Ulster Open 2015

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4 West Cork Players made the long trip up to Lisburn Racket Club on the boarder of Antrim and Down. This year Mair, James and Niall took part in the senior events on the Friday night so we went up on the Thursday after school and arrived around midnight. We are so lucky as a couple of years ago Malcom and Shirley Ferguson who are regular visitors to Crookhaven, invited us to use their place in Newtownard to the west of Belfast to stay while up at the Ulster Open. It is great to go so far and be able to have such a homely place to stay and they are both so welcoming.

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So fresh and rested the guys took part in the seniors event on Friday night. James got off to a solid enough start with a group including two other Munster players Trevor Tobin and Philip Shaw along with Owen Cathcart. James had a hard enough battle against Trevor going the full 5 sets and there were some great rallies. James rattled Philip with straight set win against Philip. I was delighted with his form against Owen but James only managed to win one set. Having qualified for the next round we checked out his opponent for the following day and it was Peter Graham No.11 Senior and the 10th seed.

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Mair only had three in her group with Sabrina Devereux and Nga Nguyen. Sabrina is No.10 in Ireland and Mair was delighted to beat her in her first match however she went on to lose against Nga Irish No.14 who is showing some impressive form. She went on to reach the final of the U18s on the Sunday. Mair currently ranked 36th was happy to qualify for the second round. Her opponent for Saturday? Charlotte Carey Welsh No.1 and top seed for the event!

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Niall had a long wait for the Restricted Senior Singles to start and found himself up against Shane O’Connor from Munster, Mark McAllister from Ulster and John Sweeney from Minnesota. This was a tough group and Niall was unable to qualify for the second round.

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Saturday started off with the Mixed Doubles and the combination of James and Mair up against the Ballincollig duo of Darragh Buckley and Chloe O’Halloran. On paper you would think that James and Mair would be a strong combination but unfortunately they haven’t gelled as a doubles partnership yet and went down 3/1.

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The U21 event was also a new experience for the players and it turned out to be the best event for Mair who managed to make her way into the ¼ finals after beating Emma McSorely. She lost out to the top English girl Kate Sheer in the group stage but still qualified for a match against current Munster No.1 Kerry O’Mahoney who has had the drop on Mair for the last few events. However Mair battled really well to beat her 3/1 and take her place in the semi final. Again another Munster player and current Irish U21 Champion Chloe O’Halloran, this was too tough for Mair but she was delighted to finish 3rd in her first U21 event.

James decided to try out his new blade for the U21s and this may be a lesson learned and the glue just didn’t take and halfway through his opening match against Trevor Tobin the wheels came off his cart or rather the rubber came off his bat! Even so he struggled on with a weird flapping noise as he went for his shots. He lost out 11/9 in the fifth sometime having to twiddle the bat in order to play his shot of choice! We weren’t able to fix the rubbers for the next match so James went on to chop against Addy Subramani from Ulster which was entertaining enough to watch but he wasn’t good enough to beat his opponent. His final match was up against the number 3 seed Tom Davis and thankfully his bat was ready to use. This was a great match with some really spectacular rallies and a close affair with Tom running out the winner. Thankfully this all happened in the U21s and not in either his main event the U18s or his upcoming match against Peter Graham.

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James’s Senior match was one of his best of the weekend showing some really impressive aggressive match play and some sweet touch play at the net. He had a 2/1 set lead when Peter had to move into a higher gear and this he did in style sweeping James off the table in the 4th set. Fair dues to James for restoring the balance in the 5th set, which was very tight and edgy with both players having to pull out their best. This time it went to the more experienced player but James showed some of his high level of ability.

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Mair entered the ladies doubles with her friend Nora O’Sullivan from Ballincollig and it was great to see them playing together. I wouldn’t describe either of them as “natural” doubles players but what they made up for in lack of footwork they made up for in spirit. There first match against the Connaught pair of Chloe Tansy and Amanda Taylor was a solid enough start even if they didn’t manage the win but they did manage to improve and eventually made their way into the Plate Final beating Jennifer Thompson / Jackie Devine. There was no fairytale ending but it was a good start and I hope they give it another go at the next event.

Niall had a nightmare group in the U21s with Alan Walsh, Luke Dempsey and Brian Kelleher to face. Niall highlight for the event came against the top player in his group Alan Walsh when he went finally lost out 15/13 in the second set. He played some of his best table tennis and I really hope he manages to reach those heights on a consistent basis, it shows his undoubted but unrealised ability.

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The Saturday also saw Erik Olsson take to the court in the U15 Boys event, with two good wins over Munster rival Jake Adler and UCDs Maitiu Heckmann he was clear to qualify, his final match was against the No.3 seed Art McLaughlin and he put up a good fight but had to settle for qualification to the second round. This put him into a very strong group consisting of Alan Patterson, David Taylor and Thomas Joyce and he was unable to progress.

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Mair played off her match against Charlotte Carey in the ladies singles and was swept away in the first set. Mair is never one to roll over and she upped her play in the second set winning some good points, in the final set she showed herself that the gap was not that far apart as she battled her way to an 11/9 loss.

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This was a very full day of competition for all the players and some highs and lows as is the nature of the sport. We grabbed a kebab on the way back to Newtownards and chatted about the day’s events.

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Sunday was a miserable morning and I am glad we are an indoor sport and the Lisburn Racket Club is a warm oasis in the middle of winter. Only the U18 and U13 events today but these are the major events for all four of our players.

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It is disappointing to travel all the way to the furthest reaches of the country to find yourself up against players you meet on an all too regular basis in Munster and with three of the Munster girls in Mair’s first round group it was a little of a let down. Mair took on Thuy Linh Cashman in her first match and got off to a slow start that eventually caught up with her as she lost 3/1. She went onto win her next two matches against Rachel Scott from the UK and beat Kerry O’Mahoney again 3/1. However the group went to count back in sets and when that didn’t separate then it went to points and that first set of the day against Thuy Linh was the difference and Mair came third in the group and into the consolation. Her opponents went on to finish 4th and 6th while Mair who lost only one match during the day went onto finish 16th and win the plate defeating Rachel Scott a second time in the day. A tough day at the office but she once again showed great character and determination.

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James was the third seed on the day with Zac Wilson choosing not to play. This meant that James had a bye in the first round groups which makes the second round a bit tougher without the chance to “warm up.” In the second round he met Paddy Vaughan and Darragh Egan both of who he had to dig deep and use his experience to overcome. His next match was a ¼ final against Zac Earley who beat off the challenge his brother Thomas. This was a very tough battle with Zak showing an impressive forehand topspin attack and James trying to counter. The match went to the final set where James finally accelerated to take his place in the semi final. He had played Owen Cathcart the previous day in the senior event and it had been a closely fought match but this time it was Owen who dominated from the start and James was unable to consistently get his attack in to cause Owen any really difficultly. Owen went on to win the final comfortably against Ryan McConkey who had surprisingly over come Dylan Grace in the other semi. Again possibly due to tiredness James didn’t manage to “sparkle” and Dylan controlled the match. 4th place in Ireland is nothing to be disappointed about but it can be more frustrating if you were unable to perform to the level of your own expectations.

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Niall had been a victim of Zak Earley in the opening group and struggled against Joey Nelson and Kacper Biemacki he did manage to reach the semi final of the U18 Plate but all in all has not managed to find his early season form in the last two events.

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Erik once again moved through the opening group stages of the U13 Boys frustrating Jake Adler (5th seed) once again. He also showed promise in his second round group with a good win over ……… and he looked likely to top the group when he went 2/0 up against Julian Kelly but he was unable to finish off the match losing 3/2. He was once again up 2/0 against Matthew Cherry in the next round but Matthew fought back to finish off the winner on a score line of 3/2. Erik had to settle for equal 9th.

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Looking back over the last few days I have to be pleased with the results, James taking 4th in the U18s, Mair 3rd in the U21s and even her first senior doubles appearance was a good start. There was disappointment in narrowly missing out on the ¼ finals in the U18 Girls for Mair and two close matches for Erik saw him have to settle for 9th in the U13s.

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The highlights for me included watching the young German Daniel Kleinert chopping in fine style and going on to win the senior men’s and U21s after his great performance to finish 7th in the German Top 24 Competition recently. Also watching the future starts in the U11 Hopes event; Sadbh McLaughlin is just amazing to watch and with such a big grin on her face she looks like she is just loves to play!

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