Andrew Wilkinson retained the Alan Morpeth Memorial Cup this year as once again he won the Northumberland Closed tournament’s Open Singles event. His opponent in the final was second seed Graeme Barella, a rival from Sunderland who plays for Mount A in the Northumberland league. Recent league results between the pairing gave no real indication as to who the favourite might be with both players winning one apiece this season. Barella started strong, taking an early lead,and even had a game point to win the first end. Wilkinson wasn’t playing his finest table tennis to begin with but saving the game point seemed to give him a significant boost and he took the next two points to win the end and take a 1-0 lead. Wilkinson started off in great form in the second end, taking three consecutive points straight off the bat. Barella battled back in the middle part of the set and eventually had a 9-7 lead. The patterns of play were similar throughout the game with both players’ tactical outlooks shining through. Wilkinson wanted to get into backhand rallies, playing the modern punch shot deep into Barella’s orthodox backhand loop. At times this backfired as Barella’s backhand loop proved to have too much spin, making the timing difficult for Wilkinson’s punch but more often than not he found success. Barella tried to open up first at every possibility and bring his forehand loop to bear, playing it from every angle including deep into his own backhand corner. When he made a quality contact he could bet on winning the point but by trying to force his forehand into the rally he made more mistakes than usual and Wilkinson was often found waiting to block weaker attacks straight back down the opposite side of the court for a direct winner or at least to gain control of the rally. At 9-7 down, Wilkinson found a reserve of strength to take 4 points in a row and claim the second set. The third end started horribly for Barella as he found himself 5-1 down and at this point saw the need to call a timeout. He took himself into the corner of the court in an attempt to refocus his thoughts but upon returning to the game, lost the next point and got himself into even deeper trouble. From here it was relatively plain sailing for Wilkinson as he took the end 11-7 to win the match3-0, giving a belting cry of triumph as he crossed the finish line.
His route to the final however nearly didn’t go to plan. In the semi-final, Wilkinson played against top veteran and number 4 seed Eddie Smith. An age-old rivalry exists between the two players as Smith himself has won a significant number of titles in the county’s Closed tournaments across the years. Smith played some top quality table tennis to level the game up to 2 sets each and found himself 7-3 ahead in the final end. At this point Wilkinson called a timeout to stop the rot and upon returning to the table found himself winning the next point, and the next, until he levelled the points and then again to go one point into the lead at 8-7. Smith got back to level 8-8 but Wilkinson’s brilliant run of confidence and form took him through to win the end 11-8 and take the match to proceed to the final.
In the other semi-final, Graeme Barella beat university teammate and friend Chun Yin Yu by 3 games to 1. Barellatook the first end but Chun looked like he was his equal after he comfortably took the second. Barella proved his quality and held his nerve in the third and fourth ends though, winning with Yu taking 9 points and 7 respectively.
The resplendent Philomena Clark Cup was this year taken home by Old England Premier division player Lynne Herrington. The Ladies singles was played as a round robin group of 5 from which Herrington came out top. Lynne won the deciding match -9, 6, 6, 8 and it was division 1 player Kit Robinson from NECA B who took the runner-up position.
One of the day’s most impressive wins went to youngster Peter Smallcombe as he beat Jim Stamas in the Band 1 final. The game was free-flowing and great to watch with both players competing at a really high standard. Smallcombeopened up well but Stamas fought for every point, counter-looping the youngster’s forehands and blocking some would-be winners. Unfortunately the youngster was just too good on the day and Smallcombe took the win 3 ends to 1. Last year’s winner Steve Penman was knocked out by Smallcombe in the semi-final which was another brilliant game, going to 5 ends. Smallcombe found his nerve right at the end of the fifth and did just enough to crush Penman’s title aspirations.
The Band 2 final between Dave Cutler and Steve Dickinson was a brilliantly close encounter. Dickinson’s long pimples looked like they were the perfect counter to Cutler’s fast, snappy backhand drives but Cutler changed his game plan somewhat by starting to choose the right ball to attack and in doing so came from 2-1 behind to eventually win 13-11 in the fifth and final end.
Jamie Lupton who has had an unblemished run in division 3 for Brandon this season proved without question that he should be playing in a higher division when he beat division 1 player Kit Robinson 3-0. The up-and-coming youngster had a number of good games in the tournament including the notable scalp of league Chairman and Premier division player Gareth Pearson.
Lynsey Storey won a hard-fought battle against John Cook in the final of Band 4, coming back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the experienced player from Backspin who has barely dropped a game in division 4 of the Northumberland league.
In Band 5, newcomer Anna Sowerby overcame another topsy-turvy 5-end match against Jamie Hall. Sowerby lost the first set but won the next two only for Hall to level it up at 2 apiece. In the end, Sowerby’s fast attacking left-handed style was too strong for Hall’s retrieving game.
This year’s Closed tournament offered Andrew Wilkinson his first turn at competing in the Veteran singles event. Having beaten Dave Cutler in the semi-final, he found himself facing Eddie Smith for the second time that day. Smith beat close friend and former teammate Steve Penman 3-1 in his semi-final but having already lost to Wilkinson in a draining 5-end blinder in the Open singles, Smith just couldn’t get going in the final. Wilkinson took the first two ends but despite Smith clawing an end back, proved to be the stronger of the pairing, finally winning the match 3-1.
Northumberland league division 2 player Jamie Dent gave Anna Sowerby an eight point start in the Handicap singles final. Based on players’ performance in local league, the handicap event enables lower division players to compete equally with more experienced players. In this instance however Jamie Dent showed how well he’s playing at the moment, beating Anna despite her head start.
The other event played on the day was Scratch Doubles where players, again based on their gradings which are a reflection of local league performance, are split into an upper and lower band and then paired together at random. This format always produces some close games and this year’s event was no different. In the final, Lee Eadington (upper) and Paul Lupton (lower) beat Sam Bailey (upper) and Alan Hedley (lower).
A huge number of players and supporters turned up for the tournament despite horrendous weather conditions. Thank you to everyone who played, watched and umpired, special thanks to those who stayed at the end to clear up afterwards and ensure we finished on time. Special mention to the tournament Referees Nigel Coe and Aubrey Drapkin.