The Garland Cup
Tennis is Coming Home
Finally! Hooray! 99 years after G Hedges first won the Garland Cup it was contested for the 67thtime, 18 months after John Murphy won the 2020 iteration and 16 months since our last tournament which feels like it took place in a galaxy far, far away. Other former winners taking part were Andrew Hamilton, Simon Hobson (returning to club tournaments after a prolonged absence), John Miller and John Franklin as well as Tom Granville and Lloyd Pettiford (as markers).
Pre-tournament excitement was provided by the mysterious disappearance of the Garland Cup itself. Long since boxed up and sent to the engravers, when the box was opened the Cup was missing! A mystery as compelling as Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone. For a while we were seeking a helpful hound - a la Pickles - to track it down. More on this story later… (hopefully!). (Less than dramatically, the Chairman found an extra box and it was in that. Phew!)
Qualifying (Thursday – Saturday)
Prof Murphy was back to defend his title in a highly competitive looking group with Will Todd, Craig Swallow and Jeremy Hawkins. Before that Group 1 saw two former winners battle it out. Literally ‘out’. By the time Miller overcame Franklin both were already eliminated, leaving Kruszynskyj and Branfield to play for first place; the winner would be ‘rewarded’ with a 9am start on Sunday. Undeterred, Branfield romped home and looked a good bet already.
The highlight of group 2 came in the final match (again to decide first place). Jonny Miller’s railroad had ‘nicked’ its way to victory against both Lewis (an off day for him) and Drane (a gallant effort and much improved). Accordingly, Harry Walsh, having won the serve, decided not to give it up. Although he did so on a couple of occasions, he otherwise sprinted from proverbial pillar to post in an effort to avoid chases and in doing so provided much entertainment as well as playing some shots that already had the handicapper stroking his beard thoughtfully. 5-0 to Walsh, but with Miller eliminating errors and Walsh eliminating chases, both looked dangerous.
James Richardson approached Group 3 with admirable determination given that he had big handicap obstacles to overcome against all 3 opponents. The only one he was unsuccessful against was group winner Peter Wilson where he only had one serve. Qualifying second James had to withdraw due to clashing commitments. This left a startled John Strachan to progress; in fairness having lost two matches 5/4 he had been rather unlucky in the first place. Meanwhile Mark Savage joined a growing crowd of people relieved to not have to play any more tennis in the heat!
Group 4 saw the demise of another former winner in the form of Philip Shaw-Hamilton. He was one of three players who had each lost to Mark Leefe and won one of their other games. Adam Stokes was eliminated on games difference. PSH unluckily went out by dint of losing to Alan Moug with whom he shared the same points difference.
Group 5 saw yet another former winner fall at the first hurdle after 2 defeats of 5/4 (John Murphy). One of those defeats was against the controlled consistency of Will Todd. The other the doggedly determined Jeremy Hawkins. Those two went through. Craig Swallow had places to go and people to meet.
Mark Maclure went down 5-0 to Bruce Paxton in less time than it took Bannister to run a mile. But he recovered well to win his other games and qualify alongside the erstwhile vice chairman and floor deliverer. Current vice chairman Simon Hobson played well but only managed one win. Mr Gill – despite entertaining as ever – completed a disappointing day for Simons.
The penultimate group saw a former winner actually avoid elimination. After grumbling his way through a defeat to ‘El Bandito’ Pablo Smeeth (group winner), Andrew Hamilton pulled himself together and walloped the decibel machine Richard Marmoy. David Buggé might have challenged the Chairman but despite valiantly completing two matches had to retire hurt.
Steve ‘leaping salmon’ Walsh was impressive in the final group and would surely have won all three games but for an extraordinary 10 minutes from David Aldwinckle. Normally resembling Henry the mild mannered janitor, he was transformed into a combination of Hong Kong Phooey and a whirling dervish. With Mr Lambdon not joining us, I think he must have found Jon’s random shot generator in the dedans and used it to amazing effect with a series of deadly volleys and drives. Despite this win for David, Steve still won the group on points difference. Miles Buckinghamshire was a welcome, jolly and occasionally brilliant presence on court. Much the same can be said of Dr Marguerie. Both went out with a single win.
Finals Day (Sunday)
And so to business with 16 players covering the full spectrum of ability; 8 players below 50 (including 5 in the 30s) and 8 players above.
Last 16: Aldwinckle mislays random shot generator. Early start, early exit to Tony Branfield. Relentlessly consistent serving saw Jonny Miller ease past Pablo 5/3. Maclure, driven to distraction by ‘1 serve banned the tambour’, looked like he might break his own record for quickest defeat after a number of ‘double fault’ serves straight into the winning gallery. He then recovered to lead 3/2 and looked a likely winner. But Peter Wilson remained steady and took the win. Leefe received a walkover due to non-covid related illness. Todd beat an out of sorts Alan Moug (tennis elbow) and Strachan beat an out of sorts Bruce Paxton (hamstring). The remaining former winner Hamilton finally succumbed after a titanic struggle with Harry Walsh (5/4). This set up a QF against his father who beat George Kruszynskyj 5/3. Thanks George for the lovely lasagne and salad provided to competitors for lunch.
Quarter Finals: It looked like it might be Jonny Miller’s year, but he was somehow squeezed out 5/4 by Tony Branfield. Jonny’s handicap will surely drop below 40 (and perhaps below his father’s!) before too long and stay there for many years to come. Leefe’s concentration against the ‘1 serve banned tambour’ nonsense saw him edge out a determined Peter Wilson. With an even larger handicap difference to cope with, Will Todd beat John Strachan who exceeded his own expectations, especially after finishing third in his group. Walsh Junior looked more relaxed than Walsh Senior, the latter taking one hell of a beating.
Semi-Finals: The hitherto impressive Mark Leefe fell victim to the Branfield steamroller and Harry Walsh finally playing someone as quick as he is, lost to the more consistent Todd. As a marker I have to say thank you to Harry for being always entertaining.
When Will Todd won the 6th game to make the score 3-3 it really looked as if he would go on to win. However, playing a race to 5 in the final (due to the heat) one never knows. Branfield suddenly found a hidden serve of splendid spin and length and Todd made more unforced errors in two games than he had in the two previous days. Nonetheless congratulations to him on a splendid tournament in which he rivalled Harry Walsh for speed and anyone else for skill. But the winner was a determined Tony Branfield. As Owen Pettiford did in 2010/11, Branfield did in 2020/21 – losing the final one year, only to win the next. He picked up the trophy (cleaned along with all the others by Simon Hobson – thanks!) and a lovely bottle of Pol Roger supplied by the T&RA, for which further thanks.
Thanks to all the players who took part for coping so well with the heat and not letting it affect their temperament. As a marker, a nod of thanks at the end and acceptance of what might sometimes look different on court is much appreciated.