Click on the thumbnail to see photos from the tournament
16/02/15: Having done the double in the mens and ladies universities tournaments back in October, Cambridge completed a clean sweep of this season's university competitions as Riki Houlden and Elana Osen came from behind to defeat James Tugwell and Harriet Asquith of UCL in a thrilling final at the mixed pairs tournament at Highgate yesterday.
Nine pairs from five different universities took part in the competition and all nine showed exactly how mixed fives should be played, with the high quality of the female players allowing no quarter to be asked or given in terms of on court play while at the same time retaining the sense of fun that makes mixed tournaments so enjoyable.
The nine pairs were initially split into two groups with two qualifiers to come from each; with three strong ante-post favourites (Cambridge, UCL and Liverpool) it was the Oxford pair of Rosie Parr and Sam Packer and the Cambridge captains Sophie Kelly and Saj Patel who drew the short straw of having to find their way past two of the seeded pairs in order to qualify. Riki Houlden and Elana Osen from Cambridge always had the group under control, defeating Liverpool's Alice Brett and Aroop Bhattacharya convincingly to take top spot, and the Liverpool pair had to fight hard to withstand a strong challenge from Parr and Packer to take the other qualifying place.
Asquith and Tugwell of UCL dominated the other group and it was left to the other four pairs to fight it out for the final semi-final place. Annie Cave and Alistair Stewart got close in all of their matches and were unlucky to find themselves without a win; Nottingham's Emily O'Malley and Cameron Most - a former schools' champion when at Highgate and back on court for the first time in four years - gave a good account of themselves as did the other Cambridge pair of Alex Rattan and Emma Sewart; but it was Fergus Imrie and Lucy Rands of Oxford who came through to take the runners-up spot and make it through into the semis.
The first semi was the Oxbridge clash between Houlden & Osen and Imrie & Rands. The Carthusian/Salopian Oxford pair always had their work cut out against the two Cambridge Old Westminsters and despite a good second game showing from the dark blues, Houlden's attacking shots and speed around the court plus Osen's consistent cutting and returning were enough to win in straight games.
The second semi-final looked a close battle on paper between UCL and Liverpool. Asquith and Tugwell got off to a flyer in the first game and won it convincingly 12-4. The second game was very different and Bhattacharya and Brett were ahead and in control for long periods, forcing mistakes from the UCL pair that weren't there in the first game. The UCL pair have the advantage of regular practice, however, something unavailable on Merseyside, and in the end this told as the Londoners clawed their way back to 9-9 before closing the game out in style to go through.
The first game of the final was an absolute classic; for the first time in the tournament Osen found an opponent able to more than match her at the set piece with Asquith returning cut superbly, giving Tugwell the opportunity to show off his range of attacking volleys and keep Houlden on the defensive. Cambridge closed from 9-11 to 11-11 but UCL took the brave option to go for sudden death and a nerveless cut from Tugwell was followed by a tremendous return and finish from Asquith to put UCL one game up.
The start of the second game showed that UCL had been at the limit of their game to take the first, as they were unable to repond to an increase in tempo, accuracy and intensity from the Cambridge pair, who raced into a 6-1 lead which they never relinquished, storming through the second game quickly to level the match. The differences from the first game to the second weren't huge but had a massive impact on the scoreboard - Elana began to get on top of the cut and return battle with Harriet and Riki began to get more on the front foot against James and the result was a greater number of errors from the UCL pair and winners from the Cambridge pair. Once Elana and Riki got on top they never relinquished their grip and the third game followed a similar pattern to the second with the Cambridge pair establishing an early lead and then holding on to the finish to deservedly take the title back to Cambridge for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 2011.
Bhattacharya and Brett claimed third place with a narrow play off win against the improving Imrie and Rands and the other Oxford pair of Parr and Packer took out their frustration at not qualifying for the kock out stages on the other pairs in the plate, defeating Rattan and Sewart 5-12, 12-5, 12-8 in an excellent Plate A final. Stewart and Cave also found their mojo in the afternoon, beating Nottingham (having lost to them in the group stages) and Cambridge rivals Patel and Kelly to claim Plate B.
EFA Chairman Richard Black arrived to present the trophies two minutes after the last ball of the day had been hit, thus missing out on seeing just how good the standard of Fives was throughout the competition.
Thanks go to Susy Prosser-Harries and Anthony Brunner at Highgate for hosting us and to all those who played in such splendid fashion, making it a day to remember. This really is the most delightful tournament and if you are eligible to play in it next year then you should really make the effort.
Cambridge (E.Osen & R.Houlden) beat Oxford (L.Rands & F.Imrie) 2-0 (12-2, 12-5)
UCL (H.Asquith & J.Tugwell) beat Liverpool (A.Brett & A.Bhattacharya) 2-0 (12-4, 12-9)
Cambridge (E.Osen & R.Houlden) beat UCL (H.Asquith & J.Tugwell) 2-1 (11-12, 12-6, 12-4)
Liverpool (A.Brett & A.Bhattacharya) beat Oxford (L.Rands & F.Imrie) 15-11
Oxford (R.Parr & S.Packer) beat Nottingham (E.O'Malley & C.Most) 15-13
Cambridge (E.Sewart & A.Rattan) beat Cambridge (S.Kelly & S.Patel) 15-13
Oxford (R.Parr & S.Packer) beat Cambridge (E.Sewart & A.Rattan) 2-1 (5-12, 12-5, 12-8)
1st - Cambridge (A.Cave & A.Stewart)
2nd - Nottingham (E.O'Malley & C.Most)
3rd - Cambridge (S.Kelly & S.Patel)