The reigning champion, two former winners and a player who has beaten all three will be battling for honours in the Braintree Table Tennis League individual championships, which start this weekend with finals night at the Earls Colne Recreation Centre the following Friday.
The men’s singles looks to be one of the mostly closely contested for many years with all four contenders capable of rising to the occasion.
Michael Andrews, the current champion, has won 30 out of 33 this season, while Paul Davison, who he beat in five games in last year’s final, has won 35 out of 38.
They are seeded at one and two, with the 2019 winner Lee McHugh, who did not play last year, at equal three with Paul Lucas.
Lucas could be the joker in the pack, having beaten all three but also lost to all three, Andrews and Davison in Braintree and McHugh, in the Chelmsford League. McHugh has also both beaten and lost to the other three.
If any of them should slip up, the next four seeds waiting in the wings are Dan Anderson, James Hicks, Andy Holmes and Ken Lewis.
Andrews and Davison are seeded at No 1 to retain their men’s doubles title, with McHugh and Adam Buxton at No 2.
Anderson and Holmes and the Nomads pair Lewis and Karl Baldwin are the equal third seeds.
For the first time since 2006, there were enough entries not only to feature a ladies’ singles and a mixed doubles but also a ladies’ doubles.
The singles will be between Davina Brazier, Jill Canning, Lindsey Dodd and Kath Little with the doubles a Netts v Notley affair between Brazier/Dodd and Canning/Little.
The mixed doubles will feature three newcomers to finals night. Canning is playing with Matt Brooks, Brazier with Jamie Brooks and Dodd with Adi Kamma. Anderson, who featured in last season’s men’s doubles final, joins Little.
Davison and Lucas are expected to contest the veterans’ singles final while Holmes and Hicks are the top two seeds in the over 50s.
Sean Clift, beaten in the last two restricted singles finals, will be hoping to go one better this time. Baldwin is the main man standing in his way.
The junior events are open to anyone attending coaching at Black Notley or Netts as well as league players. Jack Dearsley and Charles Calisin are the only two league players among the entries and can be expected to contend the final.
Andrews may be the favourite for the men’s singles title, but he will not want to relive his most recent experience in the league when he came up against an inspired Zach Harrington.
With only two defeats behind him all season – to McHugh and Lucas – he failed to find a way through Harrington and tumbled to defeat in three games, something even McHugh and Lucas could not manage.
It was Harrington’s second shock win of the season, having bettered Davison in September.
This time Netts A had to rely on James Hicks to steady the ship and lead them to a 7-3 win over Liberal A.
It enabled them to climb back above Rayne A, a position they maintained the following week when both had 9-1 wins, Netts over Black Notley B and Rayne against Netts B.
Liberal A followed up their defeat by Netts A with a further reverse, this time against their own B team. Scott Dowsett won his singles and doubles but that was as far as they got.
Alistair Hill’s three sets helped Netts B to a 6-4 win over Rayne B while Notley A secured a win by the same score against their own B team.
The B team needed to call up Sean Clift from division two and he showed them how it should be done by winning his three singles.
In division two, leaders Sudbury Nomads beat Rayne D 8-2 but then suffered their second defeat in three matches, 6-4 at the hands of Rayne’s C team.
As in their previous defeat, they were fielding a reserve, but credit must go to Dave Marsh, Richard Whiteside and Dave Punt, who all won twice for Rayne.
Second-placed Liberal C played three times in two weeks and served up close matches in each case, a 6-4 win over Rayne C, a draw with Netts C and a 6-4 defeat by Notley C. Mike Baldwin was undefeated for Netts C as was Alan Billing for Notley C.
Notley D, who held third place for some time, seem to have run into the sand, two defeats making it three in a row. The latest were 7-3 against Netts C – three wins for Szczepan Ziobro – and by the same score against Notley E, where Stewart Ireland was undefeated.
Things have tightened up again in division three as a result of two strong wins for Sudbury Wanderers and a slight hiccup by Rayne E.
Wanderers beat Rayne F 8-2 and Notley H 10-0 while Rayne E had a 9-1 win in a rearranged match against Notley I but were then restricted to a 6-4 win by the same opponents the following week. Paul Downes and Matt Stephenson both won twice for Notley I.
Third-placed Notley G followed a 7-3 defeat by Netts E – three wins for James Rissen – with a 10-0 win over Notley H that included the first maximum of the season for Kath Little.
Notley H also lost 7-3 to Netts D – all Netts’ points coming from Michael Goodchild and Chris Krelle – while Krelle and Kierlan Richards were undefeated in Netts D’s subsequent 9-1 win over Rayne G, who had earlier lost 6-4 to Notley I.
In a match featuring the over 70s against the under 17s, Rayne F’s Chris High, Alastair Brown and Charles Wilkinson all won twice in their 6-4 win over Netts E, all losing to a different opponent.