Northumberland Table Tennis Closed Championship 10 February 2018
With records going back as far as 1931, the Northumberland Table Tennis Association’s annual Closed Tournament still continues to be a great success and this year’s tournament was absolutely no exception. Any player who is affiliated with a club in the Northumbria Table Tennis League is eligible to enter and, as per recent history, the event was held at The Sporting Club of Cramlington.
A separate tournament for junior players affiliated with local table tennis clubs or local schools will be held on Friday 16th February also at the Sporting Club of Cramlington. For more information, please visit the Northumbria County Table Tennis website listed at the end of this article.
The main event which every player is eligible to enter is the Open Singles. Players of all ages and abilities compete, without aid of a handicap, for the prestigious Alan Morpeth Memorial Cup. The top seeds were last year’s winner Andrew Wilkinson, Graeme Barella, Eddie Smith, Jim Stamas and Steve Penman. Notable absences Chun Yin Yu and Dave Robson, both of whom would have been seeded, have poor records in local tournament history and spectators were left to surmise that they would rather avoid the competition than face the ignominy of defeat.
For the most part, the script went to plan – the top four seeds all made it to the semi-finals and fifth seed Penman was put out in the quarters by Wilkinson in an enthralling five-set encounter which could’ve easily gone either way. In the last end in particular, Penman was up, but whether due to nerves or Wilkinson’s notorious fighting spirit, he just couldn’t sustain the pressure, allowing Wilkinson to sneak the win.
The biggest upset of the event however came in the following round when Eddie Smith beat Wilkinson 11-8 in the deciding end of their semi-final. Smith, who once reached the considerable heights of ranking 13th in Senior Men and 2nd Veteran Men in England is no stranger to tournament finals having won the Newcastle Open, Newcastle Grand Prix, Sunderland Masters veterans on three occasions and no less than twelve Northumberland Closed Tournament Open Singles titles. A colossal figure in north east table tennis at the peak of his career, his lack of practice and local league matchplay means his recent wins have been restricted to the Veterans category in the Closed tournament.
Wilkinson went 2-1 up and, despite not playing his best table tennis, looked to mostly be in control. All credit to Smith however as he kept battling and in the fourth end when Wilkinson took his foot off the pedal, the left-hander capitalised to earn a fairly comfortable 11-6 win. In the deciding end, Wilkinson mistimed a few too many forehands meaning Smith was able to keep the pressure on and even edge in front. At 9-8 down the number one seed called a time-out but it didn’t have the desired impact as Smith then won the next point to go to 10-8. This gave Smith the serve for match point, and he was able to take the win at the first time of asking, to somewhat muted applause from the crowd as an expected finalist bowed out early.
In the other half of the draw, Barella’s determination to regain the Alan Morpeth trophy was clear as he waltzed through assorted Premier division players without so much as dropping an end. In the quarter-finals he beat Paul Baines 3-0, then in the semi-finals he quickly dispatched number four seed Jim Stamas 11-7, 11-5 and 11-4.
In the final, Eddie Smith stopped the Sunderland-born player in his tracks by winning the first set 13-11. It was neck and neck all the way but Barella misread a couple of Smith’s notoriously tricky “lefty” serves and tentatively threw one too many forehands off the end of the table, giving his opponent the advantage. The second end started in a similarly nervous fashion, a recurrence of Barella’s 3-0 loss to Wilkinson in last year’s final possibly weighing on the player’s mind, but Smith made a few unforced errors and handed Barella the initiative. Smith switched on half-way through the end to retrieve a few points but Barella’s ability to read the game and control the play with excellent blocks and counter-loops was starting to come together, proving enough to win the end and tie the match at one set each. Once this end was won, Barella settled into the match and looked like a different player, coming out on top of the majority of some genuinely excellent rallies. The player’s form from earlier in the tournament returned and Smith had no answer, losing the next ends 11-4 and 11-7 respectively. This gave Barella a 3-1 victory, the Northumberland Closed Tournament Open Singles title and access to the Alan Morpeth trophy.
Despite a poor turn-out in the womens event, the Philomena Clark memorial trophy was still hotly-contested. In the end, Lynne Herrington’s style of close to the table control with short pimple rubber on her backhand gave her the title – though it was incredibly tight, as she won on countback. Linda Pinkham beat Lynsey Storey, Storey beat Herrington and Herrington beat Pinkham meaning the referees had the job of working out who had lost the fewest sets. As is commonplace in the women’s game, the matches mostly consisted of fast, flat, reactive table tennis with some brilliant rallies which often gravitated around Storey’s enjoyable to watch aggressive hitting style.
After a loss that would’ve hurt his pride, Andrew Wilkinson found himself with a chance for redemption as he battled his way to the finals of the Veterans event to once again face Eddie Smith. Wilkinson as the number one seed found some form and energy early on in the competition, beating Paul Baines in three straight sets in the semi-finals.
Smith on the other hand had a more challenging journey as he had to face age-old rival Steve Penman. Smith won the first end but Penman obliterated him in the second before capitulating to lose 3-1 overall.
A combination of Wilkinson’s return to form and desire for revenge was not what Smith would’ve wanted to face in the final, having played hours of table tennis already including a number of physically and mentally exhausting matches throughout the day. In the end these factors proved too much for the NESLC player and Wilkinson clinched two tight ends before cruising to victory in the third to win the Veterans title.
One of the best events of the day was undoubtedly the Handicap Singles event. Every season a team Handicap Cup competition runs in the Northumbria Winter League, but the singles event gives every player in the league the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. More able players will have lower handicaps meaning they will give a number of points as head-starts against weaker opponents. The Handicap Singles use the old table tennis rules, up to 21 points and best of 3 ends.
The lowest handicap players, the likes of the top seeds in the Open Singles event, often don’t enter the Handicap Singles to conserve energy – and because it can be incredibly difficult to win when they are giving opponents 18-point head-starts! This year was no different, with Jamie Lupton’s handicap of 27 being the lowest on display.
It was a family affair for the Luptons as Jamie found himself facing his father in just the second round of the competition. With a 14-point head-start however, it was always going to be a tough ask for Jamie as Dad Paul knows his game inside out. It proved too much of an ask and Lupton senior made his way through to the semi-final before being beaten by finalist Adam Hardiman.
On the other side of the draw, Adrian Barnes who plays a unique Korean Penhold style of play and possesses the highest possible handicap, worked his way up to the semi-finals in which he found himself matched against Sreeraag Kanakala with a 7-point head-start. Unfortunately for Barnes, Kanakala was in a rich vein of form and the 7 points simply weren’t enough.
The final of the event, between two Cramlington players in Kanakala and Hardiman, was one of the most enjoyable spectacles of the day. Just three points separated the two players with Kanakala having the advantage, and it’s a sure-fire sign that the league’s handicap system works when the end result was 18-21, 21-16, 21-18 in Kanakala’s favour. The two players’ styles complemented each other from the spectators’ perspective as balls were blasted back and returned with style on a regular and consistent basis.
In Band 1, Steve Penman had to beat Jamie Lupton twice as he faced him in both the group stages and the final of the event. Lupton plays the style of a retriever, backing off from the table and returning balls from a distance with a view to outlasting his opponent. Such a summary does him scant justice however as he is phenomenally talented at this, covering what feels to his opponents like miles of ground just to get the ball back on the table. As such he’s no easy ride and Penman did well to keep him at bay twice in a row.
Band 2’s Rod Roberts came into the event with some good results as he knocked experienced Premier player Jimmy Scope out of the Open Singles event, and then took an end off number four seed Jim Stamas. Unfortunately his form didn’t continue as his style clashed with Womens Singles winner Lynne Herrington in the semi-final. In the final Herrington faced Mohinder Rawat in an unusual encounter, Rawat’s off the table style causing difficulties for the Durham County player. In the end, despite a second set loss of 11-4, Rawat triumphed 3-1.
Handicap runner-up Adam Hardiman was the winner of Band 3 where he faced friend, fellow Cramlington club mate and University compatriot Blair Carmichael. After the pair knocked out Matfen duo Nigel Tree and John Henderson in the semi-finals, Hardiman kept his nerve to win 3-1, giving him both the title and the bragging rights over his friend.
Band 4 was an almost entirely Cramlington-only affair, excluding tournament assistant referee Nigel Coe who was unable to make it through the group stage. Sreeraag Kanakala once again found himself on the winners’ roster as he beat fellow Richard Williamson in three straight sets, the young player’s aggressive style proving too quick to deal with for Williamson who prefers a defensive approach.
In the final band, Band 5, Paul Lupton won a hard-fought victory over the experienced long pimple player Alan Hedley. Hedley stormed to a comfortable 2-0 lead but Lupton hung on and seemed to get more used to Hedley’s style as the match went on, eventually winning 11-8 in the deciding end. Hedley’s route to the final involved winning his group then beating Linda Pinkham in the semi-finals; Lupton also winning his group then beating Adrian Barnes to progress.
An absence of top players opened the Doubles event out this year, making it highly competitive. In this format, players are split into two pools – higher and lower ranked. One player from each pool is drawn out of a hat to determine the pairings.
Rob Reed and Phil Smith proved a challenging combination but they were undone in the semi-finals by the Matfen teammates Dave Swan and John Henderson. Both pimples players, the fortune of the draw certainly worked in their favour as they have played together in doubles matches on a number of occasions in the league.
At the other side of the draw, the event’s highest ranking player Jamie Dent combined with Aubrey Drapkin to make it through to the semi-finals but there they faced a tough combination of Dent’s Mount teammate David Cutler and Band 3 winner Adam Hardiman.
The tricky Matfen duo of Swan and Henderson won the first end of the final comfortably but once Cutler and Hardiman got used to their styles, they made short work of claiming the title, winning 6, 6 and 3.
Players of the Tournament
Although Graeme Barella faced and defeated the stiffest competition in the tournament, two names have appeared consistently throughout this report – Sreeraag Kanakala and Adam Hardiman.
Kanakala won both the Handicap Singles and the Band 4 event, whilst Hardiman won both the Band 3 and Doubles events whilst also finishing as runner-up in the Handicap. Both players displayed tremendous skill and sporting attitudes throughout the day and while there is no official award for it, they undoubtedly deserve to be informally appointed joint Players of the Tournament.
If you’re interested in starting to play table tennis, either socially or in the league, please visit www.nctt.co.uk for more information.