The 4th Swiss Open was held over the weekend including the Swiss National Day of Tuesday August 1st. A slightly disappointing number of nine croquet players from five different countries gathered on the evening of Friday 28th July on the croquet lawns of CERN (Centre Europeenne pour la Recherche Nucleaire). The two lawns, which are located in the CERN site at Prevessin (just in France), were in excellent condition despite the relatively late start to the gardening season in this part of the world. This was largely due to the efforts of several club members and some complicated lawn mower technology improvements. It's not rocket science, it's more complicated than that!
For the first time the managerial duty was entrusted to a "foreigner", John Davis, who, following last years computer technical overload, relied on paper and pencil to control proceedings. Fortunately the catering was again in the capable hands of David Payne. This ensured a never-ending flow of good food and wine to fill in those rare moments when we were not actually playing.
With only nine entries it was possible to complete an all-play-all block in two days plus two matches. This would allow two best of three semi-finals on Monday and a best of five final on Tuesday. The plate could be run as a flexible Egyptian allowing more matches than usual with the two most successful players contesting the final on Tuesday afternoon.
The early front runner was Ian Sexton, the winner of the first two Swiss Opens and runner-up last year. His first three games produced two triples and a narrow failure with the third. His opponents didn't get a chance to make a mistake. Meanwhile Peter Payne, relieved of managerial duties, was also unbeaten at the end of day one. Players with one loss included Norman Eatough and John Davis (a victim of one of Ian's triples). Things changed on day two. Ian began to struggle and lost twice, to Peter and Norman, the latter game being an epic +2, which Norman seemed to really enjoy. At the other end of the table Andy Cowing, John Swabey and Danny Davids were finding life tough. Danny had a good victory against Andrew and came close in a couple of others. John S beat Danny but otherwise struggled. Andrew beat John S and, in the final block game, Kevin Garrad. Kevin, Fernando de Ansorena and Norman were contesting mid-table!
As luck would have it (!) the last two games were critical to deciding final positions. Peter was unbeaten and had to play John Davis (6/7). This would decide first place, the loser would have to play Ian (6/8) in one semi-final. The fourth place would go to the winner of the other match, Fernando against Norman. Fernando was playing very steadily and saw off the Norman challenge (no conquest here then!). Meanwhile John D. had it all sown up against Peter until he broke down at rover attempting to complete his triple. Peter took advantage and went to 4-back, John missed and Peter set off on his triple attempt. Although he managed the 4-back peel he decided to concentrate on removing John's peg ball, leaving rover and box against penult and peg. Some serious cat-and-mouse followed before John finally hit to win by 4.
As the catering had gone so well the catering manager was allowed to enter the plate so we had eight players, six plus the two losing semi-finalists, playing as many games as possible before Tuesday afternoon at 2pm.
The semi-finals of the main event probably went to form. John D beat Fernando completing triples in both games. The other match was, however, much closer. Peter won the first easily and Ian took revenge in the second. The decider was wonderful entertainment as each had chances to win before Ian hit the crucial "last (of several!) shot" to win +3. This set up a repeat of last years final with Peter and Fernando "promoted" to the Plate.
The final day dawned with the Plate wide open, Peter, Fernando, Norman and Kevin were all in contention. Danny, Andrew and John S were enjoying the weather and the catering. Speaking of catering, our catering manager was only able to complete one match, a six-hour epic victory over Andrew. Exhausted but happy he retired to the kitchen to "preserve his 100% record".
The plate final was contested between Peter (100%), including one triple, and Kevin (80%) after Kevin had beaten Fernando in the crucial match. Peter duly upheld local pride despite fierce resistance from Kevin.
Meanwhile the final was underway. John D. rapidly won the first +26tp and was about to do the same in the second when he failed to clear the peelee from behind rover. The attempted peg out back through the hoop missed by a whisker but Ian failed to get going allowing John to take the second +23. It was only 11.30 and the spectators were expecting to watch the final during the afternoon. The manager, rather unwisely as it turned out, decided to resume the final after lunch, which, as usual, was excellent and washed down with some wonderful Swiss wines. Play resumed at 2.05pm.
Clearly the lunch break had done wonders for Ian as he quickly completed a +23 tp to bring the match back in the balance. The spectators were not to be disappointed as the fourth game proved very entertaining, if not for the players. John D. won the opening and quickly took a ball to 4-back. Ian missed the lift and John set off on his triple. Having completed two peels he played three poor shots in a row and stuck in 3-back on the last of them. Ian was off and went to 4-back. John D hit with the 3-back ball but failed to make the rover peel, leaving Ian with a long lift shot which he hit and set off again. Unable to organise the balls he ended up attempting a straight triple but only managed one peel. John D missed the lift. Ian missed a long penult, John missed the 10 yarder, Ian missed with the peg ball into corner three and John missed the 10 yarder at it. Ian then set up a leave for the penult ball. John missed and Ian was off. He ran the two hoops but left himself with a long peg out. He missed with the forward ball but pegged out the other. Guess what length of shot John had? Yes, 10 yards. This time, however, he hit...phew! Ian's ball was duly dispatched to corner one with John sort of joined up in corner 3. Ian shot at the peg and ended up next to John's peg ball. Unable to face the 10 yarder with the rover ball John used the peg ball to leave Ian in corner 3 and retired to leave a single ball rush to rover from the south boundary. Ian missed the peg by a whisker and John managed to finish to win the fourth game and the match (+26tp, +23, -23tp, +1). So John D retained the Swiss Open crown but he had to share the peeling prize with Ian (they each had three of the seven triples completed).
In Europe, despite the long distances involved, we are beginning to see a "European Croquet Circuit" develop. There are tournaments in Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium as well as Switzerland. The Swiss Open is a cornerstone of this development and should become a permanent fixture. It presents a wonderful opportunity to combine tourism, gastronomic pleasures and croquet in a beautiful part of Europe. Also, coinciding with the Swiss National Day, there is an impressive free firework display around the shores of Lake Geneva. The Swiss, as always, were marvellous hosts. UK based croquet players should take advantage of the wonderful opportunities offered by this emerging "European Tournament Circuit".