Manchester Gold Racquet 2014

26 Oct 2014

Will Hopton wins the MGR; Nick James & Ben Snell take the doubles


The 2014 Gold Racquet was the first Rackets Tournament to be held in the United Kingdom since the introduction of the new World Championship Procedures and the designation of the MGR as a Tier 2 Qualifying Tournament. Unsurprisingly, it attracted a strong field. Will Hopton and Alex Titchener-Barrett were seeded to renew their rivalry in the Singles final; and the current holders of the Open Doubles title, Alex Titchener-Barrett & Christian Portz, were seeded to meet Nick James and Ben Snell, last season’s winners of the Open and the current holders of the MGR Doubles.

The semi-finals of the Singles and Doubles took place on Saturday. The first match was a re-run of the 2013 Singles Final between Will Hopton & Christian Portz, with Will seeking to avenge last year’s defeat. Will had the upper hand for most of the match, which he won in straight games 15/5 15/9 16/13.

In the other Singles semi-final, Alex Titchener-Barrett met Richard Owen. Though Richard played well, moving forward and striking the ball with seemingly effortless timing, Alex always had the edge, moving smoothly from 8-7 to take the first game 15/7. In the second game, Alex advanced to 8-5, but a good service run from Richard put him in the lead 9-8. But Titchener-Barrett held off this challenge, allowing Owen just two more points before taking the game 15/11. Alex started the third game strongly moving to an early lead of 7-1. Richard fought back, getting within a single point of his opponent at 10-9. But Alex accelerated away, allowing Richard just one more point before taking the match 15/7 15/11 15/10.

Top seeds, James & Snell won their first two games against Owen & Shenkman with considerable ease. But they had to work much harder in the third. With Owen playing with power and panache and with Shenkman rolling back the years, relishing a role at the front of the court and mixing drop shots and angles with great skill and aplomb, the Manchester pair gave their opponents a good run for their money. But James & Snell nonetheless took the match 15/2 15/1 15/10.

The other semi-final followed a similar pattern. Second seeds, Alex Titchener-Barrett & Christian Portz won the first two games against Alex Duncliffe-Vines & George Sandbach fairly easily, racing to 14-1 in the first game before their opponents recovered somewhat with a four-point service run. But they then closed out the game 15/4; and took the second game even more comfortably 15/2. But the third game was closer, with some good play all round, though Titchener-Barrett & Portz eventually secured victory to take the match 15/4 15/2 15/9. Duncliffe-Vines played the shot of the tournament during the course of this match, crashing a high volley down with great power into the angle just above the board. He is a young player with considerable promise, currently based in Manchester.

The finals saw the inevitably meeting between the top seeds, Will Hopton and Alex Titchener-Barrett. Hopton took early command of the game. He advanced to 7-1, mainly owing to a number of errors from Titchener-Barrett and then to 8-1 with a fine volleyed interception down the left-hand wall. At 9-1, Alex eventually got in hand again after a fine rally finishing with a hard, tight stroke down the left-hand wall. But his opponent responded at once by taking back the serve and increasing his lead to 11-1. Unforced errors on both sides then saw Titchener-Barrett getting back in hand and taking the score to 11-2 before losing service once again. Hopton took advantage of the service, advancing to 13-2, first with a boasted shot from the back right-hand corner across the court to the left-hand wall and then with a fine back-hand stroke from the left of the court to a perfect length down the right-hand wall. Alex then athletically covered a wide Hopton service from the left which struck the door, but was unable to repeat the feat thus giving Will game-ball. A short return of service was then put away by Hopton with a ferocious forehand down the left from the centre of the court to give him the first game 15/2.

Hopton took an early 3-0 lead in the second game only to have it pegged back and overtaken by Titchener-Barrett who was putting his opponent under pressure by hitting the ball hard and low. But, with the score 7-4 in his favour, he lost the serve and then suffered a stroke of ill-luck when the ball hit the door, giving Will the point. Hopton then levelled the scores with two good, wide serves before being put out once again, allowing Titchener-Barrett to get back into the lead at 8-7. With service frequently changing hands, Will took back the lead, increasing it to 10-8, only to see Alex overtake him once again by dint of an efficient kill followed by an ace service and a fine shot to a length down the left-hand wall. But then a mishit at 11-10 let his opponent back in; and Will finished off the game with some tight, accurate serving and a couple of excellent kills to take the score to 15/11.

Alex moved to an early lead of 3-0 in the third game, extending it to 8-2, moving forward whenever he could and putting his opponent under pressure by the severity of his stroke-play. Will then regained the serve with a winning shot just above the board and dominated the rally which followed before finishing it off with a shot down the right-hand wall, reducing his opponent’s lead  to 8-3. But another good rally saw Alex retake the serve with a similar stroke down the right-hand side. After several further changes of service, Alex got back in hand, and a fifteen-stroke rally, with both players attacking and retrieving, ended with Alex taking the point to lead 10-3. The next point saw Alex take a tumble after an unintentional collision with his opponent; but no harm was done, and, after a let, play continued with Alex retaining the advantage and taking his lead to 12-3 wrong-footing Will with a ferocious backhand kill down the right. But Will got back in hand after a good rally and started to hit to a better length, taking four successive points before being put out by a ball which Will clearly thought was down. But he promptly re-took service and reduced his opponent’s lead to 12-6. Alex then took the score to 13-6 before unaccountably missing a backhand so as to let Will back in once again. A mishit gave him the next point; and a bad bounce off the door presented him with another in the next rally. A heavily cut forehand serve from the right came round the walls so widely that Alex was unable to cover it; and he then hit down at the end of the next three rallies, reducing his lead to a single point at 13-12. But he regained service after a seventeen-stroke rally when Will eventually put the ball down; and, after another good exchange, hit the ball hard down the left-hand side so that it came off the back of the court tight to the side wall and just slipped away from Will as he chased and swung at it to no avail. This gave Alex game ball at 14-12. Another good rally ended with a let, followed by a fault, with Will eventually taking the point by putting the ball down the left-hand wall with Alex out of position. But he could not hold his service and after yet another long rally a shot from Alex down the left-hand wall was just too tight for him. This gave Alex game ball 14-12 for the second time, which he took advantage of by hitting a hard service from the right, coming sharply across Will’s body, which he was unable to return: 15/12 to Titchener-Barrett.

Initially, service changed hands several times, with neither player able to establish a lead. But Hopton eventually regained service at one all with a fine volleyed return and took the next two points with the benefit of a mishit and what appeared to be a momentary loss of concentration on his opponent’s part as he put the ball down. At 3-1 Hopton turned on the ball on the back-hand side, driving it hard and low to the front right-hand corner to win the point and take him to 4-1, following this up by putting the ball away just over the wood on the right hand side after a good piece of retrieving by Titchener-Barrett. More fine retrieving by Hopton was to no avail as his opponent put the ball away to regain service. In the next rally, Will played a tight drop shot which Alex was able to return but was pulled too far out of position in doing so, giving Will the opportunity to play a simple winner. Some extraordinary retrieving by Will in response to some hard-hitting by his opponent then took his lead to 6-1. But fine play by Alex saw him regain service. A photograph taken at this point in the game shows him making a perfectly balanced forehand stroke from in front of the short-line. Will then regained service at 6-2, advancing to 7/2 with another drop shot to the right-hand corner, dragging Alex out of position, and following it up with a service which was too good for his opponent to return. More good play followed, with Alex getting forward once again, but unable to put the ball away to close out the point. With a lead of 9/2, Will got back in hand with a drop shot from the back of the court, and repeated the tactic with another drop from near the front of the court to go to 10/2. But Alex clawed his way back into the game, reducing Will’s lead to 10/5. Then Will, in turn, had a run of four points with some good tight serving and yet another drop shot to give him game and match ball at 14/5. Yet Alex did not give up easily. A fine, low return saw him back in hand; but he immediately lost service once again without advancing his score, though he might have taken a let before losing the point. Yet another good return then saw him reclaim service; and this time he won the next point by taking the ball early with Will out of position. But Will then got back in hand and won the game and the match with an ace service: 15/2 15/11 12/15 15/6.

The match lasted a little under two hours, with much excellent Rackets. Neither player was able to put the ball away with any consistency on the lively Manchester court; and both made the occasional unforced error. Titchener-Barrett was at his best when moving forward and demonstrating his ability to strike the ball cleanly and forcefully. But Hopton thoroughly deserved his win, drawing upon his remarkable powers of retrieval, varying his service, using the angles and mixing in some well-judged drop shots in the final game.

The Doubles final saw James & Snell built up a formidable lead until their opponents got in hand at 11-2 and clawed their way back to 11-6. After putting out their opponents without scoring, they then reduced the lead still further to 11-9. But James & Snell could not be denied and, having regained service, closed out the game 15/9.

At the start of the second game, service then changed hands several times before some good play from Snell allowed him and his partner to move to a lead of 3-1. But Alex & Christian fought back and took the score to three all by dint of some good serving by Alex; and Christian increased this to 4-3 after an excellent rally ending when Ben put the ball down. Nick’s next return of serve was, however, too good for Christian; and he and Ben overtook their opponents to take the score to 7-4. At this stage of the match, they were playing admirable doubles, covering for each other, changing position as required, and moving forward to take the ball early. Thereafter, it was one-way traffic, with James and Snell always looking the better pair against opponents who were struggling to find their best form. Some fine defending by both players against several Titchener-Barrett thunderbolts launched from the front of the court took the score to 11-4; and a somewhat casual mishit by Portz followed by a wicked service from Snell increased their lead to 13-4. Another error by their opponents then took them to game ball; but Snell in turn put one down from the back of the court to let Alex and Christian back in once again. With Titchener-Barrett serving from the right to James in the back-hand court, there followed a rally which exemplified the quality of the James’ & Snell’s doubles play. James took the serve on the volley, returning it to Titchener-Barrett’s forehand with which he sent it round the walls across from the forehand corner to where James was positioned. He took it on the forehand from near the left-hand side-wall, following it up with a back-hand stroke from a position somewhat further forward and slightly further away from the side-wall. He then moved towards the centre of the court in order to give Portz a fair sight of the ball, whereupon Snell moved across to the back-hand corner to cover for his partner, putting him in an ideal position to return Portz’s firm stroke to that same corner. When Titchener-Barrett then played it short to the forehand, Snell raced across to return it whilst his partner covered the back of the court, winning the point when Portz failed to get it back. Portz then held his own service, reducing the deficit by a point. But James & Snell got back in hand after another, splendid rally; and Snell finished off the game with a fine kill. So the second game went to James & Snell 15/5.

At first, it looked as if the third game was going to follow the same pattern as the others with James & Snell racing into an eight love lead. Titchener-Barrett and Portz then reduced the lead to 8-5 before more admirable doubles play from their opponents took the score to 13-5, with James & Snell switching positions in the rally to win the point and take them within a whisker of victory. But some fine serving by Titchener-Barrett took him & his partner to within a point of their opponents at 13-12 before they were put out after some solid defensive play by James. But James & Snell were unable to capitalise on service and were put out once again after James put down a fairly easy return of service and made a similar error after an excellent rally on his partner’s service. Alex and Christian then levelled the scores at 13 all. But that was the end of their resurgent challenge. Their opponents elected to set the game to five and immediately regained service as James intercepted the ball and put it away cross-court into the side-wall nick. Some fine serving by James then took him and his partner safely home to win the third game and the match 15/9 15/5 18/13.

The prize-giving followed shortly afterwards, with Will Hopton receiving the Gold Racquet Trophy, formerly the Manchester-Liverpool Rackets Challenge Vase, for his victory in the Singles, and with various other prizes and memorabilia being presented to the winners and runners-up.

Full results below at the link below

Full Results

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