Walton C heroes rise to the occasion

A superb all-round team performance from Walton C saw them take the Clacton League’s 2024 Handicap Knock-Out Cup, defeating fellow-Division One side Windsor Hawks 5-3 in the final.

It was a well-deserved triumph for Walton C’s unsung trio of Mark Gale, Mark Ratcliffe and Paul Meikle, none of whom has enjoyed major success in the Clacton League before. They become the first team from the Walton Club to win the Cup for twenty years.

It was fitting that Paul Meikle, the only Walton player with Cup Final experience having been a runner-up in 2015, clinched the victory in match eight. And it was even more appropriate as Meikle, the oldest of the players on show, was the only one to stay unbeaten on the night.

But it was an evening of disappointment for Daniel Young, Andy Vincent and Felipe Rodriguez of Windsor Hawks, although they had ridden their luck during the Group stage of the competition, having qualified for the Knock-Out stage only by virtue of being one of the best third-placed teams.

The final saw under-dogs Walton C get off to a flyer, with Ratcliffe and Meikle (+2) scarcely needing their handicap advantage to take the opening doubles 11-0, 11-6, 11-0, benefitting from a nervous and error-strewn performance from Vincent and Rodriguez (-6)

The first of the singles matches paired up Mark Gale and Daniel Young, two players unbeaten in singles in this year’s Cup competition. It was always going to be a tense struggle, and Young (-6) needed patience and skill to blunt the dogged determination and defending of Walton skipper Gale (+2). The opening set proved pivotal, Gale saving four set points before Young settled it. And with fearsome forehands also in his armoury, Young was able to take the match 16-14, 11-7, 7-11, 11-9.

The Hawks took the lead as Rodriguez (-3) edged out Ratcliffe (+1) 13-11, 0-11, 11-7, 17-15 in a topsy-turvy match. Rodriguez came back from 6-0 down to take the first set, won just one actual point in a disastrous second set, but then took the third with ease after retrieving the handicap at 2-all. The final set was a spectator’s paradise, with the pair producing tremendous rallies, as Ratcliffe went on the attack with Rodriguez forced to retrieve from deep. But Rodriguez eventually took his third match point at 17-15 to put the Hawks ahead for the only time in the final.

Walton C hit back immediately before the interval when Meikle (+2) made full use of his handicap start, defeating Vincent (-8) 11-0, 11-0, 11-2. Vincent resolutely refused to sacrifice his natural aggressive style, which produced rat-a-tat table tennis, full of sharp rallies. But Meikle’s excellent left-hand looping winners ultimately proved the key to a straightforward victory.     

Gale and Meikle (+2) made it 3-2 for Walton in the middle doubles, their excellent combination of defence and attack overcoming Young and Rodriguez (-6) 11-4, 12-14, 11-9, 11-5, although they will feel fortunate to have scraped the third on a net. Nevertheless, they matched their Windsor opponents throughout and importantly continued their excellent record in the doubles.

In his singles matches, Young (-6) looked unbeatable and, despite his handicap disadvantage, was impressive as he levelled the score against Ratcliffe (+2). Ratcliffe showed his mettle in taking the game to Young with some hard-hitting backhands, but Young displayed his tactical nous and that, allied to tricky serves which proved a reliable points-winner, enabled him to retrieve his handicap early in each set to win 11-9, 11-9, 11-7.

That was to be the end of the Hawks’ success as Gale (+2) breezed past Vincent (-5) who seemed unsure whether to employ his normal offensive strategy or use a more defensive tactic. Either way, it was Gale who in the end took it comfortably 11-0, 11-6, 11-7 against a below-par Vincent.

And so it was left to Meikle (+1), now constantly utilising his trademark left-hand loops, to administer the coup de grâce as he faced Rodriguez (-6). Meikle’s all-or-nothing approach produced dividends, as well as a match of much entertainment and tension for the spectators, the two players attempting to out-loop the other for crucial points. But despite a valiant display by Rodriguez, it was Meikle who took the honours, clinching the Cup for Walton 11-9, 7-11, 11-9, 11-6.

Final results : (Walton C players named first):

Match 1 : M Ratcliffe/P Meikle (+2) beat A Vincent/F Rodriguez (-6) 11-0, 11-6, 11-0;

Match 2 : M Gale (+2) lost to D Young (-6) 14-16, 7-11, 11-7, 9-11;

Match 3 : M Ratcliffe (+1) lost to F Rodriguez (-3) 11-13, 11-0, 7-11, 15-17;

Match 4 : P Meikle (+2) beat A Vincent (-8) 11-0, 11-0, 11-2; Match 5 : M Gale/P Meikle (+2) beat D Young/F Rodriguez (-6) 11-4, 12-14, 11-9, 11-5;

Match 6 : M Ratcliffe (+2) lost to D Young (-6) 9-11, 9-11, 6-11;

Match 7 : M Gale (+2) beat A Vincent (-5) 11-0, 11-6, 11-7; Match 8 : P Meikle (+1) beat F Rodriguez (-6) 11-9, 7-11, 11-9, 11-6.

Walton reserve Mo Hardy, who stepped in as a reserve in one of Walton’s knock-out matches, also received a winner’s trophy, while runners-up trophies were presented to Windsor Hawks’  non-playing squad members, skipper John Barton and Ian Fielder.

Finally, thanks go to the loyal band of spectators who supported the event, as well as to Tricia Salter and Dave Wright who did a splendid job sharing the umpiring duties.