The Midlands Tournament, known as the ‘4th major’ in the adult fives calendar, took place on the weekend of 31st Oct/1st Nov at Repton. Cambridge 1st pair Riki Houlden and Tony Barker were there representing the light blues, with strong hopes of success after being seeded 3rd in the tournament, and the top six seeds being seen to have a good chance at claiming the prize.
With players ranging from 12-70 and from novice to expert, the Saturday group stages were designed to provide a more social day of play, and saw the Cambridge pair safely pass through to the tougher challenges of the knockout rounds on Sunday.
The last 16 caused no upsets, with all 8 seeds making it through in straight games. However, while all other pairs dropped between 5 and 15 points to their opponents, the Cambridge pair demonstrated their hunger for the title with a ruthless 12-0, 12-0 whitewash.
In the quarters, Barker and Houlden were up against the 6th seeds, a Berkhamsted coach/old boy pairing of Doug Foster and Charles Holyroyd. Cambridge took the first game comfortably, but had a second game blip as their opposition changed their style of play and turned things up a notch. The Cambridge pair regrouped mentally after the second, and after discussing a few strategical changes went on to defeat the Berkhamsted pair 12-5, 5-12, 12-4.
The semi final was a belter, with the canny Howard Wiseman (a professional coach and Kinnaird Cup winner) and his latest Olavian protégé Tom Gallagher (U16 Nationals winner) narrowly getting past the Cambridge pair in a long and hotly contested first game 12-10. In the second game, Riki displayed some outrageous retrieval sliding around at the back of the court, while Tony claimed the points through his fierce volleying at the front, attracting a large crowd that “Oohed” and “Aahed” away. As the match went on, Tony and Riki began to take control of the set piece as well as continuing to apply pressure during the rallies, giving them solid 12-4 and 12-6 wins over the 2nd seeds in the following games and earning them a place in the final of this major tournament.
The quality of play stealing the entire crowd away from the neighbouring semi final.
The final was played late in the day against 1st seeds David Mew and Andrew Rennie; the fog rolling in to give an ominous backdrop. The first game was a terrific contest, with thrills, spills, and some spectacular attacking play and glorious winners from all four players. Barker and Houlden generally held the edge throughout the first game to reach step (game ball) first, at 11-8. Mew and Rennie fought back to 11-10, but to no avail as the Cambridge pair closed out the game 12-10. With the damage they had done in the first, they established a commanding early lead in the second. From then on they tightened their grip on the set piece once again and began to force more errors from the gloves of Mew and Rennie to win the second game, and so the tournament, a convincing 12-4.
This was a fine performance from Tony and Riki, who played their best fives yet and in the strongest turnout the tournament had seen for many years. The Midlands title marks an impressive addition to their achievements as a pair over the last 13 months, having also won the Universities and U21 titles, as well as reaching the Kinnaird (National) Quarter Finals.