SEVERE WEATHER ALERT: The City of Philadelphia has declared a State of Emergency beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday, due to the incoming storm.
Surely, they can’t be referring to us… and yet on Wednesday players from all over the racquets world stormed into the splendid Racquet Club of Philadelphia, weather be damned, eager to prove their mettle in one of the strongest draws in recent memory. Sure, Stout was playing, so the end result seemed inevitable, at least in the singles; but with 10 of the top 12 ranked players in the tournament, this was bound to be a thriller, and boy did the 2018 US Open deliver!
Gallery members, who usually have to wait until Saturday until the action really heats up, were treated to spectacular matches from Wednesday onwards. The rise of young players such as Tom Billings, Richard Owen, Alex Duncliffe-Vines, Nick Hopcroft and Ben Cawston, to name but a few, is reminiscent of renewal of talent we have seen on the PGA, for so long utterly dominated by Tiger Woods. To be clear, nobody has yet dethroned Stout, and his play shows no signs of that being the case anytime soon, but one can’t help but feel excited about the future of the game. This is especially true when considering the continued strong play of veterans such as Hopton, Coyne, Portz, Larken, Smith and company. So while we do not know precisely when someone will take down The Champ, we do know that we will be enjoying spectacular racquets for a very long time.
Following the qualifying round and with the first day of matches played, players congregated in the fabled Grill Room for a great stag dinner on Thursday night for the customary introductions and stories. The irony of having a stag on International Women’s Day was not lost on anyone, and the evening’s raconteurs incorporated the theme throughout. Jeff Yager, who had just received an award highlighting his contributions to NARA, led the charge to the craps table where Phil Stockton could do no wrong. The winners could easily be spotted once at The Black Sheep pub: they paid their drinks in cash while the losers pulled out their credit cards.
Come Friday morning, the ball was really flying. The Philadelphia court lived up to its billing, playing fast and encouraging rallies, enough to attract a crowd so large it filled the top and bottom galleries come night time… and with good reason! Richard Owen gave Stout some tough opposition, showing off his impressive power. A marathon match between two of the game’s best retrievers followed between Ben Cawston and Will Hopton, with the latter managing to outlast and come out on top. Next up was a match between doubles partners and two of the game’s more colourful characters, James Coyne and Alex Duncliffe-Vines, with the latter emerging as victor. Finally, the last match of the day featured Tom Billings, who proved to be just too much for tournament darling Barney Tanfield, who played incredible rackets throughout the weekend. Inspired by the action they had seen on the court, a large group gathered at SPiN! for some table tennis and elbow bending, before moving on to enjoy the “Philly Special” ($4 Pabst and a shot of Jim Beam… what’s not to love?!) and live music at Bob and Barbara’s.
Saturday begun with some incredible doubles matches, with a strong pack eager to elbow their way into the finals. Suffice it to say that by the time the singles semi finals matches were to be played, the crowd was in full force. Will Hopton, he of newly-minted amateur status, fiercely battled James Stout, showing no signs of rust and displaying that seemingly effortless gliding on court that we have all come to know, albeit in a losing effort.
Later, Duncliffe-Vines and Billings took to the court for one of the tournament’s most exhilarating matches. Losing 11-1 in the second game, ADV nearly managed to level the score. Serving 11-12, he and Tom jockeyed for position on the court, and had a brief rally until ADV’s racket and Billing’s mouth accidentally collided. This was a scary moment for all, especially for Tom, who was clearly in pain, and for Alex, who was stunned. Luckily, the RCOP counts some fine dental professionals amongst its membership, one of whom was pulled off a nearby doubles squash court, and another who was watching the live stream and hopped in his car to head to the club. These gentlemen ably assisted Tom during an admittedly lengthy injury delay, allowing him not only to save his front teeth, but also to continue the match some two hours later. When play resumed, the crowd was in full throated support of both competitors. What followed was an excellent display of rackets, and it cannot be understated how difficult this match must have been for both players. Ultimately, Tom prevailed, showing off his new smile. Let us hope the old smile returns quickly…
Saturday evening then followed with the doubles semifinals, first featuring a close victory from Billings and Richard Owen vs Mike Bailey and Nick Hopcroft. What a great match! As much of the gallery retreated downstairs for a quick dinner, dedicated supporters remained, devouring pizzas delivered to the gallery at record speed so as to not miss any of the action. In the last semifinal match of the day, Alex Duncliffe-Vines and James Coyne cruised to victory over Jonathan Larken and James Stout.
With the stage set for some exciting finals matches, no competitors were more keen than the Plate Doubles Finalists who, let’s be honest, were just happy to be playing on a Sunday for a change! Despite a push from the MRC’s Dan Fisher and Charles Vennat, DRC’s Nick Harding and RCOP fellow Jono Jamieson-Black prevailed in this duel. These fierce competitors promptly exited the court, made sure that everyone saw them in their Sunday whites, and raced to the gallery to watch the “real” matches. First up was a familiar match between Stout vs Billings, a repeat of the World Singles Challenge in November. Fuelled by his new diet of smoothies, young Tom courageously took to the court despite his injury. A valiant effort to be sure, but as has been the case for so long now, Stout defended his title admirably, and took home the silver as 2018 US Open Singles Champion. The pause for brunch allowed DRC fellow Archie Green to continue his bookie operation, and he was spotted circling the dining room looking for any last action wishing to be laid on the upcoming doubles finals. Once again, Tom Billings took to the court, this time with Richard Owen by his side, as they faced tough opposition from Alex Duncliffe-Vines and James Coyne. In a match featuring some fantastic rallies and great shot-making, Billings and Owen ultimately prevailed and are your 2018 US Open Doubles Champions.
Congratulations to all competitors in what was truly a fantastic tournament. Special thanks go out to Tournament Director Jon Crowell, professionals Rob Whitehouse, John Lumley, and James Asher, as well as to the entire staff and membership of the Racquet Club of Philadelphia for a very special weekend.