World Rackets Championship 2019
Two tight games saw the balance of power swap back and forth between Tom Billings and Alex Duncliffe-Vines, but it was Tom who closed out both to lead two games to love. Sadly, with Tom ahead in the third game, Alex suffered severe cramp in his playing arm and the match dramatically fell away from him, playing out a painful fourth game to trail love-four.
John Prenn announced the two contenders, Tom Billings and Alex Duncliffe-Vines in front of a packed Gallery at the Queen's Club. The match started cautiously, with both players understandably tentative in the early exchanges after months of preparation. Tom was playing with greater width, recovering the shots which Alex played into the tight angles.After four hands apiece, the score was still 2-2. A couple of penetrating serves from Alex saw him move ahead, albeit briefly. In the next hand, Tom came back strongly, playing solid Rackets reeling off seven points on his next hand to lead 9-4, the early breakthrough, including a magnificent rally. Alex broke the pattern and won a superb point of his own to reduce the deficit, but three more points saw Tom pull further ahead 12-5. But Alex wasn't beaten and played an outrageous winner to claim the serve and strung together his own run of six points to trail by a point. Both players now laboured to claim the first game, sharing points as they both inched closer. Tom had a chance at 14-13 but Alex played a deft shot to level again; Tom called a set to five. Winning back the service, Tom made the early running, 3-0. Alex pulled a point back but it was Tom who steadied to win the critical points on his next hand; 18/14, and the first, all-important game.
The second game saw more of the same with a closely fought few hands apiece seeing Alex marginally ahead 1-0. Tom struck back 4-1 and then 6-1. Now Alex rallied and took back the serve followed by six of his own points to re-establish a narrow 7-6 lead, which included a stunning overhead drop shot, played to perfection. Then a further two points from Alex gave him some breathing space at 9-6. But now Tom started moving Alex around the court more, won back the serve and four further points to lead 10-9. It was very close but both players slowly picked up points and despite another mesmerising overhead drop shot from Alex, it was Tom closing in 12-10, then 13-11, before Tom won the two more points needed, 15/11, and a two love lead.
There was a steely determination at the start of the third game which saw Alex take an early,but brief 3-0 lead. Tom rallied back to 4-3 immediately and then both players dug in. Alex was now playing with much variation to keep Tom guessing, but Tom made the decisive move and moved into the lead before Alex pulled up in obvious pain and called for an injury break. Sadly, he was unable to recover and struggled for the remainder of the game, bravely contesting to no avail as Tom closed out the game 15/3. There wasn't much Alex could do in the fourth, although he did stem the onrushing tide at 1-4. But Tom was steadily closing in, and Alex was increasingly unable to hold his racquet and the end was inevitable, with Tom finally winning 15/1.
Tom took a four love lead to Detroit and won the one necessary game 15/10 to become the next World Champion. Under the new procedures, the match was completed with Tom winning 15/10 15/10 15/14 15/2. Many congratulations to Tom Billings, the new Singles World Champion.
On Saturday afternoon Tom won the first and only game needed 15/10 to clinch the title having led 4-0 vs Alex Duncliffe-Vines after the first leg at Queens last Saturday.
A packed Detroit gallery eagerly anticipated this match aware of Alexâ€™s ability and previous come backs. Both players started tentatively experimenting with length and width on a cold Detroit court. At 5-5 it was anyoneâ€™s guess. Later on in the first game Tom started to serve more freely and place the ball deeper into the back corners and had an impressive run to distance himself to 14-10 and bring up championship point. Serving his recognizable double handed backhand from the right box he served one final ace and with that became World Champion.
At the prize giving NARA president, Michael McLernon congratulated Tom on his hard work and disciplined preparation for this title. Tom has been dominant in singles tournaments over the qualifying period and he is a well deserving champion. Alex should also be proud of where he has got to, there is no doubt we will be seeing Alex on this stage again in the future.
Special thanks must go to the entire team at the Detroit Racket Club for hosting a very memorable event.