Part 2: The Eight Towering One Wall Courts
By Tuesday all of our players had arrived and the 1-Wall competition – the main event, started in earnest. The venue for the Championships was the CityWest hotel and conference centre about 30 minutes outside of Dublin. When not competing our players could enjoy a day out in the scenic city, a trip to the Guinness factory or a relaxing afternoon in the spa. Unless of course you were Luke Thomson, in which case you’d spend most of the day either eating or sleeping.
The Irish had constructed eight 1-wall courts. The ball was the yellow GAA big ball which contrasted excellently with the blue walls (for a while at least… the paint had a tendency to rub off and turn the balls –and our trainers – off shades of cobalt). Courts were perhaps a little too close together and replays were played a little too often due to stray balls and the occasional aimless child but this became a feature which all players had to put up with equally. To be honest, it was a price worth paying to see the sight of the many hundreds of young children thoroughly relishing the opportunity to play 1-wall. The sheer ease with which they picked up the game and enjoyment etched on their faces really brought home the values of 1-wall: a sport for all, easily accessible and tremendous fun. There were several important meetings behind the scenes that week all centred around driving 1-wall into the Olympics and that is a pursuit that UK Wallball firmly support.
Enough of that though, on to the interesting stuff! The Men’s C Grade once again made full use of A0 sized paper, featuring 256 competitors, four of them Englishmen. Gareth Price had an excellent chance to progress, however his exhaustion was showing not just from his 4-wall exploits but also from his insistence on giving small-ball 1-wall a go (1-wall played with the small ball). This is the purist’s 1-wall game and was the norm until the more accessible big ball took over. It is not for the faint of heart. Not many players compete and so there is only one very high quality Pro grade. Gareth was drawn against Tyree Bastidas in the first round, a man of exceptional skill with both hands. Tyree would go on to become World Champion but he first had to get past Gareth Price playing his first ever game of small-ball. Gareth managed to get 6 points off him. Arguably Tyree may have been going easy, but we don’t think so.
I’m sure Gareth would like us to forget his first round of the C big-ball singles. Visibly weary and in a frustrated mind-set he unfortunately lost to Ireland’s Shane Briody.
Luke Stradwick had been on top form before coming to Ireland and he took this form forward. He did extremely well to win his first two rounds – both top drawer wallball and very exciting to watch. However he eventually lost in a 3-setter that went right down to the wire against 28th seed Nevan McCartin.
Richard Dyke was playing in his first ever championship – and what a championship to make his debut. Richard has improved greatly over the past year at the Westway Club and was on fire in his 1st round match against Byrne of Ireland. He served him deep and wide and although nip and tuck at moments, he finally came through on top and won his first ever world championship match – a tremendous achievement. He went on to lose to Hughes in round 2, who was a little too strong for our man.
The honour of top performer in the C grade went to Andy Pringle who ruggedly fought his way through the largest and most attritional of grades. He started off by beating Roche, a relative unknown, comfortably. Next up was the Australian no.2 Simon Fitzgerald, a dangerous player who tried to push Andy deep with his ruthless wind up shots from the back. But Andy, riding high at the top of his game was wise to the Aussie tactics and he again came through convincingly in 2 straight sets. Similarly he dispatched Padraig Coyle (who had got past the might of Dick Warner) and Neville Doyle before reaching the last 16. Here he came up against Sheathiel Rodriguezof the USA – a young player on the verge of being a B grade player. Shea powerfully moved Andy from side to side and classically set himself for kills into the corners. During the second set Andy took a dive too far and sadly cramped up behind his knee forcing him to retire. It was not the way Andy would have wanted to end his singles campaign, though it should be noted that Shea went on to win the C grade with ease. Future World Championships will have to be more regulated when it comes to grading players.
The B grade had one entrant from the UK in the form of Daniel Tristao. The Rugby Fives champ hung up his fives gloves and donned his Owens to take on the veteran Puerto Rican ex-Champion, Edgar Diaz. Dan went in strong but alas couldn’t outsmart the guile of Diaz, who after the match remarked how Dan would go far and that he “wouldn’t want to play him again next year”. A fine compliment indeed. Maybe Dan will do better next time perhaps after he a) trains and b) gets some sleep. The lad was up 24 hours with work just before the match.
The women’s C grade saw two of our ladies fighting for the title. Kathtleen Briedenhann, the UK Singles Open 2011 runer-up (to Catmull – see below) proved once again why she’s one of the strongest players in the UK. Her power and slick movement around the court saw her dominate her early opponents and she eased through the first 3 rounds in straight sets. However in the quarter-finals she came across Jenny Lee (also see below). If you’ve read this report backwards you’ll know the story here, Kathleen was outclassed and lost in two.
Marianne Catmull, the 2011 UK Singles Open champion (beating Kathleen, see above) was on top form this week and looking to do some serious damage, although as a doubles specialist she’d be the first to admit that singles is not her game. Her first match was against Ainli of Ireland, a strong player who took Marianne to a tie-break. Showing her true colours and spurred on by a cheering fan-base, Marianne managed to come through in the end and progress. In the quarter finals she was up against Madine, another difficult Irish lass. Once again Marianne battled hard and once again came through in a 3-set tiebreaker much to the delight of Team GB. She then found herself in the semi-finals against Jenny Lee (Kerry White’s doubles partner). Jenny, a far more experienced singles player who has been training hard this past year – and fresh from taking out Briedenhann in the previous round, showed too much awareness and experience. Although there were points to savour Jenny came through in two sets. She then went on to win the grade.
Tessa Mills, our youngest player, was playing in her first World Championship in the u-17 division and her first match was one of the matches of the tournament! Playing against Coughlan of Ireland, Tessa found herself against a competitive and agile girl who was used to the courts. Tessa plays at her school in Eastbourne which doesn’t yet have fully regulation courts. Her strong serve was her ally and by pushing her opponent out wide she was able to draw first blood and the first set. Unfortunately come the second her opponent could read it better and the Irish girl took the second. The third set tie-breaker was an incredibly nail-biting affair, nip and tuck to start with, the Irish lass took a lead and Tessa began to question her confidence. She went match point down (7-10). Here she took a tactical timeout and, far from being over, took the game right back to Coughlan. She fought hard and began to claw points back. 10-8, 10-9, and every other point her opponent had a chance to serve out the match, but every time it was deftly saved by Mills. Finally at 10-10 Tessa had her chance at glory and capitalised where her opponent could not. A splendid victory for Mills.
Unfortunately Tessa was one of our players who was caught up in the scheduling shambles. The organisers had arguably bit off far more than they could chew and dates and times had, for some, changed drastically from provisional announcements. Sadly Tessa had to fly home before her next match, which was incredibly disappointing as she had surely been hoping to progress the distance.
Also competing in the singles were father & son Fionn and Oliver O’Sullivan and the veterans, Freddie Rowe and Dick Warner. Fionn, our second youngest competitor gave it his all in the U-19 boys grade, and although he has been training hard at the MTS club he sadly couldn’t come through past the strong Tynan or Ireland. That said, we have high hopes for Fionn in the future, especially considering the MTS club expansion plans in the new year. Oliver, Fionn’s dad, was playing in the Golden Masters. Due to some fortuitous opposition injury, he saw himself in the quarterfinals against the favoured Pedro Rivera of Puerto Rico. The South American proved too strong for Oliver, but he was pleased to just be playing in such a magnificent event.
Freddie and Dick were playing in the Emerald and Diamond Masters respectively. One of the great things about 1-wall is that it truly is a sport for all ages and on the same day you can see under 8’s playing just as competitively as the over 80’s. Freddie, competing in his first international event lost in the first round to the 12th seed Michael Kiley. Warner played the no.4 seed Steven Kraft in the Diamond Masters and pushed him especially hard in the 2nd set but couldn’t quite get across the line. Tremendous play nonetheless and a great example set by the RFA president to all other fives players yet to try their hand at wallball.
There were 3 more players yet to compete in the singles and we turn our attention now to our two Captains. Daniel Grant and Kerry White. Kerry, after winning the A grade at the US Open this year, was on fine form and has earned her place in the Open tournament. This was cemented as she strongly overcame Bernice Torres of the USA easily in 2-sets, much to Torres’ dismay (and unsportsman-like conduct). She then progressed to the quarterfinals where she played Jessica Lopez of Puerto Rico – an extremely strong young player who is set to vie for the best in the world in a matter of years. Kerry pushed her hard but was no match for Lopez’s power and dominance. The score was unrepresentative of the quality of the match and Kerry can be proud, even though she lost in 2 straight sets.
Much like Gareth, Kerry also tried her hand at small-ball. She made the semi-finals but lost to the no.1 seed Tracy Davis who went on to win the competition with ease. However, Kerry won the 3rd place playoff against Loreen Belfor to finish 3rd in the world!
Not content with 2 singles tournaments, a battle-hardened Kerry also entered into the over 30 category and here we believed her to have a real chance of taking the title home. She comfortably won her first set but had a shocker in the quarterfinals against Hennessy of the USA. Unfortunately it was just not meant to be and Kerry found herself out of the competition and having to regroup for the Federation Cup.
Daniel Grant, GB’s Captain and UKWBA President has been training especially hard this year (post-broken foot) and was one of the only Europeans to enter into the Open division; the hardest and most competitive of grades. His first round match was against Peter Daveron of Ireland, a strong tall player who has the ability to spin the ball, causing it to whip off the surface of the floor. Grant got off to nervous start but as soon as his serve started to work on the fast courts he began to ease into the game and eventually won pretty comfortably in 2 sets, affirming his place as a world class Open player.
In the last 16 he was drawn against the no.1 seed Pee Wee Castro of the USA; a great champion of the game and one of the toughest competitors in the world. With a serve that can send you miles off the side of the court and a right handed off forehand kill into the bottom right corner, Pee Wee has the ability to devastate with a quick one-two. Grant lost the first set to 6 but then regrouped in the second and began to return high and accurately. When he won the serve back Grant would then go all out with a high risk strategy, going for lines and acute angles. It began to pay off and he even edged the 2009 World Champion back from the brink, tying the score at 20-20. Grant had one set-point to level the game and move it into a tie-breaker but agonisingly missed a kill by only a few cm’s, which was enough to allow the American to pounce for a winner. The American then served for the match and came through as victor 21-20. Grant, although sad to be out, was thrilled to have played one of the greats and was hugely pleased with his performance, especially considering his injury fraught year. If he keeps this form up he’ll surely be hoping for success in the 2015 games.
To be concluded…
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