JACKSON RECLAIMS TITLE IN 1997 NEW ZEALAND OPEN CHAMPIONSHIPS
A special report for CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE
by New Zealand Correspondent Steve Jones
Auckland is the largest of New Zealand's 19 associations, and it was no
surprise to see a record entry of 72, including 31 in the Open (the
top grade or flight). After having to endure a cyclone on the opening
day, participants enjoyed excellent weather thereafter except for the odd
shower on finals day. Unfortunately, the lawn pace and surface at
Papatoetoe left a lot to be desired.
Despite the large entry, some
well known players were absent, including Aaron Westerby, John Prince,
Greg Bryant, Joe Hogan, Brian Wislang and (from the singles) Richard
Baker. Early casualties included Richard Baker (mangled fingers), Graham
Beale (crook back), Sonya Stephens (car accident) and Karl Haswell
(another bad back).
In the singles, Steve Jones was defending his title, won in
Christchurch last year, his main challengers looking to be Bob Jackson
and Paul Skinley. In the doubles, Richard Baker and Graham Beale were
also defending their title, with many good pairings in opposition,
including former winners Jones and Skinley in their farewell
performance as a doubles combination. Overseas players included the
evergreen Nelson Morrow and Jerry Guest from England (although both
have strong New Zealand ties) and Rich Lamm from the Denver Croquet
Club in the USA.
A FIRST FOR THE NZ OPEN - THE THREE-HOUR TIME LIMIT
The 1997 New Zealand Open Championships were held in Auckland from 11
to 18 January. The traditional format was used, with the Open singles
and doubles (the top flight, open to all grades) being played at
Manurewa and Papatoetoe clubs, and the A grade events (with a handicap
restriction of scratch - 2.5) being played at Pakuranga and Howick.
The format for the Open was seven sections (or blocks) of 4 and one section
of 3 (single games). The top 2 in each section progressed to the knockout
stage which was best-of-3 games, no time limit, while the
non-qualifiers played in the Heenan plate (section play, single
games). There were also "Y" and "Z" competitions (also best of 3) for
the losers (first round and second round respectively) of the knockout
part of the event. The doubles were played in two sections of 8, single
games with the section winners playing off in the final..
For the first time in the history of the NZ Open Championships, a
3-hour time limit was imposed in the section play of the Open and in
all the doubles games.
TIME BEFRIENDS SKINLEY/JONES DUO IN FINAL PAIRING
The tournament started with the doubles. Baker and Beale began as they
left off last year and made short work of their opponents to win their
section without a loss. Ian Dumergue and Tony Stephens were a strong
combination but succumbed to the only upset in the entire event at the
hands of Robert Lowe and Jerry Guest.
In the other section, Jones and
Skinley scratched their way through the field to contest the final,
making Lazarus look tame in comparison. Three times the unprecidented
time limit came to their rescue, not least in the final. With little
time left, Jones hit the last lift and went to the peg, levelling the
scores with Skinley and Baker, both on penult. Time was called just
before Baker missed his lift shot, leaving Jones the farcical
formality of pegging out for victory.
The A-grade event saw local player Laurie Edwards take out both the
singles and doubles titles.
ALL TOP SEEDS COME THROUGH TRUE TO FORM IN OPEN GRADE
In the Open, eight players were seeded in the following order: Paul
Skinley, Bob Jackson, Steve Jones, Tony Stephens, Graham Beale, Ian
Dumergue, Don Reyland, and Shane Davis. All the seeds progressed to
the knock-out stage, all except Reyland qualifying in 1st place. In
his section, Madeleine Hadwin was expected to get 4th but came out the
section winner. This was a good achievement considering her lack of
recent play, and her form contributed to the only real upset in section
play, which was the non-qualification of Toby Garrison, who had been
expected to do well in the event.
REYLAND ASKS FOR A TIGHTER HOOP, THEN STICKS IN IT
In the first round of the best of threes, all the matches except two
were completed in straight games. The first seed to fall was Reyland.
He had Jackson on toast in the first game, but came to grief after
peeling his partner at penult. After the peel, he noticed that the
hoop was loose and asked for it to be firmed up. After the referee
had taken the hoop out and replaced it tightly, Reyland proceeded to
stick in it and he never took croquet again in the match! The only
other seed to fall was Graham Beale, who went out to Steven Smith in
In the other three-game match, last year's A-grade champion Roger
Dunnet took the first game from Paul Skinley, who replied with two
triples. Jackson and Jones also recorded two triples in their games,
Jones with two perfect scores.
The quarters onwards were played on the comparatively perfect
Sonoma-Cutrer-like lawns of Manurewa and saw the top four seeds come
through. Jackson lost a game to his conqueror of last year, Ian
Dumergue, in an extraordinary match which ended up with the scoreline:
26-0 TP, 0-26 TP, 26-0 TP! Shane Davis took a game from Tony Stephens
in a delicately balanced match. In the first semi-final, Skinley beat
doubles partner, team mate, friend and rival Jones in a high quality
match in which every game was completed with a triple peel. In the
other semi, Jackson defeated Stephens in a three-game match in which all
triple peel attempts failed.
AN OLD CHAMPION ENGINEERS A POPULAR VICTORY ON HOME TURF
In the final, Jackson had all the motivation he could dream of.
Playing at his home club, he was keen to show the selectors that they
had erred in leaving him out of last year's MacRobertson team. He was
also attempting to equal Arthur Ross' record of 11 Open championship
wins. All this showed in the first game, when he romped away to a
26-1 win, though the triple peel eluded him.
The second game looked to be going the same way until Skinley hit a
shot and began exerting his influence on the match in a bid to regain
the title he last won 12 years ago. Then Jackson hit back and looked
certain to finish when he inexplicably missed a short return after
penult and ended up on baulk with Skinley due for a lift. Then it
looked a certainty for Skinley, but he too missed an easy shot,
sticking in 4-back from 6 inches. Jackson gratefully accepted the
gift to win 26-22 and take the title, and with it a share in the
Third place in the Open went to Jones, who scored an emphatic 26-0,
26-7 win over Stephens. The "Z" final was won by 1996 Sonoma-Cutrer
medalist Shane Davis with a good win over Ian Dumergue, 3-26, 26-9,
26-10, while the "Y" final went to Graham Beale (despite his back
problems) who beat Bulloch 26-9, 26-0. The Heenan plate was won by
Jerry Guest with an exciting 26-22 win over Graeme Roberts.
The format came in for some criticism by the players. Section play
with only two qualifiers meant that (this year) fifteen Open
championship entrants never played a best-of-three match. This
situation was not viewed as very progressive. Above all, the new time
limits drew widespread condemnation, and it seems unlikely that they
will remain in force in future years.
Special Correspondent Steve Jones is a frequent contributor to CROQUET WORLD
ONLINE MAGAZINE through his regularly-published
"New Zealand Report."