23 champions crowned at National Racketball / Squash 57 Championships
Mark Fuller reports
Birmingham's Edgbaston Priory Club, the home of Racketball / Squash57 hosted the sport's 36th National Championships at the weekend.
240 players competed in 318 matches across 23 grades ranging from Under 13s through to Over 80s, making it the sport’s biggest tournament ever in terms of entries, categories and matches played. Squash 57 is the only sport ever to host a National Championships for such a wide range of ages over just one weekend.
The Over 50’s took centre stage as the most popular category, filling the full 32 draw and reflecting the successes of the age category in the domestic series throughout the year. It is the most popular grade of the UK-Racketball Series with Over 50’s competitions taking place right across the UK every month.
The matches did not disappoint with some fantastic encounters and upsets right from the start. Two in-form Series players, Dan Fernandez and Marc Thornley, were the events #1 and #2 seeds and both lost in early rounds which immediately opened the event up. In the end it was Mark Francis (Huddersfield) who capitalized, defeating Rob Hambrook (East Anglia) in the semi-finals and then Mervyn Davies (Shrewsbury) in the finals.
Five grades ran in the National Racketball/Squash57 junior competitions. The youngest competitors on the day took part in the Boy’s Under 13’s, Dylan Kalar was crowned Champion with his victory over Anthony West. The boy’s Under 19s was won by Marcus Tranter with a victory over Ollie Cartwright in the final. Marcus’s sister Jasmine Tranter completed the family double by taking the Girls Championship with victories over Anya and Meha Shah.
Duffield’s Lesley Sturgess maintained her amazing run of National titles which she started in 2007 in the Women’s Over 45s. Since then, she has won 13 titles and added two more to her collection this weekend with victories in the Over 55s against Siobhan Garland (Falmouth) and the Over 60s against Jo Robinson (Ebbisham). Bett Dryhust (Barnt Green) was once again victorious in the Women’s Over 70s taking her to 31 titles, a run that started back in 1985 when the tournament was into its second year.
It was the strongest field to date in the Women’s Open category. Three-time National champion Natalie Lawrence (Devon & Exeter) was defeated by up and coming Amber Marshall (Broxbourne) 11/6, 12/10, 11/4 in the first of the semi-finals. Local hero and last year’s Squash 57 champion Deon Saffery came through her semi-final against a determined Roxy Keshavarz (Brighton) in a long 3-0 encounter. Amber Marshall has enjoyed a great couple of years on the UK-Racketball Series winning the National Doubles title in 2018 and the East of England singles at the start of this year. This was her first final on the sport's biggest stage, and up against experienced and two-time winner Deon Saffery, this was always going to be tough. Marshall got progressively better and almost took the third but eventually lost out 11-9 in one of the highest quality games across any grade over the weekend. Deon Saffery claimed her third title without dropping a game throughout the competition.
The Men’s Open saw several crowd favorites make early exits. Joseph Blackmur the East of England Champion and 3/4 seed was defeated by pro Harry Falconer. In what was one of the most entertaining matches of the weekend, nine-time Nationals runner up, Ted Jeal was defeated by Chris Bently - the third game was critical going Bentley’s way 14-12. Squash legend and former World No.3 Simon Parke always draws a crowd. This was Parke’s first Racketball Nationals and he was great to watch. A tough draw gave him second seed Mike Harris in the quarter-finals and Parke was beaten by the better man on the day. Never one to give up, I’m sure we will see Parke back and looking for revenge against the man almost 20 years his junior.
The men’s final was a match that had been anticipated since before the first ball had been struck. Tim Vail, a ten-time National racketball champion was taking on two-time National Squash 57 champion Mike Harris. This was the first competitive meeting of the two champions and it was Vail who made the strong early start taking the first game 11-8. The start of the second was tight but at 5-5 some uncharacteristic errors from Vail allowed Harris to pull away and take the game 11-7. The third was tight and proved to be the tournament decider. It could have gone either way but Harris hung on to take it 11-9. Vail had thrown everything he had at the third and Harris was in no mood to let Vail back in. Harris stormed to a 11-2 victory in the fourth, landing him a well-deserved National title.
This was the biggest Racketball / Squash 57 Nationals ever. It was a fantastic weekend and a great advert for a sport that has a new energy behind it and what is increasingly looking like a very bright future.
HEAD National Racketball/Squash57 Championships 2019 champions
Men's Open – Mike Harris
Women’s Open – Deon Saffery
Men's Over 35s – Craig Chapell
Women’s Over 35s – Natalie Lawrence
Men's Over 40s – Richard Davies
Men's Over 45s – Mike Gregory
Women’s Over 45s – Larna West
Men's Over 50s – Mark Francis
Women’s Over 50s - Sue Gotham
Men's Over 55s – Neil Baldwin
Women’s Over 55s – Lesley Sturgess
Men's Over 60s – Mike Phillips
Women’s Over 60s – Lesley Sturgess
Men's Over 65s – Ian Graham
Women’s Over 65s – Rosemary Connell
Men's Over 70s – Rob Welton
Women’s Over 70s – Bett Dryhurst
Men's Over 75s – Adrian Groves
Men's Over 80s – John Bennett
Girl’s – Jasmine Tranter
Under 13s – Dylan Kalar
Under 15s – Ioan Sharpe
Under 17s – Ioan Sharpe
Under 19s Marcus Tranter