Stephen Mulliner and Spanish number 1, Jose Riva, contested a thrilling final yesterday evening in front of a hugely supportive and enthusiastic crowd of over 200. Jose took the first game 7-6 but Stephen took the next two 7-3, 7-3 to become the first Spanish Open GC Champion.
The Spanish Croquet Federation has collaborated with Vista Hermosa Club de Golf near Cadiz in southern Spain in creating a superb three lawn complex. The lawns are sand-based, floodlit and offer a smooth playing surface and are located in close proximity to the striking Basque-style clubhouse. Golf Croquet is growing strongly in Spain and their first International Open was a great opportunity to provide 15 Spanish players with 17 opponents representing Australia, Belgium, England, Finland, Germany, Norway, Scotland and Switzerland and a range of styles. The event ran from Wednesday afternoon to Saturday evening in weather that varied from warm to very hot. In consequence, playing at night under lights is normal and very similar to playing in Cairo, albeit without the sound of regular calls to prayer!
Jose Riva and the four Alvarez-Sala brothers are well-known in European croquet circles, with Jose having made a particular name for himself at the 2013 British AC Open. The other Spanish players included another youngster, Andres de Diego, and two relative newcomers, Basilio Iglesias and Maria Taylor, who took up GC just over a year ago and have made tremendous strides in that time. The other domestic competitors were established players (Lucas Azcona, Luis de Gortazar, Emilio Marin, Mercedes O'Neale, Enrique Otte, Juan Peman and Rafael Serrano) who have not played much or any croquet outside Spain.
The field was divided into four blocks of eight with the top four proceeding to the Championship Knock-out and the bottom four to the Consolation Plate. Roar Michalsen (NOR), who played so well in the 2014 European GC Championship, was slow to get going and failed to qualify. However, he then found his form and emerged as a worthy Plate winner. The quarter-finals pitched five Spaniards (Riva, Iglesias and three Alvarez-Salas) against Mulliner, James Goodbun and Helena Jansson (aka Fensome). Mulliner had his usual competitive encounter with Goodbun while Riva proved too strong for all his Spanish opponents. Andres de Diego defeated Charles-Eric Vilain (BEL) in the Bowl final (KO R1 losers) and James Goodbun beat Helena Jansson in the Shield final.
The final was played with the spectators in carnival mood. All ages were represented but with an encouragingly youthful predominance. Loud cheering and an occasional Mexican wave followed every long clearance or hoop, with suitable groans when the occasional rank error occurred, and this very lively and fair contribution, despite natural wishes for a Spanish victory, made an incredible atmosphere in which to play the match.
Game 1 was very close in every respect. Stephen led 2-0 but was hauled back to 2-2. He had hoop 5 at his mercy but an attempted jaws found an unexpected slope and Jose ran from the boundary. Play then alternated to 6-6 when Stephen set up for the rush to 13 but his Y just failed to reach running position. He tried for a close-range block but went just too far and Jose ran smoothly from 3 yards to win 7-6 to a huge ovation. Game 2 reached 3-2 to Stephen when, for once, Jose missed a short (5 yard) clearance with B on R in front of 6 and clipped K (which was blocking R) out of position. This gave Stephen 4-2 which soon became 5-2 and 6-3. The game ended at 10 with an extraordinary 20 yard clearance from near the west boundary removed Jose's B from its semi-jawsed position and left Y in the jaws instead. Jose's very angled jump with B failed, R smashed K to the west boundary and the match was swiftly all square.
Game 3 began very evenly but was effectively decided by ten turns after 1-1 in which Jose had the misfortune to peel Y through 3 with K, thereby allowing Stephen to take close position immediately at 4 and take the hoop in Y's next turn. To rub it in, with Y's following turn, Stephen cleared B and went in-off through 5 to beyond the peg, giving him control of 6 as well. From 1-1 to 5-1 in the twinkling of an eye. Jose fought on but ran both 7 and 9 to beyond their respective next hoops and this gave Stephen control of 8 and 10 and a final score of 7-3.
The players were invited to a beach-side cocktail party on the opening night and the event ended with a superb reception, prize giving and dinner outside the clubhouse in balmy temperatures from 10 p.m. to after 2 a.m! Many congratulations are due to the Spanish Croquet Federation and Vista Hermosa Club de Golf for creating and hosting such a great tournament and extending such generous hospitality to all the players.