Harrogate Table Tennis Association

There was a bumper entry for the annual Harrogate Closed Tournament at Rossett Sports Centre. Despite the prevailing weather conditions, the players were not deterred and by 8.30 the hall was thrumming with action and the metronomic sound of bat on ball across the twelve tables.

Tournament organiser Dale Ward reported a record entry for the morning’s competitions: the Handicap Singles, and the Handicap Doubles. In all, there were eleven events with the addition of the inaugural Over 80s event which featured some highly skilful play amongst the astonishingly fit and athletic octogenarians.

Handicap Singles

The Handicap Singles attracted 60 entrants drawn from across all divisions of the league and the handicapper had done a good job judging by the intensity of the battles and the number of three setters from the first round through to the Final. Richard Whiteley made his way through the draw giving away starts normally in the teens and met Bryan Birkbeck in the semi-finals where he had to concede three points start. He was edged out 20/21 in the first game but came back strongly to take the next two games to see him through to the final. But had he noticed what was happening in the other half of the draw? 14 year old Rohan Johar who only started playing the game seriously a year ago got the better of three sets against Adam Ridley in the first round and had stormed through to meet Richard in the Final. Many in Rohan’s situation would have been pleased just to make the Final but, with a 16 point start, he set about the match with steely resolve and skill. He possesses a thumping hit on both wings which must have surprised Richard who could not afford to concede any easy points. Having taken the first game 21/16, Rohan was now brimming with confidence and started to engage Richard in some breath-taking rallies which saw him across the winning line with points to spare as he took the Handicap singles title.

Handicap doubles

J Wright/R Jowsey bt J Walker/L Pocock

The first time partnership of Walker and Pocock reached the Final having made good progress by putting out two experienced doubles pairs and defeating last year’s winners in the semi-final. With four points start, they made no mistake in progressing into the final with several points in hand. Meanwhile, Joe Wright and Ryan Jowsey took advantage of knowing each other’s game well to reach the Final in the lower half of the draw with straight sets victories despite giving away quite substantial starts. The Final proved to be a sterner test. Pocock and Walker with a 12 point start took the first game before the more experienced Wright/Jowsey pair started to assert themselves eventually winning out with two games to 17.

Men’s Singles

The draw for the first round of the Men’s singles allowed the lower ranked players to gain some table time by working through a group of three. By the quarter finals, the higher ranked players had all come through with no upsets to now face sterner opposition. In a fluent and entertaining game, Nathan Taylor came back from two sets down to level with Bryan Birkbeck before Birkbeck found a little extra class to take the deciding game 11/6. Joe Wright conceded a game to Andy Whiteley but then struck back to move on to the semi-finals where the top seeds Richard Whiteley and Deo Jones duly took their places. The two semi-final matches contrasted quite distinctly with the vastly experienced Deo Jones having little difficulty in putting an end to Joe Wright’s hopes of taking a place in the final. In the top half of the draw, Richard Whiteley, who has had several memorable matches with Bryan Birkbeck, found that he was once again in a nip and tuck match with two deuce games along the way to a final game shoot out, from which Richard emerged victorious. As the day turned into evening, the decision had to be made to play the Final of the Men’s Singles on another night alongside the Division 1 Singles Finals at Ripley Star Club.

And so on a fine evening of table tennis for Harrogate Association, Richard Whiteley eventually confronted Deo Jones in the Men’s Singles Final (a repeat of last year’s final which had been won by Richard Whitleley). Both these players are a treat to watch from the spectator’s point of view. Their finely honed skills are matched with a wonderful playing style that is a model for players who aspire to operate at the top of local league table tennis. In yet another close match on an exceptionally busy evening for Whiteley, the match was evenly poised 2-2 after four games. Both players, preferring the rapier to the bludgeon, looked to have an impenetrable defence, but just occasionally Jones was able to force extraordinary angles with his left-handed strokes. In the end, this proved to be decisive as Deo Jones won the final game and took the title for the first time.

Women’s singles

Sarah Jackson won the women’s singles that was played in a round robin format.

Mixed Doubles

The mixed doubles was played to a conclusion at Ripley Star Club. Sarah Jackson and Richard Whiteley took on last year’s winners of this event Dale Ward and Joe Wright. Both men started in aggressive style with powerful loops and the Ward/Wright combination got the better of the exchanges to take the first game. But Jackson and Ward came back strongly to take the second game and then the crucial third game. Wright and Ward still had chances in the fourth but Richard Whitleley and Sarah Jackson weren’t to be denied and took the title.

U13

In this age category event, the final saw the clash between two rising stars on the Harrogate scene. Theo Kelly was an accomplished winner of the event demonstrating just how much he has developed in the past year, but Tom Barlow had a good tournament and is also one to watch for the future. Kelly bt Barlow 11/4,11/4,11/4.

U18

Sammy Kelly has made outstanding progress this year to claim some notable victories in division 1. In this event, he wasn’t seriously challenged

60+

Ricky Slack defeated Mike Pickering 11/7, 9/11, 11/6, 13/11. Yet again this event was contested by two well-known faces around the Harrogate first division. Last year Mike Pickering took the title but Ricky Slack took back the title this year after a tight match.

70+

Phil Kenny knows how to do things the hard way! Having conceded a two game lead in the first round to John Halbert he came back to win and then he repeated the trick in the final against Tony Lupton to take the title for the second year in a row.

80+

The inaugural event in this age category was played as a round robin event between Charles Usher, Dennis Oram and Brian Clarke. Great skill and energy was in evidence from all the players and there was a titanic battle between Charles and Dennis but Brian Clarke claimed the title.

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