Stupendous. Stunning. Sensational. These were just some of the superlatives from spectators after watching the Men’s Singles final between James Denyer and Greg Green at the Clacton League’s Closed Championships, sponsored by The Survey Initiative, and held at the Coastal Academy Sports Hall last weekend.

With both Denyer and Green aiming for a third Men’s Singles crown, the pair produced a match of exceptional quality, Denyer winning a tense and pulsating final by the narrowest of margins, 3-2 (8-11, 11-9, 11-7, 3-11, 13-11). 

The match between the two Nomads Panthers’ team-mates started slowly but developed into an encounter of remarkable rallies, both players making full use of the court, attacking and retrieving low over the net from seemingly ridiculous angles, with some wonderful play that had the spectators on the edge of their seats. It was so entertaining it sometimes resembled an exhibition match!

However, the stakes were much higher than that and, at 10-9 up in the final set, Green had a point for the title but was denied by an outstanding return from Denyer. But then Green foul-served at 11-11, a most unfortunate occurrence in an encounter full of excellence, but one which ultimately swung the balance in Denyer’s favour.

The match was a credit to two very likeable and talented players, and one which will certainly linger in the memory bank of the spectators for many years to come. And, as the very last match of the Championships – which was also the last event of the 2023/24 Clacton League season – it was a fitting finale to end the table tennis year.

James Denyer (photo by Gavin Price)

Denyer had played impeccably all day, defeating hard-match players Pete Burrows 3-0 (11-8, 11-3, 11-7) in his quarter-final, and Gary Young in three (11-2, 12-10, 11-4) in the semi-final, his only blemish being the loss of a set to Daryl Lott in round two.

But the stylish Green, who had not been expected to get past the quarter-finals, had a far tougher day. In round two, he was given a stern test by the much-improved Russell Hillier before taking it 3-2 (11-6, 9-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-6), before taking on 19-year old Daniel Young, who was aiming to add the Clacton Men’s Singles title to the Colchester title he’d won only last month.

But Green was in imperious form and beat off the challenge of second seed Young 3-2 (9-11, 11-3, 9-11, 11-9, 11-6) in another classic contest. And it enabled Green to enter his semi-final full of confidence where, in another demanding encounter, he defeated former champion Kevin Gowlett 3-1 (11-6, 12-10, 10-12, 11-6).

Greg Green (photo by Gavin Price)

Denyer and Green were on the same side of the table for the Men’s Doubles where they were hoping to retain the title they’d won together for the first time last year.

In the final, they met second seeds Kevin Gowlett and Gary Young, but Denyer and Green were in no mood to relinquish their title. And having survived a massive third set comeback from their opponents which briefly threatened their crown, they ran out 3-1 (11-5, 11-8, 14-16, 11-7) winners.

But Denyer and Green so nearly fell at the first hurdle, when they were handed the most difficult of opening matches against the unseeded, untried but extremely dangerous pairing of Denes Somodi and John Hatley. As expected, it proved a demanding task and, after a titanic struggle, the champions came out on top by the narrowest of margins, 3-2 (8-11, 14-12, 11-7, 12-14, 11-8).

Runners-up Gowlett and Young had also experienced travails of their own, finding themselves unexpectedly down two sets to one in their quarter-final encounter against Russell Hillier and Adam Wilkin, before eventually succeeding 3-2 (11-4, 10-12, 9-11, 11-4, 11-5).

For the record, the Men’s Doubles title for Greg Green was his eighth success in this event, having appeared in 10 finals over the past 13 seasons.

Green added to his championship tally in the Mixed Doubles where, with Gracie Edwards, they defeated second seeds Kevin and Sharon Gowlett 3-1 (11-7, 8-11, 11-6, 11-7). Green and Edwards took the first set in style and looked as though they would power their way to victory but, with a change of server and receiver, the Gowletts hit back to take the second.

However, it proved only a short reprieve, the all-round talent of Green and Edwards ultimately proving too strong. It was, surprisingly, a first Mixed Doubles title for Green, but a fifth for Gracie in seven seasons.

Green’s performances during the Championships, winning two titles and coming so close to taking a third, was acknowledged when he was awarded the Victor Trophy for the outstanding performance of the Championships.

The Ladies’ events were once again dominated by Gracie Edwards, who having taken the Mixed Doubles title, made it a hat-trick.

She took a seventh Ladies’ Singles title in eight seasons, defeating Debra Found 3-0 (11-9, 11-4, 11-8) in a repeat of the 2022 final. But Found is a fierce competitor who was not over-awed by the situation and she put up impressive resistance against her younger opponent, at times matching Edwards’ attacking forehand hits.

Gracie Edwards (photo by Gavin Price)

The losing semi-finalists were Isabel Barton and Tricia Salter, both aiming for a first final appearance since they faced each other in 2005, while last year’s runner-up and second seed, Sharon Gowlett, had been unexpectedly beaten by Lynette Sparks in her qualifying Group and eliminated on countback.

Isabel Barton and Jenny Higgins are experienced campaigners who, between them and with various different partners, have won 21 Ladies’ Doubles titles. Twice, in 2015 and 2017, they’ve won the title together, but 2024 was not to be another year, the Windsor pairing finding title-holders Gracie Edwards and Debra Found too hot to handle. And it was the reigning champions who triumphed for a third year in a row, running out 3-0 (11-6, 11-4, 11-7 winners).

The top four seeds made it through to the semi-finals of the  Veterans’ Singles and although top seed Gary Young went safely through against Andy Vincent, Pete Burrows surprised second seed Kevin Gowlett by winning their semi-final 3-0 (11-7, 11-9, 12-10).

Both Young and Burrows were seeking a fourth Veterans’ title but the quality of Young’s play against a competitive, but tiring, Burrows was enough to give him a 3-1 (11-6, 8-11, 11-6, 11-5) victory.

No 1 seed Charlie Fulcher duly took the Super-Veterans’ Singles, beating surprise finalist Mark Ratcliffe, who had excelled by defeating seeded players Derek Willis and Andy Vincent. In the final, Fulcher needed all his quality to keep the determined Ratcliffe at bay in the first two sets before eventually running out a 3-0 (11-9, 11-9, 11-1) victor.   

Daniel Young was hot favourite to take the Restricted Singles which he duly did, but not without one or two scares, none more so than in the final when John Hatley came near to edging the second and third sets. But Young’s quality shone through, winning the trophy 3-0 (11-4, 15-13, 11-9). Pete Burrows and Andy Vincent were the losing semi-finalists.

Sam Plummer and Joe Sherwin qualified safely enough from their four-player group for the semi-finals of the Junior Boys’ Singles, but Savindu De Silva caused a major shock in the three-player group, defeating both Tom Bryden and Dan Grindrod, results which eliminated reigning champion Grindrod.

And De Silva compounded the shock when he beat Joe Sherwin in the semi-final 3-2 (17-15, 12-10, 9-11, 5-11, 11-8) to take an unexpected place in the final. Alas, Sam Plummer proved a stumbling block and it was the talented Plummer who took the title 3-0 (11-6, 11-6, 11-7), a worthy winner.   

Sam Plummer and Dan Grindrod were favourites to take the Junior Doubles ahead of Tom Bryden and Joe Sherwin. But the less-fancied pair put up stern resistance, so much so that the match went down to the wire. And, after an entertaining match of high-class rallies with the result in doubt until the very end, underdogs Bryden and Sherwin came out on top, winning a knife-edge battle 3-2 (9-11, 11-9, 14-16, 11-9, 11-9).

It was a second victory in this event for Bryden, having won it last year partnered by Grindrod.  

For a second year, Ruby Gallagher and Lucy Carvell met in a one-match shoot-out in the Junior Girls’ Singles. And the two young women produced a highly entertaining match which swayed first one way and then the other.

But the result ended in a repeat of the 2023 final, Gallagher winning a tough five-setter 6-11, 11-4, 8-11, 11-8, 11-5, where the pattern of the match and the scores had an uncanny resemblance to those of the previous year’s final (where Gallagher had won 5-11, 11-5, 8-11, 14-12, 11-4).

Harindu De Silva caused an upset in the Cadet Singles, defeating Lucy Carvell in the semi-finals. But the unassuming Ruby Gallagher proved too canny in the final, her League experience helping her to a 3-0 (11-4, 11-6, 11-4) victory for a second success in the 2024 Championships.   

Simon Smith-Daye has lost only once in Division Two this season and was seeded number one in the Division Two Singles. He got to the final, but not without a fight, having to get past a gritty Barry Allen 11-6 in the fifth in the quarter-final, and then Daryl Lott 3-1 (12-10, 11-4, 7-11, 12-10) in a highly competitive semi-final.

But Smith-Daye reckoned without the challenge of reigning champion Mark Salter, who’s had a comparatively average League season, who was determined to hold on to his title, reaching the final after getting the better of second seed Sam Plummer 11-7 in the fifth.

And the final turned out to be a cracker, with Smith-Daye and Salter going hammer and tongs, and the match see-sawing throughout. Salter took the first set with ease and Smith-Daye did the same in the second. Salter edged a nailbiting third set 18-16 but Smith-Daye hit back immediately. The result was in doubt until the very end but Salter showed his winner’s mettle, taking it 3-2 (11-1, 3-11, 18-16, 7-11, 11-8), a superb contest between two hard-hitting players.

The Division Three Singles always looked something of a lottery and so it proved. In the top half of the draw, third-equal seed Dan Grindrod struggled to get past Gerry Widnell 11-7 in the fifth in Round One, before winning his semi-final 11-5 in the decider against top seed Isabel Barton. In the bottom half of the draw, third-equal seed Lynette Sparks fell at the first hurdle to Alex Baldock.

But Lucy Carvell proved the surprise package, defeating Danny Still 11-5 in the decider, then Baldock 11-7 in the decider, before disposing of second seed Bob Jillins in four sets in the semi-final. And Carvell continued the carnage in the final, beating an unsettled Grindrod 3-1 (8-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-7) to take a wholly unexpected, but hard-earned, trophy.

And a special word of praise for Lucy who played despite having been delayed the previous day when travelling back from France, only getting back home at 2 o’clock on the first morning of the Championships! Well done, Lucy.

Overall. the Championships attracted an excellent entry of 64 players, with some 220 individual matches played over the two days. The Tournament was once again sponsored by The Survey Initiative and the League is most grateful to Gary Cattermole for his most generous sponsorship.

Thanks also go to Phil Smith and Jenny Higgins for their sponsorship of individual events, and to Mark Salter, who provided individual commemorative medals.

(sponsored by The Survey Initiative)

Men’s Singles (sponsored by Phil Smith): J Denyer beat G Green 3-2 (8-11, 11-9, 11-7, 3-11, 13-11)  
Ladies’ Singles: G Edwards beat D Found 3-0 (11-9, 11-4, 11-8)       
Men’s Doubles: J Denyer/G Green beat K Gowlett/G Young 3-1 (11-5, 11-8, 14-16, 11-7)   
Ladies’ Doubles: G Edwards/D Found beat I Barton/J Higgins 3-0 (11-6, 11-4, 11-7)    
Mixed Doubles: G Green/G Edwards beat K Gowlett/S Gowlett 3-1 (11-7, 8-11, 11-6, 11-7)    
Veterans’ Singles: G Young beat P Burrows 3-1 (6-11, 8-11, 11-6, 11-5)     
Super-Veterans’ Singles: C Fulcher beat M Ratcliffe 3-0 (11-9, 11-9, 11-1)   
Junior Boys’ Singles (sponsored by Jenny Higgins): S Plummer beat S De Silva 3-0 (11-6, 11-6, 11-7)     
Junior Doubles: T Bryden/J Sherwin beat D Grindrod/S Plummer 3-2 (9-11, 11-9, 14-16, 11-9, 11-9)    
Junior Girls’ Singles (sponsored by Jenny Higgins): R Gallagher beat L Carvell 3-2 (6-11, 11-4, 8-11, 11-8, 11-5)      
Cadet Singles: R Gallagher beat H De Siva 3-0 (11-4, 11-6, 11-4)     
Division Two Singles: M Salter beat S Smith-Daye 3-2 (11-1, 3-11, 18-16, 7-11, 11-8)   
Division Three Singles: L Carvell beat D Grindrod 3-1 (8-11, 11-8, 11-4, 11-7)
Restricted Singles: D Young beat J Hatley 3-0 (11-4, 15-13, 11-9)
Victor Trophy: G Green