The UK Open 2015 was once again hosted at Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood, London, which saw over 80 competitors from 7 countries travel to the UK to compete for this year’s titles. Over 20 hours of play across the weekend took place, with 226 games completed and new champions emerging in both the Men’s and Women’s fields.
The tournament was a significant milestone in the European Wallball game as it was the first tournament to incorporate the newly formed European Wallball ProTour format. The ProTour gives recognition and ranking points to competitors taking part in European championships. The top 10 Europeans based on the last 3 years results plus 6 wildcard entries, 4 of whom were from the USA, competed in the Men’s Open division.
The Euro League format meant that only 16 players competed in the Open grade, which commenced with a group stage. The standard of competition was extremely strong with no easy games for any of the players.
There were 3 UK Men on show in the Open and Daniel Grant had a great start, topping his group against fierce competition. Luke Thomson’s group was extremely close; with 3 players finishing the group with 2 wins apiece but his points difference was enough to see him through in 2nd place. The final UK entry, Daniel Tristao ended 3rd in his group losing to 2nd seed Guillaume Dumoulin (BEL) and former world champion Willie Polanco (USA).
The knock-out draw was cruel to the UK players as both players faced each other in what was to be a high tempered quarter final. Previous matches between Grant & Thomson have always been competitive and this would turn out to be no exception. Great rallies were witnessed with both players on top of their game and after 25 minutes of play, Grant ended victorious by the smallest of margins, winning 15-14. His prize was a semi-final match against current UK Open Champion Vlad Klym (USA) which proved too much, losing 15-8 to the American. Klym went on to meet fellow American Willie Polanco in the Men’s Final which resulted in Polanco becoming UK Open champion for the first time, winning 21-12.
Participation for the Women’s Open draw was the largest seen to date, with 19 players battling each other in the group stages. There were 3 UK Women on show who all did incredibly well against their competitors. Tessa Mills was drawn into a tough group, facing #1 seed Miranda Scheffer (NED) and three Spanish ladies who all proved to be too much on the day. Kathleen Briedenhann breezed through the group stages, topping her group with 3 wins out of 3 and Sarah Greasley ended 2nd in her group, beating top Dutch player Nelie Steenstra (NED) in the process.
The tournament witnessed a glimpse of the future as 14 year old Spaniard, Mar Gimenez Gasco (ESP), won 3 out of her 4 group games to finish 2nd in the group. She narrowly lost to top seed and hot favourite Miranda Scheffer (NED) 13-15 and will be one to look out for in future competitions!
The two UK ladies progressed to the quarter finals where Briedenhann met the 14 year old Spanish sensation Mar Gimenez Gasco and Greasley faced current UK Open champion Geke De Boer (NED). Both opponents were simply too strong on the day and the UK participation ended in the quarter finals. Shocks occurred on the other side of the draw as unseeded Spanish player Maria Jose Giner (ESP) defeated Miranda Scheffer 15-13 and 21 year old Sinead Hanley, the only Irish women in the Open competition, continued her impressive form from the 2014 Dutch Open to beat 4th seed Ana Belen Giner 15-7.
Hanley’s shot accuracy and tough serves propelled her into the Final where she faced current champion Geke De Boer. De Boer started the final well, taking an early lead but good use of timeouts from Hanley meant that she could compose herself, play her shots and start dominating the rallies. In the end Hanley’s power and precision was too much for De Boer and a new UK Open Women’s champion was crowned, much to the delight of her supporters and family who had also made the trip over to London from Galway, Ireland.
Men’s B Singles
With only 16 players in this years’ Open, the remaining male players competed in the Men’s B competition. There were 4 UK Players in action here, but the tough format of the competition meant that only the top placed player in each group was guaranteed a place in the quarter finals.
Gareth Price and Fionn O’Sullivan were drawn together in the same group and despite O’Sullivan damaging his hand a few months before, played valiantly against opposition from Netherlands and Spain. Price dominated his games throughout the group, losing just 11 points from his 3 games and topping the group to go through to the quarter finals where he would meet Belgian player Corentin Faignart.
Chris Waller was placed in a tough group of 5 against some young talented European players, notably the 16 year old Irish lad James Prentice. Waller played a great game against Prentice, who went on to top the group, narrowly losing 9-11 and other players in the group were too strong on the day. Luke Stradwick got off to a good start, beating Eugene Kennedy (IRE) 11-9 early on but lost heavily to Corentin Faignart (BEL). A withdrawal from the remaining player meant Luke ended 2nd in his group and proceeded into a preliminary round where he met and lost to Belgian Tristan Schmit 3-11.
Group B turned out to be the toughest group in the draw, comprising of 2nd seed Kees Van Der Schoot (NED) and 40×20 youngster Paudi James Quish (IRE). Much had been known about the talents of Quish before the competition and he finished 2nd in the group, losing narrowly to V.D.Schoot 9-11 but as best 2nd place player in the competition, automatically qualified for the Quarter finals.
In the quarter finals Corentin Faignart overpowered Price 11-1 to move into the semi-finals against Tristan Schmit. On the other side of the draw Paudi James Quish won a tough all Irish affair against James Prentice 11-8 and Kees Van Der Schoot beat fellow countryman Cornelis Terpstra 11-7 to set up a repeat of the group game against the Irishman. This time round Quish fought off the Dutchman 11-4 to progress into the final where he met Tristan Schmit who has just defeated fellow Belgian Faignart in a close encounter 11-9.
The final was played to 15 points and after a good start by the Belgium player, Quish used his 40×20 low serve to push his opponent wide and dominate the match. Points quickly racked up and Quish took the Men’s B title back to Ireland with a 15-6 victory.
The Beginner’s grade is a mixed grade consisting of players who had only played the sport a handful of times, or never played at all, so that all the competitors were of a level playing field. Competitors included University College London and Loughborough University students as well as players who train at Westway Sports Centre in London. A masterclass was held for them by the UK Wallball team to explain the rules and format of the competition and then they went straight into games.
Large groups ensured that there were plenty of games for all. Bastien Dautrebande (BEL), a teenager from Belgium who was a late entry into the competition was the star of the group stages, beating competitors twice his age to top Group A. Sam Viravong (ENG), a naturally gifted player from University College London, had only played the game twice before the competition and managed to defeat everyone in his group to top Group B, dropping only 8 points in 4 games in the process. Group C was dominated by Loughborough University student Toto Odulaja (ENG), who had never played Wallball before the tournament but picked up the sport very quickly on the day.
Odulaja sadly lost to Irishman Anthony O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals and it was he who also brushed aside another UK player, Viravong, in the semi-finals to reach the final. On the other side of the draw Tom Webster (ENG) beat Dutch veteran Sieman Scheffer (NED) before suffering defeat to the young Dautrebande in the semi-finals. The final was hard fought between the Belgian and Irish players, with the teenager Bastien Dautrebande taking the victory with an 11-5 win, much to the delight of the Belgian supporters.
Men’s Doubles Open
Sunday hosted the UK Open Doubles competition where 36 pairs enter the 4 grades on offer.
The Open grade saw some really close fought matches. Dautrebande (BEL) and Faignart (BEL) won a close encounter 15-13 against the Belgium/French pairing of Metayer (BEL) and Picard (FRA) to finish second in their group behind top seeds Klym (USA) & Polanco (USA). UK pair Grant & Tristao narrowly lost to Belgium pair Schmit and Soquette 13-15 which pushed them into 3rd place and out of the competition and Dumoulin (BEL) & Potiez (BEL) defeated top Spanish pair Pablo Salvador Garnes and Josep Oliver Roig 15-14 to claim top spot and push their opponents to bottom place in the group.
The second UK pairing of Luke Thomson & Luke Stradwick came through second in their group and were rewarded with a quarter final tie against top seeds Klym & Polanco. The USA pair were too strong for the English duo and advanced to the semi-finals winning 15-4. After seeing off the experienced Belgium pairing of Dumoulin & Potiez the top seeds found themselves in the final. Their opponent, Dutch pairing Wassenaar (NED) and Steenstra (NED), had fought off their fellow countrymen 15-13 in the semi-finals to set up a repeat of their group stage game against the Americans. The final saw some long rallies taking place, with both sides feeling out their opponent. In the end the American’s used their accuracy and experience to overcome the Dutch pair and Klym & Polanco took the title 21-11.
Women’s Doubles Open
Nine pairs were in action on Sunday and the UK pairing of Briedenhann & Mills started well in the groups, beating two Spanish pairs before losing to top Dutch pair Scheffer & Van Der Veen to place them second in their group and through to the semi-finals. In the other group Dutch pair De Boer & Steenstra and Spanish pair Ana Belen Giner & Maria Jose Giner fought off the opposition to progress. Briedenhann & Mills came up against the other Dutch pair in the semi-finals and despite playing a great game, fell short to the Dutch girls on form and lost the match 8-15. The final would be an all Dutch affair after Scheffer & Van Der Veen saw off the Spanish pair in a fierce game which ended 15-12. The Women’s final was one of the longest matches of the weekend, with both teams cancelling each other out for long period. In the end Geke De Boar and partner Nelie Steenstra were victorious, winning the game 21-13.
Men’s B Doubles
Two English pairs were in the Men’s B draw and both managed to escape the group phase and reach the semi-finals. Penn Chai & Andrew Ibbetson were pitted against the strong Irish father/son combination of Brian & Eugene Kennedy which proved too much and lost the game 11-1.
Will Ellison & Gareth Price entertained the newly formed pairing of Romain Potrick (FRA) & Jelmer Siegersma (NED) but managed to win 11-9 to set up a thrilling final against the powerful Irish pair. The rugby fives duo used their fives experience to their advantage and managed to defeat the Irish pair 15-10 to win the Men’s B Doubles title and bring success to the UK team.
There were 6 pairs in the beginner’s grade and every pair played each other in the round-robin group stages, producing 15 fun and exciting games in total. The Loughborough student pair of Toto Odulaja & Kieran Wardman swept away the competition, winning all 5 of their games and were joined in the semi-finals by another Loughborough University pair Joni Michael Davies & Cameron Townson, veteran pair of Tony Hamilton & Dick Warner plus Belgian youngsters Bastien Dautrebande & Apolline Potiez.
Warner & Hamilton brushed aside the youngsters 11-3 in the semi-finals while the two Loughborough University pairs battled for bragging rights in the other semi-final. Odulaja & Wardman continued their winning streak, defeating their opponents 11-8 in a tense game followed by a number of spectators. Odulaja & Wardman’s winning streak continued into the final, seeing off Hamilton and Warner 15-10 to remain undefeated in the competition and take home the Beginner’s doubles title.
After 20 hours of play across 2 days and 226 games completed, the UK Open 2015 came to a close. Special thanks must go to Luke Stradwick, the primary organiser, the UK Wallball Board and the volunteers who made the tournament run to schedule over the weekend; to Merchant Taylors’ School who continue to allow us hold the event at their premises; to Ellie Price who designed the UK Open t-shirt; to Julie and Chris Thomson who helped organise the medals and lunches and continue to give their support year after year and finally to all the players and spectators who came together to make this year’s tournament a truly magnificent success and produced a great start to the European ProTour. Up next in the calendar is the French open! Thank you and see you next year!