With over 60 entries into this year’s US Open Racquets, the qualifying rounds began on Tuesday March 3rd. Matches would be one game to 30 or on a time limit of 30 minutes. The opening match was RCC’s very own John Cashman, losing out to his mentee and former fellow Ed Beard. Following this it became apparent it would be a long road to round 1 of the 2020 US Open. The timer provided a couple of early highlights, most notably Winstanley/Clarke vs Symonds/Shields in the qualifying doubles. The match went to a sudden death point and after a fine display of racquets from both pairs; Symonds/Shields came out victors.
Friday morning saw the beginning of the main draw. Despite the on-court heat and the fact that the ball would seemingly not die, there were four singles qualifiers who made it. Steve Virgona, Louis Winstanley, Marty Kinsella and Julian O’Riordan produced sublime rackets and deservedly earned their place in the main draw.
World Champion Tom Billings and tournament organizer Conor Medlow opened up play at 9am. Matches went according to the seedings in the singles draw until we reached the semi-final stage, where doubles partners Owen/Billings faced each other. ‘Ball striking masterclass’ was repeated around the gallery and Owen’s flawless performance frustrated Billings and eventually pushed him out on top to reach the final. On the other side of the draw Ben Cawston faced Alex Duncliffe-Vines, a match riddled with injuries. Unfortunately, ADV had to retire with cramp, placing Cawston in a much anticipated final against Owen.
The singles final brought some of the best Rackets to have graced court 1. The battle swung both ways with both players having match points. Ben Cawston showed some real steel when trailing by two games; at 13 all he called no set. He proceeded with an outrageous drop shot off an Owen hammer serve to get the serve and managed to close off the 3rd game 15-14. Cawston produced some mature and smart rackets to win the 4th and 5th and bring home his first Open tournament at his American home club.
Qualifying for the doubles main draw were Bertie Duncan/Devin Vrabel and Lewis Symonds/Tommy Shields – both pairs making swift exits as they came up against the top two seeds. The closest quarter final match saw RCC’s Marty Kinsella and Conor Medlow beat the fourth seeds, Jonathan Larken and Julian Owston. The gallery was full for the home players and the support paid off. Having saved one match point, the home team rallied back to win 17/14 in the 3rd. Medlow/Kinsella looked somewhat fatigued moving into their semi-final with the number one seeds Billings/Owen winning 3/0.
On the other side of the draw, the second semi-final produced the most bizarre match of the week as Ben Cawston took on Mike Bailey and Nick James pretty much singlehandedly due to the unfortunate injury sustained by his partner, Alex Duncliffe-Vines’ in their singles match earlier that day. Despite the match finishing 3-0 to Bailey and James – the tournament’s second seeds – Cawston put up a valiant effort and played some outstanding racquets.
After Sunday’s decadent brunch, Owen and Billings went head-to-head with James and Bailey. James and Bailey started at a ferocious pace taking an early lead and after just over an hour the pairs were tied at 1-1. The first seeds continued strongly, taking a 2-1 lead before Bailey, sadly falling short again to a cramp. Congratulations to Tom and Richard for defending their title with a 3-1 victory.
Racquets aside, the week was full of amazing social events, most notably Friday night’s Stag Dinner. The night allowed everyone to put aside their competitive spirits and simply enjoy each other’s company alongside some incredible food and wine. A special mention must go to the catering team for their incredible work in providing extremely high-class meals and service. The Stag also saw some entertaining speeches, in particular from 60+ year Racquet Club of Chicago member Mr. Robert E. Wood II. The recounting of his memorable stories was a highlight of the evening – not to be forgotten. We are all highly indebted to him for all his tireless efforts to keep racquets going all over the world.