Saturday/Sunday, 3-4 December 2022
STOP PRESS No three-gamers until the final, but two upsets of the seeding in the round of 16, with Dan Grant beating 8th seed Sam Russell and Ben Kirwan defeating 6th seed Ollie Arnold. The four top seeds then duly reached the semi-finals where number 1 seed Ed Kay was unexpectedly knocked out by Ben Beltrami. Dan Tristao beat Will Ellison in his semi-final, so unusually the final consisted of number 2 seed versus number 4, which turned out to be a battle royal. In his first National Singles final Ben Beltrami put up a magnificent display of clean hitting to narrowly win the second game after losing the first easily, then took a 9-3 lead in the third game, only to be pegged back in an extraordinary display of consistency by Dan Tristao, who thus won his seventh National Singles title, and his sixth in a row. Sam Russell meanwhile won the Plate for a second consecutive year.
Organiser Charlie Brooks reports: Dan Tristao retained the National Singles, winning his 7th title and 6th in a row. He now hasn’t lost in the tournament since the 2015 final, a remarkable achievement that puts him right up with the very best that have played the game. Having reached the final with relative comfort, it looked like he would be untouchable. Ben Beltrami had other ideas and gave him a real run for his money, and looked to be the favourite at 9-3 ahead in the decider, before Dan eked out the victory.
As a reminder, players have to enter qualifying events to even reach the finals weekend, with over 50 players entering. The top four ranked players in the country were joined by entrants from London (8), Derby (2), and Tiverton (2). Illness and injury prevented the two Edinburgh qualifiers from being at the tournament.
The tournament kicked off at the fantastic Oundle courts with an upset in the very first game. Dan Grant, using his shot-making skills, over-powered 8th seed Sam Russell to book his spot against number one seed Ed Kay in the quarters. In the bottom half of the draw there was another shock. Ben Kirwan was a late replacement after Theo Parker’s injury just a few days before the tournament, but looked very much at home in his first ever National Singles finals. He beat Ollie Arnold, this year’s South East Open champion, in straight sets, negating that powerful left hand with some precise line and length.
The rest of the last 16 matches went according to seedings, although notable mentions for the three other debutants – Oscar McIntyre, Penn Chai and Addie Chai – who acquitted themselves well in what will undoubtedly be the first of many finals appearances.
The quarter-finals showed glimpses of tight battles, but in the end went the way of the higher seeds, with none of them being put under significant pressure. As is often the case in the longer format of playing to 15, the scores don’t always reflect the high quality on show. Many of the quarters had scintillating rallies, with exceptional skill on show from both victors and vanquished.
The tournament was then lit up in the semis by the fourth seed. In the first game, an inspired Ben Beltrami caused the biggest shock of the weekend and became the first finalist outside the top three seeds for over 10 years. His power and shot-making are well known, but it was his speed and anticipation around the court that was as much in evidence against Ed. He was onto everything in a flash and rarely gave his opponent any rest.
In the other half of the draw, a lightning start from Dan never allowed Will to get a foothold. It wasn’t until well into the second game, with Dan almost over the line, that the match turned into a classic. All of a sudden, the intensity of the rallies ratcheted up with Will raising his game to, and for a while above, Dan’s. Unfortunately for Will, and everyone watching, it was slightly too late and Dan was able to progress to Sunday’s denouement.
And so to the final, where Dan once again shot out of the blocks – 15-3 in the first game, experience shining through, and the crowd wondering whether the final would be a damp squib. With nothing to lose, Ben turned the match on its head, wrestled the initiative and smashed his way to the second game 15-13. It was the first time Dan was under this much pressure, and Ben had all the momentum. This continued when some truly incredible hitting from Ben put him 9-3 up in the decider. At that point, it didn’t seem like Ben could lose, such was the range of winners he was producing so consistently – over and over again he found the nicks. But cometh the hour and it was over to Dan to demonstrate why he has won this tournament so many times. He found his top level, tightened the screw and gradually dragged himself level and eventually ahead as Ben couldn’t respond. Title number seven, but not without a almighty tussle between two players of very contrasting styles.
The Plate was unsurprisingly a high quality affair, with two top-ten players joined by a variety of youth and different playing styles. Pick of the group stages was Sam Russell’s victory over Gwydion Wiseman, 15-14, having saved many match points. That meant he topped the group to set up a juicy encounter with Ollie Arnold in the Plate final. Sam’s energy levels seemed to increase after every match and he duly saved his best for last, defending the title taking the trophy back home.
Round of 16: E Kay (1) bt G Wiseman 15-4, 15-2; D Grant bt S Russell (8) 15-7, 15-4; T Watkinson (5) bt L Keates 15-8, 15-2; B Beltrami (4) bt O McIntyre 15-3, 15-4; W Ellison (3) bt A Chai 15-5, 15-3; B Kirwan bt O Arnold (6) 15-8, 15-8; C Brooks (7) bt P Chai 15-5, 15-4; D Tristao (2) bt J Smith 15-1, 15-4.
Quarter-finals: Kay bt Grant 15-6, 15-5; Beltrami bt Watkinson 15-1,15-7; Ellison bt Kirwan 15-9,15-6; Tristao bt Brooks 15-7, 15-10
Semi-finals: Beltrami bt Kay 15-9, 15-8; Tristao bt Ellison 15-6,15-9
Final: Tristao bt Beltrami 15-3, 13-15, 15-9
Plate: Russell bt Arnold 15-9, 15-3
All 16 competitors
Seven times the champion
A first meeting in the National Singles final
Sam Russell wins the Plate for a second year
Organiser Charlie Brooks congratulating
The spirit of Fives