Part 3: Return of Tekkers!
Frequently matches would go on to the early hours of the morning where the only food left to eat in the CityWest hotel was either Dominos or take-away Chinese. So, attempting not be fuelled by junk food, our Brits began to face the doubles tournament. We represented across the grades in this tournament. In the C’s Richard Dyke and Freddie Rowe joined Andy Pringle and Luke Stradwick in the quest to come home with a world title. The former pairing had the unusual pressure of being awarded the top seeding for no clear reason, apart from Rowe’s fearsome international reputation. They played the strong and square looking pairing of Murphy and White in the first round and although they tried hard, they couldn’t quite get to grips with the Irishmen’s strong and powerful shots – experience we just don’t have in the UK yet. The pair fought valiantly, but sadly couldn’t come through.
Pringle & Stradwick were our strongest pairing in the C Doubles. They’d been training hard over the past few months at the Westway club and were hoping for success. And they delivered. Again it is worth noting the C draw was huge and progressing the distance in this grade was an achievement in itself. Pringle and Stradwick dominated their opposition (one pair didn’t even turn up as they were too scared, presumably) and the Brits progressed through 5 rounds to make the semi-finals where they played the Irish no.2 pair Briody and Neary. The match was pushed to late in the night and it was clear the pair were finding it difficult to get into their rhythm, which they had been so ready to play out several hours prior. Although they made some excellent moves at the 11th hour, it was sadly too little too late. But the pair can be extremely pleased with their appearance in the World Championship semi-finals – tremendous.
Also playing were Freddie Rowe and Dick Warner in the Emerald Masters. Here they got to the semi-finals where they were set to play the no.1 seeds of Santilli and Gouge. A USA/AUS pairing who did not really warm to the spirit of the match. Grant refereed the game and hoarse of voice afterwards noted in more subdued tones how he’d “ref’d the best in the world in Vegas, New York and now Ireland, but nothing was quite so hard as refereeing this game!” Although Warner and Rowe put in a strong performance they sadly couldn’t survive the international duo. And neither could the chair which was kicked over with menace half way through the titanic clash.
The B’s on the Women’s side of things saw all three of our female pairings go at it hammer and tong. Marianne Catmull, although having played in several Fed Cup tournaments to date, now saw herself playing in the most difficult competition of her career to date. She was paired with Shirley Chen from the USA (our third trans-Atlantic pairing) Although the pair played well, they couldn’t quite overcome the strength of Brown & McDonagh in the last 16.
Tessa and Kathleen, student and teacher partners from Eastbourne College came up in the first round of the B doubles against the Irish pairing of Ainli and Fhatharta. The home duo proved too weak for our girls and even caused Fhatharta to utter a curse every mis-hit (there were a lot of curses). The educational duo came through convincingly in two sets. In the second round however they were up against Murphy and Santiago – a very strong pairing from Puerto Rico. The girls couldn’t repeat their heroics and ended up losing in straight sets but were pleased to have gotten experience against two of the best female players in the world.
Women’s captain Kerry White teamed up with her New York friend an excellent wallballer (she won the C Singles) Jenny Lee. The two were arguably one of the stronger pairs in the B Grade but were sadly outdone by a peculiar grading system which allowed firmly Open players to enter into the B Grade. They reached the quarterfinals and came up against Mendez & Torres – two of the stronger players in the world. Although they played out their hearts, they couldn’t compete with Mendez’ skill on court (she won the Open singles after all). But it was an excellent result nonetheless.
Back on the men’s side of things Price and Thomson took on the difficult B grade in the doubles and smacked down an initial statement by beating 6th seeds Daly and Fleming in the 1st round in a 3-set thriller which had the crowd ohh’ing and ahh’ing in delight. They then beat Conway and Connaughton comfortably to progress to the quarterfinals of the B Grade. Here they faced the Irish favourites – the Flynn brothers. Battling hard, late at night, Price and Thomson got an early lead before narrowly losing the 1st set by a matter of points. In the second the Flynn’s seemed to have the upper hand before the Brits fought back smartly and this time it was they who took the set. Tiebreak time! Another incredibly close battle with both pairs moving swiftly around the court and pushing their opponents to the extreme. The Irish took an early break and kept it up, they had match point at 10-5 and although our lads fought back to 10-7, sadly that was all they could do. Great camaraderie and friendly hand shakes after the game sealed an excellent run in the B Doubles.
Last on court was Daniel Grant, the GB Captain, doing trans-Atlantic pairing no.5 (great tournament for international relations this). Grant paired with USA whizz-kid Eloy Vela from New York for this Open Doubles – GB’s first player to ever enter into this incredibly hard grade, but one which was prescribed after winning the B doubles World Championships with Ady Lee 3 years ago. The pair were given due respect by the organisers and were given a 6th place seeding. They then got to the quarterfinals where they faced the extremely good paring of George Figueroa and Taywan Cook from the USA. (Cook went on to win the Singles Open beating Castro in the final). The US pair took the first set comfortably but the across-the-seas pairing fought back hard in the second. Grant was solid on the left and Vela, perhaps a little over-excited and nervous early on, knuckled in pushed the US pairing through a great comeback, eventually losing 21-16 in the second.
That nearly concluded all individual play for the tournament but there were still two team events to come. The Federation Cup and the most revered competition of all…the Ashes!
It was a sad state of affairs that because of the scheduling the Federation Cup took a back foot to the rest of the tournament this year. Some teams were turning up fresh to play, whereas others had players who had already torn their bodies to pieces over the past 7 days or indeed, were still playing in the tournament and therefore could not compete. The draw was quick and in no way representative of the kind of tournament we’d like to base the world rankings on (for example USA played Puerto Rico in round 2). Several teams were badly affected. Needless to say we don’t really hold too much weight to it this year, although it was still fun to play.
The men’s team came across Team Ecuador in the first round – a very strong South American team headed up by Open player, Eddie ‘Shooter’ Ramos. With the format being 1 set of singles and 1 of doubles, there was really no room for error. Sadly our men (Grant in the singles and Grant & Price) in the doubles, couldn’t quite wake up in time and were eliminated by 7 points.
The women played the Netherlands in their first round and Kerry showed how much she’d grown these past few years by beating the Dutch no.1, Miranda Scheffer. Again in the doubles they just weren’t as strong and Kerry and Marianne lost agonisingly by 1 point.
We hope that the next Federation Cup is given the respect it deserves with group stages and correct seedings.
It was very difficult to fit in the most important event of the World Championships this year, such was the sheer volume of matches being played on the 1-wall courts. Indeed it was only on the final day that British Captain, Dan and Aussie Captain, Bob managed to persuade the organisers to give us a court. Alas all the 1-wall courts were busy, so there was nothing for it – we’d have to play on the 4-wall show court – an entirely glass surrounded court encircled by seats on the upper level on which only days before the superb Paul Brady had won his 4th consecutive World title. Now the court was cleared to make way for the Ashes.
Both teams after 9 days play, it is fair to say, were falling apart. England had lost its greatest 4-wall player of all time, Price, to injury and Guinness, and so the Domino’d Grant and insomniac Tristao took to the stage against the regular 4-wall players of Fitzgerald (looking for revenge after losing to Pringle in the 1-wall) and Scheruga (seeking revenge for being spanked in the Ashes last time). Due to time constraints and general lack of strength the format was to be 1 set to 21. A fast start would prove decisive, and it was the Aussie’s who took it. Perhaps this was because they play 4-wall and we don’t but hey, they took a quick lead. Although Tristao and Grant began to make a comeback late in the day, it sadly was not to be and heart-renderingly the Ashes had to be handed back to the Aussies. We firmly believe though that in 2 years time, on the 1-wall courts, the natural balance will be restored.
And so that almost concludes this epic report. Almost. Because we saved the best for last. You may have thought we simply forgot one of our singles players but oh no! Luke Thomson was competing in the under-23 division. An extremely strong division featuring 1 Open player and several B grade players. The U-23’s was pushed to late in the tournament and so we really did save the best for last.
Here comes the British performance of the tournament. Luke was competing in his 1st major open as an individual. He started against the favoured no.2 seed Caolan Daly of Ireland. Shockwaves started to be made as Luke ended up comfortably winning against the lightning quick Irish international. In the quarterfinals he was up against Peter Hughes also of the Emerald Isles. Luke started incredibly nervously and basically gave him the first game through a series of disastrous unforced errors and poor shot making. It was clear Luke had to overcome his inner demons if he was to progress. Sitting in the corner with a towel over his head, Tekkers began to calm himself and play the game he knows he can play. He pulled it level in the second set to take it to a tiebreaker. Now full of confidence he won that comfortably and progressed to the U23 semi-final where he’d be playing the Irish no.1, Seamus O’Carroll, who had demolished everyone and anyone in his path so far. This was to be the match of the tournament.
Playing early on Sunday morning the game was full of athleticism, agility, power from the Irishman and clever defence from the Brit. O’Carroll would hammer out a roller if he had the chance so Luke had to play smart. He won the first 15-12 but lost the second 11-15 after a sloppy start. The tiebreak was incredibly intense and almost unbearable to watch. Both players going at it hammer and tong, competing to the top of their games and with great sportsmanship. The Irishman got off to a dream start and went 5-0 up on Luke who maintained composure, used his timeouts wisely and managed to claw it back. However, the Irishman went 10-7 up and had a match point (3rd set to 11). Luke saved it with brave play and reeled in another point – 10-8, but then the Irishman had serve once more. Again Thomson saved it with applaudable play and levelled the match at 10-10. Sudden death! Thomson had match point. But the Irishman showed he had balls just as big as Luke by smashing a killshot into the nick to gain serve once again. Luke had clearly never been so nervous in his life before. He returned the serve safely and the two had the most nerve-racking rally ever to be seen in wallball. Both played defensively from the back neither willing to make the first move for the slightest error could result in loss. After 36 shots Luke hit a ball which was just too light and the Irishman capitalised. He moved in for the kill and struck it hard and low. The crowd held their breath. OUT! He had over-hit by the narrowest of margins and hit what should have been a sure fire winner wide by a matter of millimetres. Luke then served for the match and once again it turned defensive from the back but this time Luke lured the Seamus O’Carroll in with a short shot which pushed him out wide. O’Carroll moved in and rushed his shot, accidentally pounding it into the ground. Game, set and match Thomson! Unbelievable!
Alas, the heroics could not be matched in the final when he was up against the incredibly skilful and strong Danny Torres of the USA. A match which by all accounts he was never the favourite to win, but he gave it his all. Torres’ sheer power and placement proved too much and Luke lost in 2 sets but is incredibly proud with being the 2nd best u23 player in the world. The man will go far, despite being weighed down by a hefty silver medal.
The UKWBA thanks Chris Curran, the GAA and the hospitality of Ireland for hosting such a tremendous World Championships. We are all now thoroughly looking forward to Calgary, Canada in 2015.
UK Wallball Assoc. fielded 15 players out of the 2,300 competing. Our players represented in every code available.
Last 16’s: 4
Thomson – u23 runner-up
Grant – Top 16 in world singles, top 8 doubles
White – Top 8 in world singles, 3rd small ball
Catmull – C semi-final
Pringle & Stradwick – C semi-final
Price & Thomson – B quarterfinal
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