Steel and Pringle win record-breaking third mixed doubles title


National Winchester Fives Mixed Doubles Championship

Bradfield College, Sunday May 10th, 2015

Alex Steel and Andy Pringle wrote their names into the record books by winning the 2015 Winchester Fives Mixed Doubles Championship. Having successfully defended their title for the second time, it means they have become the first pair to win the title three times.

It’s an achievement all the more remarkable when you consider that Alex is still suffering from the after-effects of a car accident earlier this year (in which, we might add, she was entirely blameless) which left her with a very badly damaged right shoulder. Plus, this was arguably the strongest field assembled in recent times for this championship, including reigning national champions in Rugby, Eton and Winchester Fives.

It was a recipe for fierce competition, and so it proved right from the off, with Eastbourne’s Beal Snr and Jnr (Spencer and Simon, partnering Kathleen Briedenhann and Tessa Mills, respectively) scoring hard-fought wins in the first round of round-robin matches. It was fascinating to watch the various styles of play, as everyone became accustomed to the unfamiliar demands of the buttress game. For example, the Eton Fives pair of Gareth Hoskins and Karen Hird provided stern opposition, with their willingness to head to the front of the court and volley. They improved throughout the day, but in the end the Rugby Fives players proved too strong, and Karen and Gareth were left with the wooden spoon – and big smiles on their faces!

The second round of matches brought the defending champions into action and they opened with a decisive win over Beal Jnr/Mills, while Beal Snr/Briedenhann secured a tough win over Malborough’s Jim Hughes and Melissa Cole, who were making their first apearance in this event.

Two further wins in the subsequent rounds gave Andy and Alex a 100% record with one game still to play, and seemed to make them a near-certainty to reach the final. But, in the meantime, Simon Beal and Tessa recovered from their opening loss to win their next three games, including an epic 16-14 win over Spencer and Kathleen. The long and short of it was that, with one game left to play – Andy/Alex v Spencer/Kathleen – the top three places were yet to be decided.

Then disaster struck: a power cut hit the entire school (and much of the local area, apparently) and plunged the courts into darkness for 90 minutes.

It gave the four players in that final game something of a rest, so it was perhaps no surprise that, when it came, it was another eipc encounter. The first few points were shared, and although Andy & Alex worked up a decent lead, they were pegged back to 13-13, making for a very nervy end to the game. By this stage, Andy & Alex had enough points to guarantee a place in the final, but Spencer & Kathleen knew a win for them would put them into final at the expense of Simon and Tessa.

Eventually, though, Andy and Alex held their nerve – much helped by Andy finding the buttress with his serve at many crucial points towards the end – and they eked out a 15-13 win.

It was a tough result for Spencer and Kathleen, as they had scored at least 13 points in all of their four games, but only won two of them. Still, at least they had the consolation of going on to win the plate with a second victory over Jim and Melissa.

If Simon and Tessa had wondered if that last round-robin game would leave Andy and Alex shattered for the final, they soon found out the answer was an emphatic no. Although the match started evenly, as the first game wore on, the defending champions gradually began to assert their authority, finding more winners, forcing more errors and defending as if their lives depended on it. It was another hard-fought match, but in the end, the defending champions won to 7 and 5, and ensured the trophy would stay in South West London for another 12 months.

Alex Steel & Andy Pringle bt Melissa Cole & Jim Hughes 15-7; bt Tessa Mills and Simon Beal 15-3; bt Kathleen Briedenhann and Spencer Beal 15-13; bt Karen Hird and Gareth Hoskins 15-6
Cole & Hughes lost to Mills & Beal 6-15; lost to Briedenhann & Beal 6-15; bt Hird & Hoskins 15-13
Mills & Beal bt Briedenhann & Beal 16-14; bt Hird & Hoskins 15-10
Briedenhann & Beal bt Hird & Hoskins 15-5

Final: Steel & Pringle bt Mills & Beal 15-7, 15-5
Plate: Briedenhann & Beal