Cromer Lawn Tennis & Squash Club

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As has become the norm over the past thirty years there was once again a packed balcony at Cromer Squash Club on Friday evening where a large and appreciative crowd enjoyed yet another five game thriller in a long line of classic finals in the club’s annual handicap tournament.

The tournament was being held for the 30th time and 27 year old club champion Richard Keeble, who was not born when the first tournament was held, successfully retained the title which he won for the first time last year. In 2011 he joined the select band of players who have completed the double of both club champion and club handicap champion while this year he became only the second player, after John Baker in 1991, to successfully defend his crown. In the final Keeble, who was also a beaten semi-finalist in 2010 and who was again playing off a handicap of -15, needed all his skill and athleticism to once again defy the handicapper and overcome the spirited challenge and five point advantage of long serving first team captain and 2009 champion Henri Paul (-8) eventually coming out on top 15-9 10-15 15-6 13-15 15-13 after five enthralling games of squash.

Keeble dominated the first game, in which Paul, who is the reigning club veteran’s champion, was only able to win three points off his own serve, comfortably taking the game 15-9. Paul, however, drew level in the second as he won four successive points at the end of the game to move from 11-10 to 15-10 after the players had traded point for point throughout the game.

The third game really was in a similar vein to the first as Keeble only dropped his serve six times and allowed Paul not a single point on his own serve but the fourth followed a completely different pattern. Paul’s all action style enabled him to storm into a 6-0 and then an 11-5 and 14-10 lead before he took the game 15-13 to set up a nail-biting deciding fifth game.

Paul won the first three points to open up an eight point advantage but Keeble gradually clawed the handicap back to draw level at 7-7 only for Paul to edge ahead once again. With a 12-10 lead Paul had every chance to add to his 2009 title but Keeble won four successive points to lead 14-12 and after his veteran opponent saved one match ball Keeble made no mistake on the second as he took the game 15-13 and the match 3-2

Keeble thereby clinched his second title and will again have his name, along with the twenty three other winners, perpetually inscribed upon the winners’ board which is on display in the club house.

After Keeble received his winner’s trophy he said: “ This was a tremendous match and The Claw who is an experienced campaigner pushed me all the way. I couldn’t afford to relax my concentration at all and tried to break the match down into little compartments as I had to score four points to his three. Luckily I was just able to do that and the handicap committee got the handicaps just right although one more point in Henri’s favour could have made all the difference.”

In the semi final Keeble had defeated Matthew Jordan (+6), after earlier victories over the rapidly improving Nick Dunnett (+6) who he just beat 15-13 in the fifth , the 2007 handicap champion, Ben Herrieven (-10) who he beat in a hard hitting second round match and last year’s beaten finalist Alistair Dunnett (+7). Paul , who had a first round bye defeated the much younger James Broughton (+9) in the semi-final after beating the 2004 runner-up John Pelton (+6)in the quarter-final and the unpredictable Derek Mackey (+9) in Round Two.

The plate competition for first round losers was won for the second year running by the 2010 beaten finalist , second team regular ,Martin Sanville (+2) who just did enough to beat a relative new-comer at the club, Danny Doran (+10) 17-14 6-15 18-13 8-15 15-12 in another well contested match. After “qualifying” for the plate by losing to Nick Dunnett (+6) he went on to beat Alistair Dunnett (+7) and in the semi final he beat the 1992 tournament runner-up Jean Spruce (+8).Doran lost in the first round to Sue Guest (+13) but went on to beat Adam Sexton (+2) and Derek Mackey (+9) in the plate competiton .