Alpha pair turn clock back..almost!

Tony Stephenson (left) and Tony Murphy reached the semi-final of the Men's Doubles and Stephenson was runner-up in the Singles
Tony Stephenson (left) and Tony Murphy reached the semi-final of the Men's Doubles and Stephenson was runner-up in the Singles

A thrilling semi-final victory over seasoned international pair Eugene McKenna and Graham Henderson back in October 2012 was to set Tony Murphy and Tony Stephenson on their way to the coveted Ulster Open Men’s Doubles title and went into this season’s Forza Ulster Premier Open with a fair degree of optimism.

particularly in an opening set which they edged through 21-19.

Tony Stephenson returned to his form of old as he reached the final of the Men's Singles in the Forza Ulster Premier Open

Tony Stephenson returned to his form of old as he reached the final of the Men's Singles in the Forza Ulster Premier Open

Next up were the No3/4 seeds John Amond and Brian O’Mahony, who had themselves been stretched to three sets by Jack Armstrong and his partner Sean Patrick Laureta.

However the Alpha pair were never pressed and booked their place in the semi-final against the No2 seeds Jack O’Brien and Callum Thomas and although there was never going to be much between the two partnerships, it was the No2 seeds who were to snatch the opening set 24-22, though the Alpha pair had their opportunities as

well but could not ramp home the advantage.

With the second set following the opening set in terms of having spectators on the edge of their seat, the match was called to a halt when Murphy sadly was unable to continue due to injury, with the score standing at 18-17 in favour of the O’Brien/Thomas partnership.

Meanwhile Alpha’s Ciaran Chambers and Ryan Stewart, seeded No3/4, had typically negotiated their passage through to the semi-final with their customary aplomb, ending the hopes of Declan Bennett and Tony Crowley 21-14 21-13 and Peter McDonald and Michael Staunton 21-14 21-8 only to find top seeds Daniel Magee and

Azhar Syed in top form.

Nevertheless the Alpha pair were to take the opening set 21-17 and will have been disappointed that they could not seal the title in the second and the top seeds were able to draw level taking the second 21-19 and eased through to the title 21-14.

MENS SINGLES

Tony Stephenson returned to the Men’s Singles event this year having only entered the Doubles last season and having won the title in 2012,2014,2015,2016 and 2017 the competition always seems to bring the best out of him and this was soon to become evident as he saw off Amal Maharaj 21-13 21-6 and Rian Fox-Hughes 21-5

21-6.

The No.3/4 seed was to be a wake-up call though but Stephenson was equal to it, and despite seeing the opening set snatched from his grasp 25-23, he was to take the match into a deciding set winning 23-21 and was quite frugal with his points against, to seal the victory 21-12.

Next up then for the unseeded Stephenson was Sean Patrick Laureta in the semi-final with the Alpha player having a perfect head to head record against him, after winning their only previous encounter in the Leinster Open back at the beginning of the year.

Stephenson however was slow to get into his game and found himself 10-6 down before climbing back to 11-8 at the interval.

It was only when he was 18-15 in arrears that we saw Tony make fewer unforced errors and stringing a few points together and pulled back from 20-17 and game point to put a little pressure on Laureta only to falter 21-19.

Having shown considerable improvement in the number of unforced errors he was to lead for the first time in

the match at 4-3 and led 11-9 at the interval before racing to the second set 21-16.

He was showing considerable confidence once again in the decider, his court craft was excellent, his play around the net was like the Stephenson of old, and he took total control from then on, leading 11-3 at the interval and saw the game out 21-11.

In the final Stephenson’s opponent was Adam McAllister the No3/4 seed, who has lost on two previous occasions to the Alpha player, first in the 2016 Ulster Open on a scoreline of 21-18 21-9 and in the Leinster Open in January of this year 21-10 21-8.

This time however he was to get his first win over the Alpha player who was disappointed that he didn’t clinch the opening set, with McAllister taking it 21-19 and capturing the title 21-11with the match lasting just short of the half hour mark.

MURPHY TAKES McALLISTER TO THREE

Meanwhile Tony Murphy similarly eased through his opening encounter beating Tony Crowley 21-12 21-12 in just short of half-an-hour but had to call upon all his nous and court craft to end the hopes of No2 seed Callum Thomas, coming back from dropping the opening set 21-12 to win in three 21-12 21-17 to seal a semi-final against Nigel Boyne, who had faced the Alpha player only on two previous occasions with matches shared at 1-1, Boyne having won back in 2013 in three sets while Murphy got the better of his opponent in the Louth Open in 2014.

This time though Boyne, quarter-finalist in last season’s Ulster Open, snatched the opening set 21-17 but was forced to retire leaving Murphy a clash against No3/4 seed Adam McAllister, with a place in the final as his reward.

Interestingly the pair have only faced each other on two previous occasions and share one win each, Mcallister having avenged his three set defeat in the 2017 Ulster Open with a straight sets win in the Irish National in February 2018.

After losing the opening set 21-15 Murphy was to fight his way back into the semi-final and took the second 21-16 but was certainly having to call on all his nous around the court but it was McAllister who was to step up the tempo and it paid dividends, booking his passage into the final 21-13.

There were also a number of excellent performances from some of our local players including Chris Cochrane who had a 20-23 21-17 21-12 victory in the opening round against Mark Topping’s son Jamie, while after taking the opening set against Patrick Martin 21-10 he had to recover from losing the second, and booked his place in

Round 2, where he caused the No3/4 seed Azhar Syed more than a few problems.

Ben Dempster lost a 29 minute marathon to Steven Wainwright 21-19 in the third while Brian Moore lost 21-19 21-10 to Nigel Boyne.

WOMEN’S DOUBLES

With Women’s Singles champion Rachael Woods not defending her title due to university commitments the two top seeds Orla Flynn and Sara Boyle were to contest a rather one sided final though the unseeded Moya Ryan was to give the top seed more than a few headaches as she raced to the opening set 21-12 of their semi-final before Flynn regained control of the situation by winning the second 21-14 and the decider 21-19 in favour of the top seed.

However it was the No2 seed Sara Boyle who was to capture the title 21-9 21-15.

MIXED DOUBLES

Vicki Pesti and Mark Topping were seeded No1 in the Mixed Doubles with Sean Patrick Laureta and Orla Flynn occupying the No2 slot but it was Daniel Magee and Sara Boyle who were to lift the title, beating No3/4 seeds Declan Bennett and Lauren Au 18-21 29-27 21-17 with the champions having ended the hopes of the top

seeded Topping/Pesti partnership 21-14 21-11while the runners-up were given a real testing time by Ian Macbeth and Tracey Watson before coming through 21-18 17-21 21-12.