First Leg of WDC is in the Books: Larken/Stout in Command and Control-Lead 4-1 Heading to Home Court
The Challengers beat the Champions 4-1 in the first leg at The Queen’s Club
J. Stout & J. Larken beat A. Titchener-Barrett & C. Portz 9/15 15/8 15/5 15/5 15/4
The first game started with the pairs scoring a meagre one point apiece in the first couple of hands. The Challengers were the first to settle and nudged ahead to 4-1, with James Stout playing a magnificent winner, but were quickly pulled back to 4-3. Alex Titchener-Barrett then served well to take four points and a 7-4 lead, narrowed to 7-5, but then a further three points to 10-5, all on the ATB serve but well supported by Christian Portz. However, Stout responded to claim four points on his own service; but Jonathan Larken was unable to add to the tally, but the score was a tight 10-9 advantage to the Champions. But they never returned to the service box in the first as ATB and Portz served out the next five points and take the first game 15/9. The Champions were ahead, their dream start to their defence.
ATB opened the second game but to no avail. This time it was Stout stepping up, with Larken adding a further four points to sweep into a 5-0. A fired up ATB closed the gap to 4-5, but then the Challengers nudged ahead, only to be levelled at the next hand by a further two ATB serves. The game was tense at 6-all. Yet again the Stout/Larken partnership served well to retake their lead to 10-6. ATB/Portz rallied to 8-10, but three further points on the Larken serve increased the margin to 13-8. ATB/Portz failed to score in the next pair of hands, whilst Stout inched ever closer to levelling the match, which he did with a brilliant shot. The Challengers took the game 15/8, to level the match. The gallery, evenly split between the two pairs, was prepared for an epic struggle.
The third game saw the Challengers step up and work increasingly well as a team. After a pair of hands the score was level at 2-all, but three points in the next hand saw them establish a 5-2 lead. Portz served up to reduce the lead to leave the game close in its early stages. After a couple of further tight exchanges which added nothing to the scoreboard but kept the gallery enthralled, it was a sudden six-point surge from Stout, and two further points from Larken, which opened up (and ultimately decided) the game. At 13-3, ATB/Portz had little to add, trading the odd point but it was ultimately Stout who served out 15/5, and gave the Challengers a 2-1 lead.
Stout now saw his chance and opened up a quick 3-0 lead in the fourth game. After a few tight hands, it was once again Stout, moving adroitly, brilliantly backed up by partner Larken, who scored a decisive seven points, with one more from Larken, to open up a commanding 11-0 lead. ATB failed to score but now Portz stepped up and scored five points on his serve, his longest sequence, which asked questions of the Stout/Larken pair, and reduced the lead to 5-11. However, Stout’s response was emphatic, not relinquishing serve and securing the game 15/5, now with a commanding 3-1 advantage.
The fourth game once again saw Stout open a quick 3-0 lead. But the Champions were not beaten and responded brilliantly to level with the ATB serve and nudge into a narrow 4-3 lead from the Portz serve. The gallery remained expectant, but didn’t account for Stout levelling and then Larken serving four masterful points and create a healthy 8-4. Sadly for their supporters, the Champions failed to score again, and hand by hand, the Challengers moved ever closer to their target. First 10-4 and then 13-4. At 14-4 (and match point) a let was called and given, giving the Champions a brief respite; but that was all is was as Stout and Larken won the game 15/4 and will take a 4-1 lead to New York for the Second Leg.
Andrew Lyons returned to The Queen’s Club to mark the match, expertly refereed by Peter Brake. Lifelong Rackets patron, John Prenn, presented the players with a bottle of Pol Roger champagne apiece to thank them for the spectacle, in which all four players played their part. Many thanks to PlayBrave, formally sponsoring its first major Rackets event and also to Pol Roger for the reception.
The point score of 69-37 in favour of the Challengers leaves them in a commanding position for the second leg.