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BRITISH LOOK INVINCIBLE
AFTER THIRD DAY, WITH 10-1 LEAD
by Bob Alman


On the third day of the Solomon Trophy matches in Thousand Oaks, California, the American team of Don Fournier and John Taves posted the first match win for the outclassed yanks in their doubles match against Ian Burridge and David Openshaw.

In the first three days, the Americans have won only 10 of the 44 games played and only one of the eleven matches. There is little doubt that Thursday - the second and final singles day - will see the Brits win the Solomon Trophy once again, as they have done each time the test has been held.

Wednesday's play, however, held out hope for more match wins for the Americans, as a closer examination of the statistics show that on this day, more than half the games were won with triples and more than half those triples were completed by Americans. It was the first time in international team play that Americans have ever equalled the British in this critical measure of top-level play. And on Wednesday, the Americans won five of the 12 games played - twice as many games as on the first two days combined.

The 21-match test is organized for doubles on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and singles on Tuesday and Thursday. Doubles are all-play-all for three teams on each side, a total of 9 matches. The 12 singles matches are played in three tiers, according to the "team order" established on opening day, ranking each team from #1 through #6 The #1 and #2 ranked of each team play the #1 and #2 of the opposing team, the #3's and #4's play each other, and the #5's and #6's.

Ranking of the teams by the captains on the opening day need not be in accordance with world or national ranking, or even recent performance. The captains are given substantial leeway in ranking according to "current playing form" and other subjective measures. The captains' ranking for the 1997 Solomon teams in singles were:

BRITISH TEAM ORDER
1. Robert Fulford
2. Chris Clarke
3. Steve Comish
4. Ian Burridge
5. David Openshaw
6. Mark Avery
AMERICAN TEAM ORDER
1. John Taves
2. Jerry Stark
3. Wayne Rodoni
4. Mik Mehas
5. Don Fournier, Jr.
6. Phil Arnold

There will be more games in the 1997 Solomon Trophy than ever before in the past. Arriving last weekend, seeing excellent playing condition on easy lawns, both teams decided to play best-of-five matches in doubles instead of the customary best-of-three matches. Seeing the games going so quickly, the teams decided to play best-of-five matches in singles also. This is the first time an American team has played best-of-five matches, though they are quite common in the Commonwealth countries, who sometimes go so far as to mount best-of-seven events.

The test has produced only one continued match, a 2/2 standoff between Rodoni/Mehas and Burridge/Openshaw that gave the American team a spark of hope on the opening day. The match will be completed whenever it can be fit into the playing schedule.

JOURNALISTS OUTNUMBER SPECTATORS AT SECLUDED VENUE


Ringed by the Santa Monica Mountains, the Sherwood Country Club is a quiet and relatively secluded hideaway amidst the suburban sprawl of Southern California, just thirty miles as the crow flies northwest from Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles. Unusually prominent press coverage in the major Southern California newspapers and the network television stations has brought a steady stream of curiosity-seekers through the gated walls of Sherwood to courtside to gaze in puzzlement at the action on the four Sherwood lawns and shyly ask questions of the players and officials. Besides these visitors, most of whom tarry only briefly, the twelve team players and a few officials and local croquet players, the only other people to be seen are uniformed Sherwood staff and occasional Sherwood members drifting by to play tennis or golf, to swim, or to have lunch at the clubhouse. (The Sherwood Country Club has fewer than 200 members.)

When the TV crews come, they are at first disappointed to find no crowd scene to be photographed. But soon, they are seeking out Robert Fulford to interview and to persuade him to demonstrate their notion of the visual proof of his mastery of the sport. They set up their cameras ever so meticulously - one directly behind a wicket - and ask Fulford to shoot through it from 60 feet. Again and again he tries for it. Finally, he scores a near-miss, and the crew accept the shot. It will be on the 6 o'clock news. While the shooting is going on, Fulford provides practiced and polite answers to all the standard questions. Complementing the Americans; progress, he tells a reporter, "In the past, we'd come over and play in America and the matches were over before they started. It's not that way this year."

PROFILING THE BRITISH AND AMERICAN TEAMS

The two teams reflect the contrasting demographics of top-level croquet in America and Britain. The average age of the British team members is 32, and the team members have been playing croquet, on average, for 14 years. Only one of them is married.

In stark contrast, the Americans, with an average age of 43, have all been married and produced offspring (with the exception of Rodoni), and they have been playing croquet for less than nine years on average - five years less than than the Brits. This imbalance in experience could, alone, account for the Americans' much-commented-upon failure to achieve consistent success in completed triples.

The weather this week - cooler and windier than normal at this time of year - has affected the size of the spectator gallery and the quality of play as well. All the croquet players and spectators were bundled up in sweaters and jackets by the end of the day on Wednesday and huddled against shelters whenever possible to escape the buffeting of winds gusting up to 45 mph - more than enough velocity to move the ball off course on a cross-court hit-in or, worse, to push off-line the casting of the mallet before a critical stroke. Though skies remain sunny, more winds are predicted for Thursday and Friday, the last day of the Solomon Trophy matches.

Play will resume on Saturday morning in the Presidents' Cup matches, this year in an all-play-all three-period doubles format. The British Solomon team will take on an all-new American team in American rules doubles. Traditionally, the Presidents' Cup has provided an opportunity to salve wounded American pride with some American wins in the game they know best. But in 1997, more of the Brits know how to play the American game than in the past - especially Fulford, Avery, and Openshaw - so no one is willing to predict an American triumph in the Saturday games.

SOLOMON TROPHY RESULTS IN THE FIRST THREE DAYS

Monday - Day One - gave the Brits two wins and a tie in an uncompleted match.
Clarke & Fulford def. Taves & Fournier (+21TP, +26TP, +17TP)
Avery & Comish def. Stark & Arnold (+18, +10, +15)
Burridge & Openshaw (+16, +22) bound over v Rodoni & Mehas (+22, +25 TP)

Tuesday - singles - saw the British win every match.
Robert Fulford def. Jerry Stary (+3TOP, +22TP, +26TP)
Chris Clarke def. John Taves (-17, +26TP, +10, +3)
Steve Comish def. Michael Mehas (-17, +26TP, +25TP)
Ian Burridge def. Wayne Rodoni (+26TP, +26STP, -20, +3)
David Openshaw def. Phil Arnold (+26, -15, +15, +13)
Mark Avery def. Don Fournier, Jr., (+24, +15, +23)

Wednesday's doubles evidenced growing American strength.
Clarke & Fulford def. Stark & Arnold (+7, +24TP, +21TP)
Taves & Fournier def. Burridge & Openshaw (-14, +15TP, +26TP, +9)
Avery & Comish def. Rodoni & Mehas (26, -8 OPT, -17TP, +26, +19)


Watch for two more reports on the 1997 Solomon Trophy and Presidents' Cup matches coming up in CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE.



 
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