Division 1 Singles Finals Night

Last Wednesday an expectant crowd gathered at Ripley Star Club, everyone was there before 7pm and seats were quickly occupied. We had the players sat on one side of the table, umpire, referee and spectators on the other with even more sat on the stage, in all around 40 people – a great turn out for what was to be a great night of table tennis.

At 7pm the draw was made – it was unseeded and the 8 balls numbered 1 through to 8 were placed in the velvet bag and it was over to Mike Pickering and Paul Walker to make the draw.

And so, it began, as each ball was drawn the tension grew, who would have their favoured draw? Styles matter, Adam and Filip with their remarkable defences, Tim and Bryan all-out attack, Richard and his consistency and control, the all-round skills of Joe, Nathan and Sammy.

The draw was made, first out of the bag had choice of serve. Best of 7 games – a long night ahead.

Match 1:

Adam Ridley v Sammy Kelly

A tough draw for Sammy, first match on and a few nerves were clear for all to see. Adam started unbelievably well, Sammy was nervous and the first game went by in a flash, 11-1 to Adam. Second game, Sammy starting to get more involved, but Adam’s ability to retrieve was remarkable and although it went the way of Adam 11-9, it was actually never in doubt with Sammy taking points at the end as Adam relaxed. The third game, Sammy finding his best now and the backhand working well along with forehand loops with great angles to drive Adam back. 11-9 to Sammy, Adam leading 2-1 in games. Spurred into action, Adam stepped up a gear and with a mix of remarkable retrieves and fierce counter hitting he took the next two games, 11-5 and 11-8 and the match 4-1. Adam played really well and looked ready for the semi-final later in the evening. For Sammy, the match came too quickly and he couldn’t change his game to cope with Adam’s style of play, maybe next year he will have his revenge, he’s only going to get better.

Match 2:

Richard Whiteley v Filip Wojkowiak

This was the draw Richard feared the most. Filip having beaten Richard in the past with his incredible style of play – a defensive brick wall with quite unbelievable angles on the returns. It was going to be a tough match for both players and so it turned out. Richard took the first game 11-6, he managed to control the rallies and hit the winners at the right time – his backhand winning more than the forehand. Second game, a different story, Filip so clever with his defence and the angled returns outwitting Richard on several occasions. 11-7 to Filip, 1-1 the score. The third game, much the same as the second, Richard becoming frustrated, everything he did Filip repelled and then Filip started to dominate and ran out the winner 11-8.  It was going to be a long match, 2-1 Filip and it’s best of 7! The fourth game, Richard increased the intensity of play and dictated the play as in the first, many long rallies but the outcome was more often the same – point to Richard. He won the 4th 11-5 to make it 2-2. The next two games were close 11-9, 11-9 but it seemed Richard was always in control and Filip couldn’t find a way through, so 4-2 to Richard and a place in the semi-finals.

Match 3:

Joe Wright v Bryan Birkbeck

Ripley A teammates playing against each other. Would Joe, one of our most improved players in the past few years overcome Bryan, one of the most consistent and skilled players in Harrogate? In the first game Bryan started well, with Joe somewhat off his game allowing Bryan to take it 11-7. In the second, we saw Joe start to find his game and with clever serving and mix of shots he took the second 11-9 to level the match at 1-1. Bryan was not to be overawed and came back hard in the third game, some excellent hitting on both wings saw him comfortably take the third game 11-7, and a 2-1 lead. How would Joe respond, he really wanted to win this event and we saw this as the fourth game went his way 12-10. He wouldn’t give in and despite not playing at his very best and against an opponent he has admitted to struggling against, he fought back to 2-2. That was as good as it got for Joe, the next two games were dominated by Bryan, he seemed to control the points and was always ahead of Joe in the scoring, the ball beating Joe’s defences on several occasions. 11-5 and 11-9 the scores went to give Bryan the match 4-2.

Match 4:

Tim Simpson v Nathan Taylor

Maybe it was the long wait – over 90 minutes before they started – but it seemed to affect the players in different ways. Tim came out like an express train, on his game from the very start, Nathan the exact opposite, he really struggled to get going. The first game was over in minutes, 11-7 with Nathan picking up several points when Tim reached 10. Tim’s serve and powerful loops too much for Nathan. The second (11-4) and third (11-1) games were much the same and Tim was looking comfortable, enjoying the match and missing nothing. The fourth game showed the crowd glimpses of Nathan’s undoubted ability and he shared some superb points, winning several with controlled attack. The power of Tim was however too much and he took the game 11-7 and so the match 4-0.

[There was now a break for the Men’s Singles Final (held over from the Tournament) between Deo and Richard.]

Then we returned to Divisional Singles semi-final action. Each losing quarter finalist picked a ball from the velvet bag to achieve the draw:

Semi Final 1:

Bryan Birkbeck v Adam Ridley

A real question of styles, the all-round attack of Bryan against the resolute defence and counter attacking of Adam. For the first two games the power of Bryan came out on top, but only just, with the rallies of the highest quality, balls retrieved from way back from the table and often defying logic to those watching. So, Bryan 2-0 up in games, 11-8,11-8. What could Adam do to stem the flow? The third game another brutal one, plenty of long rallies, amazing returns, loops on both the backhand and forehand. This time Adam squeezed through 13-11 to make it 2-1 to Adam. He was back in the match! The fourth game, Bryan seemed to up the tempo and consolidated his position by taking it 11-7 and so into a 3-1 lead. The fifth game, Adam hit back, giving everything to try and take the game and prolong the match. It was a close game, neither player giving way, but Bryan had the luck and scrambled to the win 13-11 and a 4-1 result. Adam played really well and the 4-1 score doesn’t do him justice, but Bryan was playing at his best and was now through to the Final.

Semi Final 2:

Richard Whiteley v Tim Simpson

This was the big one – a tie worthy of the final – could Tim overcome Richard? He had only recently just lost to Richard in the league having led 2-0 and in the past two seasons it was one win a piece. It was a game nobody could call! Tim started like he played in his quarter final, he powered his way through the first game, his attacking forehand too much for Richard, and took it 11-8. He was focused and meant business, Richard was starting to look drained, having played an extra match against Deo. The second was a tremendous game of power with incredible attacking shots and controlled returns. The lead swung from one player to the other and somehow ended going in Tim’s favour 15-13. A 2-0 lead to Tim, surely his match for the taking? Was it a question of expending too much energy in the first two games or just the overall control and consistency of returning from Richard that went against Tim. Whatever the reason, Richard seemed to wrestle the initiative back and control the next four games winning them 11-8, 11-7,11-7,11-4 to take the match 4-2. A strange match in many ways because at 2-0 it looked as if Tim had the semi-final in his pocket and he was playing so well dominating the play. A change in play, tempo and subtle spins and suddenly Richard was back in it and through to the Final against Bryan

The Final

Richard Whiteley v Bryan Birkbeck

It had been a very long night and at 10.40 we started the Final – Bryan the fresher of the two players against a long time but tired Champion in Richard.

You wouldn’t have known it from the off. Richard raced through the first two games, 11-5, 11-7. Bryan’s game was below par and Richard controlled the rallies and with his serves took easy points to dominate both games. The third game, a change in fortune, Bryan starting to attack and get the angles to beat Richard’s defences, 11-9 to Bryan now 2-1 to Richard – match on! The fourth game, Richard stung into action not wanting the match to go the full distance, with controlled attacking play swept Bryan aside 11-3. Surely now at 3-1 the match was as good as over. Bryan had other ideas! In the fifth game he attacked and this time dominated the rallies and took the key points to take the game 11-6. A 3-2 lead to Richard, who was still favourite to win the match. The sixth game: Bryan again setting the place and attacking Richard at every opportunity with both backhand and forehand, he didn’t allow Richard to play with his usual control of the points, 11-9 to Bryan and for the first time in the evening we had 3-3 in games. It was fitting that at ten past eleven at night the Divisional Singles would be decided on the very last game. The momentum was with Bryan but the experience with Richard. On this occasion experience won out, Richard was never behind in the game controlling the rallies and taking the early key points to run out winner 11-5. The Divisional 1 Singles Champion 2018 by 4 games to 3: Richard Whiteley.

It was a great night of table tennis, played in a competitive but friendly spirit and all the players involved put on a great spectacle of table tennis that the spectators enjoyed. The winner on the night was Richard Whiteley, but in reality, Harrogate Table Tennis was the long-term winner.

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