MARK JOHNSON REGAINS HIS HARD BAT CROWN
This popular event was held at the NSC on Wednesday 18th December. The 33 entrants used old fashioned hard bats making it a test of basic table tennis skills without the trickery of spinney rubber. As there were an exceptionally high number of younger and less experienced entrants the tournament organiser, Malcolm Lambert, decided to make it a handicap competition. This meant that the top seeds started each set at -3 whereas some of the youngsters were on +5 so they only had to score six points in order to win a game.
There was some grumbling from some of the elite players but the most of the ‘usual suspects’ still made it through to the knockout stages and our congratulations go to the eventual winner, Mark Johnson, who, not surprisingly, is a hard bat specialist. Johnson is a former winner of the Harold Wilcock Trophy and may well be playing with a -5 handicap next year.
In the preliminary round the players were split into six groups playing on a round robin basis over the best of three sets, with the group winners and the runners-up from groups A and B progressing to the knockout stages. Some of the players were quicker than others to adapt, so in the early stages many points were won by default rather than design. Encouraged by only having to win a few points to win a game the youngsters were happy to hit-out whereas some of the seniors had to play a war of attrition for fear of faulting.
Group A comprised of last year’s winner Will Bayley plus Sean Drewry, Ben Christian, Sophie Sheard and Sasha Thomas. Bayley (-3) may well have baulked at his handicap but take nothing away from young Sasha Sheard (+4) who played brilliantly to beat him 11/3, 11/1. Drewry (-2) won all his matches to top the group and Christian (+2) came second with three wins to make it to the knockout stage. Bayley barely avoided the wooden spoon, he beat first-timer Sophie Sheard (+5) 11/7, 11/9.
Group B included last year’s runner-up Malc Lewis (-1), Hadyn McLarney (-1), IOMTTA chairman Maggie Mulhern (+2), Pedro Cardoso (+2), Tom Noble (+5) and Jack Christian (+5). The highlights included two stunning wins for Lewis and Mulhern over the First Division’s McLarney who was forced into third place, as he could only beat Copy Shop’s Cardoso and the youngsters Noble and Christian who enjoyed a three set thriller in their own wooden spoon play-off where Noble ‘nobbled’ Christian 13/11, 6/11, 11/8. Lewis topped the group undefeated after beating his team-mate Mulhern who went through as the runner-up.
Group C pitted the former champion Mark Johnson (-3) against two other First Division players, Jane Kneale (-1) and Andy McLarney (0). Unfortunately, McLarney’s league form followed him into this competition and he failed to flourish. Kneale finished third in the group by beating McLarney, Henry Hyde (+2) and Kyle Dodd (+5). Nathan Evans (+3) exceeded expectation to finish second with straight sets wins over everyone bar Johnson who was the eventual competition winner. Hyde came fourth with two wins including a 12/10, 7/11, 13/11 nail-biter over Dodd who was delighted to disappoint McLarney.
Group D delivered the biggest shock of the evening as the Third Division’s Juan Moore (+3) remained undefeated after splendid wins over the top flight’s Liam Chan (-3) and Mike Bayley (-1) plus Maurice Campbell (+2) and Jo Walters (+4). Bayley beat Chan for second place and Campbell closed out Walters 13/11, 8/11, 11/9 to avoid bottom spot.
Group E saw the top seed Paul Corran (-3) finish third after shock defeats by the group winner Kevin Drewry (+3) and Steve Curtis (0) who had the closest finish of the night in his 12/10, 10/12, 13/11 marathon match against Corran. Steve Walters (+4) won two of his matches and Pat Halliwell (+3) avoided bottom spot by beating young Corin Haddock (+5).
Group F saw seven times winner John Magnall (-3) safely through to the knockout stage with wins over second placed David Lovelady (-1), Harry Walters (+5), Kitty Thomas (+5) and Keeran Chan ((+1) who finished in that order. The closest match was fought out by Lovelady and young Harry Walters which ended 9/11, 11/6, 11/9 in favour of the First Division player.
In the Quarter Finals Kevin Drewry overcome the hard hitting Ben Christian 11/8, 11/9. John Magnall pipped Maggie Mulhern 11/4, 13/11. Mark Johnson sentenced Kevin’s son, Sean Drewry, to an 11/7, 11/7 defeat and Malc Lewis outwitted Juan Moore 12/10, 11/9 in the closest encounter.
Johnson proved too strong for Magnall in the first semi final and he cruised to the final 11/6, 11/6. Kevin Drewry played some excellent attacking shots but lost to Lewis 11/6, 11/7 who found himself in his third final in this competition. Perhaps it would be third time lucky?
Ably assisted by Pat Halliwell and the chance to win chocolate money, Malcolm Lambert had enticed the youngsters to stay long enough to witness the final by organising some consolation competitions such as, ‘Round the World’ and ‘Hit a coin to win it’. Hence, the finalists were unusually well supported and they appreciated the support.
Mark Johnson dominated the first set in the best of five final winning 11/2, and this caused the crowd to shift their support towards Malc Lewis in an effort to encourage him on. To an extent this worked as he rallied well but lost the second set 11/6. Playing imperious hard bat table tennis, Johnson polished of Lewis 11/6 to lift the Harold Wilcock Trophy once again.
My thanks go to Maggie Mulhern for her invaluable advice on how to organise the event, Steve Curtis for his umpiring skills, Cadbury’s its ability to entice everybody including our oldest competitor, Pat Halliwell, who was delighted to be rewarded with the unclaimed chocolate.