top four seeds comfortably made it through to the semis, setting up what was probably the most eagerly anticipated clash of the tournament – Grant vs Beltrami. Some suggested that Dan was out of practice coming into this contest, but it did not show. He stormed through the first game 11-3, but came off court with concern on his face. The second game had barely got underway when unfortunately he had to retire with a back injury. Not the way that Ben wanted to reach his first Open final, in his words, but the greatest challenge lay ahead.
As the last warm up of the day concluded at 7pm, a look of relief crept across the organiser’s face. A small (but appreciative) crowd gathered, before witnessing a stellar performance from the top seed; the pressure was relentless, and Will quickly claimed his fourth Ferens trophy with an 11-6 11-1 victory.
In the plate, Alley Scott triumphed in the all-ladies clash against Katy Hulm to take the unofficial title of women’s champion, while Christian Blackaby and Jez Sinton made their way to the final with relative ease. Jez took the first game but could not quite hold off the young challenger who has made the transition from Eton Fives just this year – Christian picking up the singles plate on his Open tournament debut.
Sunday saw 13 pairs compete, and after a straightforward set of first rounds it was onto the quarterfinals. Edinburgh schoolboys Boyd and Jourdan, last year’s doubles plate winners, came close to taking a game off Beltrami and Minta, but it was not to be. In the adjacent quarter, Buchanan and Dean took on a spirited Durham side of Blackaby and current captain Russell. Splitting a lengthy first two games, Hamish and Tom eventually stamped their authority on the match in the third. In the top quarter, Ellison and Grant got their tactics spot on – Dan simply standing in the corner letting Will do the work – though the Scottish pairing of McCreath and Murby put in a good showing. The four most recent Durham captains featured in the final quarter; Aquilina and Tilston coming through against Butler and Hanton in a tense three-gamer.
We wondered whether Dan’s back injury would prove too significant a hindrance for the top seeds, but Will looked to be in his element under the authorisation to take every shot. All his 2v1 practice was paying off as he struck winner after winner, particularly around the front of the court; Aquilina and Tilston had no answers. Although Dan did not see much of the ball, when it did come into his path he was blasting winners himself – probably racking up the highest winners:shots ratio ever seen! Meanwhile, the second and third seeds were locked in a tight affair, with the third game going down to the wire. Eventually Beltrami and Minta edged Buchanan and Dean 12-10 to set up a final showdown with Ellison and Grant.
In much the same way as their semifinal, Will and Dan motored on, racing through the first game 11-2. Ben and John kept plugging away, and there were moments in the second game when Will actually appeared to be tiring(!), but they could not quite take advantage of the situation. For all Will’s efforts and to wows and laughs from the crowd, the match finished with a sublime dropshot from Dan: final score 11-2 11-7. This was Will’s fifth doubles title at the North and Dan’s first.
The doubles plate saw Durham pairing Tom-squared (McCahon and Wakelam) win all three of their round robin matches to emerge victorious.
1st round: B Chua bt T Wakelam 11-8 10-12 11-2; H Buchanan bt A Scott 11-0 11-1; P Hanton bt J Whitbread 11-0 11-0; J Aquilina bt J Werling 11-0 11-0; J Tilston bt C Shepherd 11-2 11-2; B Jourdan bt T Raikes 11-2 11-0; D Butler bt A McCreath 11-1 11-7; O Quarry bt H Fry 11-3 11-1; S Russell bt J Sinton 11-1 11-6; R Murby bt K Hulm 11-0 11-2; A Boyd bt J van Nieuwkerk 11-0 11-0; T Dean bt C Blackaby 11-4 11-2; T McCahon bt J Smith 11-4 11-6
2nd round: W Ellison bt Chua 11-1 11-0; Hanton bt Buchanan 11-0 11-2; Aquilina bt Tilston 11-5 10-12 11-9; Butler bt Jourdan 11-1 11-7; B Beltrami bt Quarry 11-8 11-3; Murby bt Russell 11-8 11-6; Boyd bt Dean 8-11 11-4 11-1; D Grant bt McCahon 11-3 11-2
Quarter-finals: Ellison bt Hanton 11-1 11-0; Butler bt Aquilina 11-4 11-5; Beltrami bt Murby 11-1 11-4; Grant bt Boyd 11-2 11-7
Semi-finals: Ellison bt Butler 11-3 11-3; Beltrami bt Grant 3-11 1-0 ret.
Final: Ellison bt Beltrami 11-6 11-1
1st round: McCreath & Murby bt McCahon & Wakelam 11-1 11-1; Butler & Hanton bt Werling & Whitbread 11-0 11-0; Boyd & Jourdan bt Rich & Shepherd 11-0 11-0; Blackaby & Russell bt Fry & Raikes 11-1 11-5
Quarter-finals: Ellison & Grant bt McCreath & Murby 11-6 11-5; Aquilina & Tilston bt Butler & Hanton 6-11 11-8 11-5; Beltrami & Minta bt Boyd & Jourdan 11-5 12-10; Buchanan & Dean bt Blackaby & Russell 11-9 8-11 11-0
Semi-finals: Ellison & Grant bt Aquilina & Tilston 11-4 11-5; Beltrami & Minta bt Buchanan & Dean 11-9 4-11 12-10
Final: Ellison & Grant bt Beltrami & Minta 11-2 11-7
Plate: McCahon & Wakelam