The Clacton and District League’s Closed Championships, sponsored for a 25th year by Paul Newbould Planning and Building Design Services, take place next weekend (Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th April) at the Clacton Coastal Academy Sports Hall. Sixty-seven players will be competing for twelve titles.
The Mens Singles has attracted a typically-strong entry of forty-two players. Reigning champion Colin Stallwood is top seed but he will have the toughest of tasks to make a fourth consecutive title, a feat achieved only once before in the League's history, this by the legendary Ken Gladwell back in the 1950s who did six years in a row.
Seventeen-year old Sam Hume, runner-up to Stallwood in both 2015 and 2016, will be more determined than ever to lift the Mens' crown for the first time, as will last year's beaten finalist Andy Warner, whilst in-form James Denyer, like Hume undefeated in the League this season, has every chance of repeating his success of four years ago.
Whilst it would be a surprise if one of these four players did not take the honours, there's plenty of talent in the rest of the field to cause an upset, with former champions Gary Young, Greg Green and Kevin Gowlett lurking in the wings, ready to pounce in the event of a slip-up by one of the top four.
Greg Green and Colin Stallwood dominated the Mens Doubles for three seasons in 2014, 2015 and 2016 but they were knocked off their perch last year by Paul Hume and Sam Hume and these two young men deservedly start as top seeds.
But, like the Mens Singles, there's a strong entry with Green and Stallwood, former title-holders James Denyer and Felipe Rodriguez and the experienced Andy Warner/Gary Young combination all in with a chance. Watch out, too, for the useful-looking pairings of Martin Hogg/Gavin Price and Kevin Gowlett/Oli Reynolds.
It's good to see 2011 champion Sue Welham back in Championship action in the Ladies Singles but it's sixteen-year old starlet Gracie Edwards who's the favourite to take her fourth consecutive title. Welham or twice-winner Annabelle Rodriguez pose the main threat.
Isabel Barton and Jenny Higgins caused an upset in the Ladies Doubles last year, repeating their equally-unexpected success of 2015. But they will have their work cut out to make it a third title, with the established partnerships of Cris Edwards/Gracie Edwards, winners in 2016, and Annabelle Rodriguez/Kayley Rodriguez, runners-up in the past two-seasons, both keen to take the honours. But, if there's going to be a surprise, look no further than the scratch pairing of Sue Welham/Sandie Krelle.
Andy Warner and Gracie Edwards defeated twice-champions Colin Stallwood and Annabelle Rodriguez in last season's Mixed Doubles final and the same pairings could well feature this year, with only the Greg Green/Sue Welham combination looking able to prevent it.
Sam Hume will face his stiffest test yet in the Junior Singles as he attempts to make it a fourth consecutive title, with Gracie Edwards, twice a runner-up to Hume in this event, his likely final opponent. But with the precocious talent of Daniel Young, Ethan Lloyd and Ollie Rampton in the mix, it will be no cake-walk for either of the top two seeds.
However the Junior Doubles looks more predictable and it would be a shock of seismic proportions if Sam Hume and Gracie Edwards failed to take the title. Ethan Lloyd and Scott Campbell are the number two seeds.
There's a high-class entry in the Veterans Singles where, last year, Gary Young excelled to take top spot. But he will be hard-pressed to repeat his success with former champions Colin Stallwood and Kevin Gowlett, and players of the calibre of Gary Cattermole, Mel Rampton and Kevin James, in the field of thirty-four.
The Super-Veterans Singles looks to be as open as any in the Championships and, with John Cleasby not defending his title, the winner will surely come from one of the top four seeds, Derek Willis, Kevin James, Colin Webber or Gavin Price - although Phil Smith and Martin Edwards might have something to say about that.
With no Jared Chelski in the Division Two Singles. there are three outstanding candidates for the title in the form of Daniel Young, Ollie Rampton and Mark Ratcliffe. But, in past seasons, this event has often proved an unhappy one for top seeds, so keep an eye on second-tier players Daryl Lott, Pawel Szemro and Sandie Krelle.
However, it would be a surprise if the Division Three Singles final was not between top seed Liam Harris and second seed Paul Metcalf, with Debra Found and Chris Jones predicted to reach the semi-finals.
There are ten Division One players among the twenty-five entrants in the Restricted Singles, an event in which there are no seedings. In the top half of the draw, one of Kevin James, Jason Lloyd or Paul Woolnough should make it to the final whilst, in the bottom half, last season's runner-up Oli Reynolds or Martin Edwards look to be the likeliest finalists.
Overall, there are 271 matches scheduled to be played over the two days. Play starts at 9.00 am on both Saturday and Sunday. The finals of the seven minor events are scheduled to take place from 4.00 pm onwards on Saturday, with the finals of the five major events starting at the same time on Sunday.
Admission to the Championships is free and spectators are welcome. Light refreshments will be available as usual. There will also be a raffle and any donations of prizes would be welcome.
Details of check-in times have been sent to all competitors. Any player who has not received this information should contact Peter White (Tel : 01255 425292).