Auckland's Bob Jackson proved yet again that he is all but unbeatable in the New Zealand Open Singles Championship. The 66-year-old living legend survived the elements, the youngsters and the old masters to record a staggering 13th win in his 20th Open final since 1975.
A large field of 40 players assembled at United Croquet Club, Christchurch for the 1999 NZ Open Chamionships. The smattering of overseas entries lent a little spice to the tournament. David Openshaw headed the English contingent along with perennial Kiwis Nelson Morrow and Jerry Guest. Liz Fleming and this year's Australian junior scholarship recipient, Jocelyn Sutton (both from Queensland) joined with Creina Dawson from South Australia.
It was the first time the new Barlow GT balls have been used in this event, and competitors were keen to see how the hot Canterbury sun would affect them.
As usual, the tournament began with Championship Doubles, the winners of each of 4 unseeded blocks of 5 advancing into the semi-finals (all single games). The early favourites were holders Toby Garrison and Steve Jones, along with Richard Baker and Shane Davis, plus the brand new and daunting Canterbury combination of Graham Beale and John Prince.
The first day's play saw some fascinating games, with three games being decided by the odd point. On the same lawn, two games had gone into extra time with both sides contesting the same hoop. After over half an hour of cat and mouse tactics around 4-back, Dumergue and Jackson eventually overcame Hadwin and Colin Jones when Dumergue hit a long and desperate roquet. Meanwhile, down at rover, McIntyre and Versey were first past the post against Dunnet and Sutton. The latter were unfortunate to lose, as Sutton had previously done well to peg out Versey's ball with a straight double peel. She thus recorded the dreaded "odpot" ([losing] opponent double peel on time)!
The first triple of the tournament belonged to Richard Baker but later, he and partner Shane Davis suffered the tournament's first upset - a 25-26 loss to Hoddy and Wislang. A further loss on day 2 put last year's runners-up out of contention. In contrast, Garrison and Jones, and Beale and Prince qualified for the semis without fuss, joining Hoddy and Wislang, and surprise qualifiers Guest and Lowe. The latter had disposed of the strong pair of Dumergue and Jackson in the last block game to qualify.
Garrison and Jones meet Beale and Prince in doubles final
The semi-finals saw two lack-lustre games yield predictable wins but set up a potentially exciting final between Garrison and Jones, and Beale and Prince. In this game, the Canterbury pair, spurred on by a partisan crowd after a nervy start, played superb croquet to take their first title together.
It was Jones who got the first break, however, and but for an under-approached 3-back, he might have set up a second successive title for the Wellington duo. It was not to be, however. Prince broke beautifully, popping Garrison to hoop 3 and finishing with a strong reverse leave, forcing Jones to lift his ball. The lift was missed, and Beale executed an excellent triple to land a well-deserved victory.
For the Championship Singles, the 40 players were divided into 8 seeded blocks, (single games), the top 2 in each block advancing to the last 16 (best of 3, XYZ knock out) with the losers going into the Heenan Plate. Last year's winner and 12-times champion Bob Jackson was again top seed but found himself drawn into a formidable block which included such talented players as Brian Wislang, Dennis Bulloch and Madeline Hadwin.
Paul Skinley showed his early intentions with an impressive win over the luckless Dumergue, fresh from hibernation in Northern Queensland, completing the match with a well executed straight triple. Skinley was later to lose a game to an in-form Sue Hoddy, who showed some excellent touches on a difficult lawn. In another upset, John Prince dropped a game to Robert Bartholomeus, both of whom eventually qualified from their block.
Triple peels were hard to come by with the firm, narrow hoops in Christchurch. Only a handful of players managed more than 1 in their blocks.
At the conclusion of block play, seven of the eight seeds qualified for the best-of-three knock-out stage. Seventh seed Peter Couch failed to qualify despite his 3 wins. Australian Jocelyn Sutton played impressively to beat Couch in her final match and ended up as top qualifier. Couch subsequently withdrew from the tournament.
It was a good day for the women, with Liz Fleming recording her first win and Jane McIntyre taking a well deserved victory over David Openshaw. Pat Jones was the only other woman qualifier - a great effort considering she had been plagued with the `flu all week. .Another surprise block winner was Peter Parkinson, who beat veteran campaigner Graham Beale to send him into the plate.
Top seeds crash and burn in knock-out match play
In the last 16, crack doubles pair Garrison and Jones, 4th and 8th seeds respectively, both crashed out of the singles competition. Garrison was never in serious contention against a spirited performance by Dumergue, who completed the match with 2 triples. Brian Wislang took an eternity to beat Jones in 3 games, also completing 2 triples, the second of which included a 4-back peel from beyond 3-back!
Sixth seed David Openshaw also fell with a resounding crash, beaten by two perfect scores from Shane Davis. And second seed John Prince was in serious trouble at the hands of 23 year-old Jocelyn Sutton. She was ecstatic with her 26-23 tp first game but was unable to control her excitement for the remainder of the match.
With 4 seeds already removed, the last 8 promised some interesting matches. Interesting maybe; contrasting, definitely! The old firm of Jackson and Skinley grafted away for hours for the right to play Prince in the semis. Not surprisingly in a match as dry as Central Otago, Jackson emerged the winner. Prince had, much earlier, quashed the challenge of John Versey, who had made the last 8 for the second successive year.
Davis made short work against Baker in the battle of the now un-dreadlocked youngsters. The match of the round, though, belonged to Wislang, who completed two of the three triples against Dumergue in an entertaining match of the highest quality. Wislang's shooting eluded him in the semis, however, when despite winning the first, he soon succumbed to the cold and wet conditions and Davis' perky play. The other semi was a grinder for Jackson, who defeated long-time enemy Prince in straight games.
Experience beats youth in 2/1 final match
So it proved once again to be youth versus experence - Jackson playing in his 20th Open final, Davis in his first. Indeed, Jackson has missed only three finals since his first in 1975. At the start, Jackson looked set for a quick win as he "raced" away to 4-back. But the fighting qualities that stood Davis in good stead in the semis remained with him as he hit the lift and went on to take the first game with a triple.
The old master was teetering on the brink - but he was not finished. He stormed back strongly with an emphatic 26-0 reversal. The pressure finally told on the youngster in the 3rd as he made a couple of unlucky errors around hoop 3 which cost him dearly. The silverware was back in its old familiar surroundings in Manurewa, Auckland and Jackson had his 13th title. Asked how he does it, mallet-maker Bob replied with a twinkle in his eye: "The secret is all in the weight of the mallet."
OPEN SINGLES RESULTS
Block 1OPEN DOUBLES RESULTS
Block 1 Garrison & S. Jones b. Shilling & Skinley, 26-0; Bulloch & Morrow, 26-11 tp(G); Parkinson & White, 26-9; Fellows & Fleming, 26-1 Shilling & Skinley b. Bulloch & Morrow, 26-12; Parkinson & White, 26-12; Fellows & Fleming, 26-10 Bulloch & Morrow b. Parkinson & White 26-10; Fellows & Fleming, 26-9 Parkinson & White b. Fellows & Fleming, 26-16 Block 2 Guest & Lowe b. Dumergue & Jackson, 22-13; Hadwin & C. Jones, 26-3; McIntyre & Versey, 20-13; Dunnet & Sutton, 26-18 Dumergue & Jackson b. Hadwin & C. Jones, 23-22; McIntyre & Versey, 26-9; Dunnet & Sutton, 26-8 Hadwin & C. Jones b. McIntyre & Versey, 26-7; Dunnet & Sutton, 26-14 McIntyre & Versey b. Dunnet & Sutton, 25-24 osdp Block 3 Beale & Prince b. B. Baker & Bartholomaeus, 26-3 tp (P); Openshaw & Roberts, 26-10 tp(P); Cooke & P. Jones 26-0 tp(P); Dawson & Molly Fenwick 26-11 B.Baker & Bartholomaeus b. Openshaw & Roberts 26-0; Cooke & P. Jones 24-22; Dawson & Fenwick 26-10 Openshaw & Roberts b. Cooke & P. Jones 26-9; Dawson & Fenwick 26-12 Cooke & P. Jones b. Dawson & Fenwick 17-4 Block 4
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