The weekend saw the Open and Over 40 Racketball Finals staged at the Racquets Fitness Centre in Thame. Eight County teams, four in each final battled over two days to determine who would be crowned Champions in each category.
Holders Sussex, led by the experienced and talented Tim Vail took on new finalists and neighbours Surrey in the first semi-final and comfortably cruised past them 4-1. It was all square after the first 2 rubbers with Steve Wall giving Surrey the perfect start at 5th string beating Paul Chell 3-1. However in a long 3rd string match Michael Robinson just pipped Ben Hutton in the 5th to make it 1 all.
4th string Stephen Wykes then put Sussex 2-1 up beating James Simpson at 4 and captain Vail beat Neil Frankland 3-0 to put the holders through to Sunday’s Final. The other semi-final saw Devon take on Yorkshire. The south west team, runners up last season led, by Mike Harris, were just too strong for a workmanlike Yorkshire going through 4-1. The only winner for Yorkshire was Dominic Hamilton at 2nd string.
Sussex 4 Surrey 1
Devon 4 Yorkshire 1
Yorkshire had better luck in their Over 40 semi final versus Dorset. Led by David Lord they ran out 3-0 winners. The second semi between Warwickshire and Essex was much tighter. Patrick Osbourne in the crucial 3rd string spot got Essex got off to a flyer. A tough battle between the 2 number 1’s Pete Goodings and Andy Murray (not that one…) was eventually won by the midlander to draw Warwickshire level. Mike O’Brien held his nerve in the deciding 2nd string rubber to beat the experienced Mo Sawar 3-1 and put the Essex boys through to the final
Yorkshire 3 Dorset 1
Warwickshire 1 Essex 2
¾ Play Off.
Surrey were missing Jamie Matthews and had no reserve, so Yorkshire started the match 1 up Things went from bad to worse for the southerners as they lost the remaining rubbers, with only captain Neil Frankland getting a game, giving Yorkshire 3rd spot.
Surrey 0 Yorkshire 5
¾ Play Off.
Dorset lost the 3rd string rubber but came back level after another tight match involving Warwickshire’s Andy Murray, who this time lost in 5 to Paul Taylor. 3rd place was decided by the 2nd strings Neil Baldwin and Mike O’Brien with Baldwin winning it for Dorset.
Dorset 2 Warwickshire 1
A repeat of last years’ final stood at 1-1 after 2 rubbers, Matt Baker narrowly lost to the younger Stephen Wykes 3-2 at 5th string putting Sussex 1 up. Brandon Handley couldn’t further their lead though going down in straight games to the elegant Mike Gregory of Devon. The 4th string match was a toughie between two Ben’s Ben Rudsers from Devon and Ben Hutton of Sussex. It could have gone either way but Hutton prevailed to give Sussex an all-important lead in the tie. Devon’s no 1 string Mike Harris knew it would be an extremely tough task to over-turn 5 times National Champion Tim Vail and so it proved with Vail taking the match 3-0 retaining the title for Sussex and condemning Devon to second spot once again. Olly Pett also won for Sussex at 2nd string versus Dave Palmer.
Sussex 4 Devon 1
Patrick Osbourne gave Essex just the start they required in this 3 man Final, beating a tricky opponent in Yorkshire’s Janak Malkani 3-1 in the 3rd string match. Pete Goodings showed excellent reach and movement to overcome David Lord at 1st string 3-1 and in doing so clinched Essex’s first ever county racketball title. Neil Baldwin won for Essexin the 2nd string match with Mike O’Brien.
Yorkshire 1 Essex 2