The inaugural Executioners Cup – played in a Champions League format – reached a fitting climax last night; and, the only disappointment was that no one was there to witness it, except the two finalists.
Much had been expected of the clash between Andy Pringle and Ben Chua after their clash in the aptly named ‘Group of Death’ in the preliminary stages, and the final certainly delivered.
Although the rest of the matches in the championship had been played over a single game to 15, Andy and Ben agreed that the final should be decided over the best of three games to 11; and, that was despite the match being played on the hottest day of the year, when Andy’s car reckoned the the temperature outside was about 34 degrees when he arrived.
The first game started off well for Andy, as he took a 5-3 lead, but that was a little deceptive. In truth, he was very rusty, having not played for three weeks, and Ben began to take advantage. The younger man started to find his length more consistently, forcing more mistakes from Andy, and so it was that Ben went on to claim a run of eight unanswered points and took the game to 11.
The second game started off like the first, with Andy taking an early lead. This time, though, he kept his head and, through a combination of better length and fewer unforced errors, built on the early 3-0 advantage. The crucial period of play was when the game stalled with Andy 8-4 up; and, despite several changes of hand and many hard-fought rallies, neither player could add to their score.
After what felt like an age, though, Andy nicked a point to go 9-4 up. That seemed to sap Ben’s will, and the defending champion went on to close out the game 11-4 and force the match into a deciding third game.
In other words, after those two games and about an hour’s play in the prodigious heat, Andy had effectively won a game 16-15 – and, indeed, the competition had been that close. Which was proved by the lengthy break that both players then took!
If there was any thought that Andy was now in the ascendancy and would go on to beat a dejected opponent, that couldn’t have been more wrong. On the contrary, Andy started the third game very slowly and soon found himself 0-5 down.
From that seemingly precarious position, though, he gradually began to assert himself. The single point to bring him to 1-5 down was crucial in steadying the ship, and it was soon followed by a few more, taking Andy from 0-5 down to 6-5 up.
By now, it was clear that Ben was feeling the heat – not just from the sauna on-court, but also from the Beef Rendang he’d eaten before the final – and Andy’s experience came to the fore. Refusing to be panicked, he stuck to his guns, moving Ben around the court, varying his length and width, and hitting several crucial ace serves when his opponent threatened to get back into the match.
In the end, the last few points were almost one-way traffic, as Ben’s strength and confidence seemed to desert him. Finding a few nicks and delicate angles, Andy was able to force errors from Ben and even hit the odd clean winner – the result being that he closed the game out 11-6 and sealed the title.
It was just the kind of final the tournament had been looking for, and our thanks must go to Richard Dyke, both for coming up with the idea of this new format and for organising it. Roll on next year, when we hope that even more players will take part.