Click on the thumbnail to see photos from the tournament
The Jesters Universities Mixed pairs tournament is a fairly recent addition to the Fives calendar, created in 2011 by Elli Hullis, and this, the fourth edition of the event, really saw it come of age. Twelve pairs from a wide range of Universities - Oxford, Cambridge, BPP, University of Law, Aberystwyth, Cardiff, Liverpool, UCL, Imperial, Nottingham and Warwick - made it to Highgate for an exciting and entertaining day of Fives, with a large number of tight and tense matches and a final win for London Law Schools' Alex Constantine and Karen Hird against Oxford's Jack Flowers and Alice Walker.
Right from the start of the competition, the largest and strongest field ever assembled for the Universities mixed competition were involved in a series of tight finishes. With two groups of six and only two qualifiers from each for the semi-finals, the stakes were high and the first surprise came early on with a 12-11 win for Adam Morris and Elen Murphy of the University of Wales over their fellow Old Salopians Jack Flowers and Alice Walker of Oxford. With other strong contenders in the group, Oxford had some ground to make up; this they managed to do with good wins against Aroop Bhattacharya and Alice Brett of Liverpool and Andrew Ibbotson and Harriet Asquith of UCL. After their blistering start, the Welsh pair were feeling the weight of a nation's expectations bearing down on their shoulders and were unable to overcome the Liverpool or UCL pairs, leaving Oxford and Liverpool to qualify in first and second, with UCL2 and Wales in third and fourth. Oxford's third pair of Sacha Mehta and Scarlett Maguire were tough opponents for everyone in the group without quite being able to clinch victory, apart from their win over Warwick's Dmitri Seymour-Howell and Katie Shanahan, who fought hard and improved throughout the group stages.
The other group had a clearer hierarchy with fewer surprise results, but that is not to say that the top pairs had it all their own way. The London Law Schools pair of ladies champion Karen Hird and Zuozer Alex Constantine (formerly Cybulski and back in the game after a two year break), topped the group with five wins from five but had to come from 9-6 down, with the help of a couple of crucial ledges, to beat UCL1 (James Tugwell and Issy Barber). The UCL pair themselves were pushed all the way by Cambridge's Jack Weller and Elana Osen and Oxford 2 (Fergus Imrie and Lucy Rands) and those two pairs took third and fourth behind the London pairs. A third London pair - Imperial's George Shillam and Sarah Greasley - and Nottingham's Josh Butler and Emily O'Malley completed the field and put in some good performances.
The afternoon semi-finals (in the main competition and the mini tournaments to decide 5th-8th and 9th-12th) continued the theme of close exciting matches. The standard of the ladies Fives across all of the courts was particularly noticeable: in every single court the girls were raising their game - a requirement when using the Wiseman mixed rule, which allows the man only one serve per hand - and meeting the challenge of Mixed Fives head on, which made the matches all the more enthralling.
In the main competition, it was the two runner-up pairs from the morning's groups who made the best starts: Aroop Bhattacharya, back on home turf, and Alice Brett played some scintillating Fives to take the first game 13-11 against favourites Constantine and Hird while in the other court UCL's Tugwell and Barber outplayed Oxford's Flowers and Walker to win 12-8 and go one up. The Law Schools pair responded immediately with Alex cutting out some of the errors that cost them the first game and Karen managing to assert herself against Alice, despite the Salopian's best efforts. Once on top, the Law Schools pair never looked like relinquishing control and won the next two games to 5 to claim their spot in the final. The other semi-final was an absolute classic. Oxford turned the tables in the second game to win 12-9 and level the contest. The decider was a terrific advert for mixed Fives, with all four players involved in a game of hard hitting, fast volleying and scrambling defence. Inevitably it went to 10-10, then 12-12 and sudden death. In the end it was the Oxford pair who won the crucial final point, although this was a classic case of a match that could have gone the other way just as easily.
The physical and emotional effort involved in winning such a tense encounter inevitably took its toll on Jack and Alice and with Alex and Karen continuing where they had left off at the end of their semi, the final was a little bit of an anti-climax, resulting in a comfortable and deserved win for the Law Schools pair.
Further down the field, the other afternoon matches were no less intense. To claim fifth spot, Cambridge's Weller and Osen had to win epic matches against Morris and Murphy of Wales (12-5, 9-12, 12-10) and then UCL2's Ibbotson and Asquith (11-12, 12-11, 12-9). Oxford 3 pipped Imperial to claim 9th and the wooden spoon battle between former Olavian team mates Emily O'Malley and Katie Shanahan was won by Emily for Nottingham. It was great to see them both playing and also to see their partners - Josh Butler, who learned his Fives at Westway, and Ipswichian Dmitri Seymour-Howell - back on court and playing so well.
My thanks go to everyone who came to play, especially those who travelled such long distances, to EFA Chairman Richard Black for coming to watch (at both Eton and Highgate - he got the right venue eventually!), to Susy Prosser-Harris, Anthony Brunner and everyone at Highgate for hosting us, to Abhishek Bhattacharya for being taxi driver, coach, tournament doctor, motivator, cheerleader, lunch provider, and crowd and to the Jesters for sponsoring the tournament.
London Law Schools (A.Constantine & K.Hird) beat Liverpool (A.Bhattacharya & A.Brett) 2-1 (11-13, 12-5, 12-5)
Oxford 1 (J.Flowers & A.Walker) beat UCL 1 (J.Tugwell & I.Barber) 2-1 (8-12, 12-9, 13-12)
London Law Schools beat Oxford 1 2-0 (12-3, 12-5)
Cambridge (J.Weller & E.Osen) beat UCL 2 (A.Ibbetson & H.Asquith) 2-1 (11-12, 12-11, 12-9)
Wales (A.Morris & E.Murphy) beat Oxford 2 (F.Imrie & L.Rands) 15-13
Oxford 3 (S.Mehta & S.Maguire) beat Imperial (G.Shillam & S.Greasley) 2-0
Nottingham (J.Butler & E.O'Malley) beat Warwick (D.Seymour-Howell & K.Shanahan) 2-0