Greg Lobban claimed his first Scottish Closed Championship title at the weekend, justifying his top-seeding to come out on top of a strong field. In the women’s event Senga Macfie added another title to her long list of honours.
The Men’s event looked to be wide open with Alan Clyne competing in Kuwait, leaving the top four seeds all in contention… Greg, who has just broken into the world’s top 100; Douglas Kempsell, who had beaten Greg at the North of Scotland Open last weekend and taken Alan to 5 in the final; Chris Small, looking leaner than ever at the age of 34 (almost 35 – watch out “Masters”!) and hoping to continue his excellent form from the ETC last year; and Stuart Crawford, who has an excellent track record in this event as the only former champion in the field.
Day 1 saw some close first round matches but in the end it was the top 4 seeds who progressed to the semi-finals as expected, with only Stuart being extended as he was taken to 5 by Chris Shinnie. Greg, Dougie and Chris enjoyed comfortable 3-0 wins, with Chris looking particularly impressive in his 11/3 11/7 11/2 win over Kevin Moran.
Both semi-finals pitted youth versus experience with Stuart facing Dougie and Greg vs. Chris. Stuart took a slightly unexpected 2-0 lead in the first match before Dougie fought back to claim the third 12/10. The fourth was long and physical with Stuart holding matchball on 3 occasions but Dougie held his nerve to level at 2-2 before using his superior fitness to full effect in the fifth for a 7/11 7/11 12/10 15/13 11/6 win after 93 minutes of action. In the other semi-final, Greg got off to his customary fast start against Chris to take the first two games before Chris fought back in the third. At 8/5 to Chris in the fourth it looked like a second 5-setter could be on the cards but Greg recovered strongly to claim an 11/9 11/5 6/11 13/11 win and reach his second successive Nationals final, after his defeat to Alan Clyne last year.
The final was a repeat of the Scottish U19 Junior Nationals final just 2 years ago, demonstrating how quickly both players have made the sometimes difficult transition from junior to senior level under the guidance of Roger Flynn. Greg once again came flying out of the blocks, using the front of the court to full effect to lead 10/3 before wrapping up the first game 11/7. With Dougie looking unusually sluggish following his exertions earlier in the day, Greg continued to apply the pressure with his outstanding ability to exploit an opponent’s movement, keeping the pace high and ensuring enough variation and deception to leave Dougie regularly out of position. He quickly sealed an 11/7 11/3 11/5 win for his first senior National title at the age of just 20 years old.
The women’s event saw Senga and Rosie Allen dispatch the only other competitor in the event (Joyce Leach) in straight games to set up a final showdown. Rosie showed no sign of nerves in the early stages as she reached game ball at 10/9 before losing the first 12/10. She continued to attack relentlessly and managed to hit enough winners to level 11/9 before Senga was finally able to get control of the rallies to win 12/10 9/11 11/9 11/5.
With Dougie even younger than Greg at 19, and Alan Clyne entering the prime of his career with his best years hopefully still ahead of him, the future for the senior Men’s team looks extremely promising. The immediate target for this group will be improving on their superb 4th place finish at last year’s European Team Championships. This year’s event will be held in Amsterdam at the start of May, with the World Team Championships in Mulhouse, France, shortly afterwards in June.