The largest and most successful UK Open to date took place on the 23rd of February at Merchant Taylors’ School. Some of the best players from around the world competed at the highest level and inspired many novices and youngsters to raise their standards and embrace wallball. In total 41 players took part and played a whopping 102 matches over the 9 hours.
Let’s start with the Challenger grade, this year a packed entry featuring several regular social players and, pleasingly, many novices. The opening test was a round-robin for all and old stalwarts like Richard Dyke and Damien O’Dowd progressed as expected. They were joined by our international guests from Canada, Ireland and France, who we were delighted to host . At this early stage it was also clear who was taking to the game naturally and individuals like Michael Baxter from Derby and Theo Parker from Durham, who had never played wallball before amazingly topped their groups.
The top two from each round-robin progressed to a knock-out and sadly that meant it was either the plate or the end of the day for players like Alexandra Steel (holding the fort for British women’s wallball this year, and showing real potential), Alex Whiteman & Christopher Wheeler (playing their first ever competitive games) and veterans Bob Sandie & John Hawke from Yorkshire. Players like these really encapsulated the inclusive spirit of wallball and it was fantastic to see them visibly improve over the course of the day, relishing the experience. We’re so pleased they’ve taken to wallball and I’m sure it won’t be the last we hear of them.
In the knock-out last 16, Parker continued his form dispatching the highly competitive (and natural blocker) GB Olympic Rower, Cameron Nichol. Brian O’Sullivan from Ireland and Rudy Couteau from France progressed over our Westway regulars Rowe and O’Dowd. Sadly our third international – the ever buoyant Samantha England from Canada fell to Will Ellison, the runner-up from the 2009 UK Open who was on fierce form.
In the quarters, Parker really pushed Ellison in a tremendous match that went right down to the wire before Ellison came through on top and in a pool of sweat. He then moved past O’Sullivan with relative ease to reach his second Challenger final. In the other half of the draw Couteau maintained his strong form to reach the semis where he played Richard Dyke who had fought his way past novice Goodwin of Derby. This semi was one of the matches of the tournament and Dyke, who had performed so admirably in Dublin last year, used every bit of skill and cunning he could muster to fight it out with the powerful and reliable Frenchman. Richard and Rudy battled for well over half an hour but it was Dyke who maintained a slight edge all the way to the end, overcoming all the pressure to win 21-18.
The final was over faster than Richard would have hoped. Visibly exhausted from a long day’s play he was no match for the machine of fitness and lethal quality that is Will Ellison. The 26 year old powered the ball from side to side and masterfully dominated the court to win 15-1, 15-7. The score should take nothing away from Dyke, who played out of his skin this weekend. Ellison has really taken to the sport and we look forward to seeing him in the Open category next year.
In the plate competition 8 Challengers, including Alex Smith, Wheeler, Sandie and RFA President, Dick Warner competed in the enclosed surrounding of English squash-court 4-wall. Dick and Bob came out on top here and their final on the 1-wall show court pleased all who happened to watch it. Dick, our superb over 50’s warrior from the World Championships last year was never going to yield. He won like a true Emerald Master.
The Under-21 event this year was a doubles event and 4 pairs waged war in a decisive round-robin. Andrew Rennie and James Burchill, our youngest competitors from Aldenham school, really took to the game and began to play like real pros. They fought valiantly but alas were no match for the power pairs of Goodwin & Baxter from Derby and Golding & Parker. In the end it was the latter pairing that came through on top. Parker’s excellent retrieval combined with Golding’s deft kills proved too strong for the Midlands pairing.
The Open grade this year was the strongest we’ve ever had. The top players from the UK were joined by the best from France, Belgium, Ireland and the USA. The top 2 players from each group were joined by the two highest losers. The top 6 seeds progressed as expected and were joined by Daniel Tristao and Gerome Gamez who had both fought off tough opposition from Team GB regulars Stradwick, Price, Pringle and Irishman Paul Fitzpatrick. The latter group progressed to a plate which was eventually tiringly won by Stradwick.
In the knock-out competition we were treated to some real quality. Vlad Klym of the USA started the proceedings by taking out French no.1 Gerard Picard, who had performed so well at the Belgian Open just a few months ago. Grant then took out Tristao comfortably in the second quarter. Potiez of Belgium, who had recently topped that country’s internal rankings, easily dispatched Gamez of France. Potiez was on real form this weekend and had beaten Grant in the round-robin with his mighty left hand.
The quarter to savour, however, was fought between Guillaume Dumoulin of Belgium and the UK’s star in the making, second best u23 player in the world, Luke Thomson. Luke had had a tough group earlier in the day where he finished second to Klym. Playing out of his skin he began to trouble the powerful Belgian with precise fly kills and lightning fast footwork. The Belgian was initially riled but then took a medical time-out after Thomson accidentally thumped a ball into the Beglian’s eye. Gathering his composure, Dumoulin came back strongly and then began to lead. At one stage it could have gone either way but then a few errors began to slip into the young Brit’s game. He ended up losing by the narrowest of margins, 21-18. We are sure Thomson will go far and if he gets an industry job in New York next year he’ll be unstoppable.
The semi-finals were best of three sets. In the first the two Belgians relived the internal final they’d played just a few weeks prior. This time however the result was different. Dumoulin began to find inspirational form. He conquered his best friend 21-2, 21-11 in relative ease. In the second semi-final GB Captain, Daniel Grant took on top 8 player in the world, Klym. The first set was close up to the half-way mark until Klym changed his serving tactics and the errors crept into Grant’s game. Klym then closed out the second set with superb kill shots and smart blocking.
The final between Dumoulin and Klym was a real treat. On paper Dumoulin had no chance but pumped full of Adrenalin and hungry for a first singles title has a way of making paper turn to mush. The Belgian raced out the blocks and what he lacked in finesse, he made up with brute power and bodily sacrifice – diving around the court to make simply phenomenal retrievals. The situation shook Klym and he went way behind in the first set before falling badly and twisting his knee. The first set slipped away 21-5 to the Belgian.
In the second set Klym adjusted his game and although he couldn’t do his trademark serve he cleverly began to move the Belgian around, wrong-footing him and forcing the errors. He won 21-13.
And so it went to a decider. Klym on the ascendancy seemed to be en route for a victory, but no-one had read that script to Dumoulin. Where most wallballers begin to flag over the course of a day, Guillaume upped his game and then upped it some more. Quite phenomenal to see, there was almost nothing the American could do. Dumoulin thrashed his way to a 10-0 lead – match point!! But then the American began to respond and Vlad began to claw it back. He got it 10-5 before Dumoulin broke serve again and had another shot at glory. But it was not to be! An uncharacteristic error meant a ball shot wide. Could the pressure be getting to the strong-headed European? Apparently not. He broke straight back and this time, on his third opportunity, he closed out the match with a fine drive down the right. Visibly ecstatic, Dumoulin ran around the court and slapped the wall in a mix of relief and joy; he had won his first singles title.
Play therefore finished at 7:30 – remarkably for a wallball tournament, bang on time. The players then enjoyed a very tasty dinner and a pleasant awards ceremony.
On Sunday several wallballers, Vlad, Samantha and the French contingent took part in the first of many Fives Federation cross-over initiatives to try their hand at Rugby Fives. The players were naturals and under the guidance of top players Ellison and Tristao quickly became good. Scarily good! Importantly we’ve enthused several players to take up the sport alongside wallball as well as send stories of fives back to the Europe and America. This bodes exceptionally well for Gareth Price’s Wallball/Fives/Raquetball/Squash club, which is opening in the coming month.
All-in-all the weekend was a tremendous success and we were absolutely delighted to have so many players from all back grounds, countries and skill levels taking part. We hope that our novices will be inspired and that our Pros will be motivated to work towards the Irish Open and the World 3-Wall in Vegas. Most importantly, however, role on the bigger and better 2014 Open!
Quarter Finals: Klym bt Picard 21-11; Grant bt Tristao 21-10; Dumoulin bt Thomson 21-18; Potiez bt Gamez 21-1
Semi Finals: Klym bt Grant 21-14, 21-10; Dumoulin bt Potiez 21-2, 21-11
Final: Dumoulin bt Klym 21-5, 13-21, 11-5
Last 16: Parker bt Nichol 15-8; Ellison bt England 15-6; B O’Sullivan bt Rowe 15-5; Buchanan bt Baxter 15-10; Dyke bt F O’Sullivan 15-7; Goodwin bt Bharal 15-1; Golding bt E Fitzpatrick 15-13; Couteau bt O’Dowd 15-10
Quarter Finals: Ellison bt Parker 15-12; O’Sullivan bt Buchanan 15-8; Dyke bt Goodwin 15-8; Couteau bt Golding 15-4
Semi Finals: Ellison bt O’Sullivan 21-6; Dyke bt Couteau 21-18
Final: Ellison bt Dyke 15-1, 15-7