Knox Takes Ulster Closed Title

Trillick Tornado Keith Knox proved he is the real deal at the Ulster championships on Saturday in Fivemiletown.  The topspin maverick survived a bout of severe leg cramp, sheer exhaustion and three marathon five setters with Ulster No1 Paul McCreery (Crossgar), 3 times champion Daryl Strong (Belfast) and rising star Ashley Robinson (Clogher)  to be crowned Ulster senior champion for the first time.

Tournament Director Tony Phillips who ran the event with military precision devised a format that tested not only the skills of players  but also their stamina culminating in a four player shoot out for the title. The finale was not for the fainthearted with aggressive topspin commonplace and defensive shots rare. Destroyer Strong has a proven pedigree at this level but was edged out of the running by both McCreery and Knox in close encounters while Robinson showed glimpses of brilliance but lost his three.  

The injury plagued Knox had spent the summer refining his skills in China but despite this the vastly talented McCreery started this match as favourite having won at the Bristol Grand Prix recently.  However the intensive training paid dividends for Knox who served with great variation and attacked with purpose from the outset.   The Crossgar star was uncharacteristically pensive choosing to counterattack but still kept in touch throughout   The scoreline stood at 10-8 in the fifth to Knox when the match took a dramatic turn as he fell to the ground with leg cramp.  Phillips quickly opened the rule book and instructed the umpire to allow him 10 minutes to recover.  After the delay a hushed gallery then saw McCreery save one match point before Knox limped over the line 11-9 in the fifth.   What a thriller.

“Fast Phil” Wallace (Ballyclare) had a few hiccups early on but steadied the ship to come home fifth while Claire Nelson who plays for the Poitiers club in the French National league used her lethal drives to break into the top six.  Another superb junior is Stephen Slater (Lisbellaw) and it was no surprise when he finished seventh but the inform Robert “Sting” Fisher having dispatched a number of arch rivals early on was surely disappointed not to make the last four in the end.

Special mention must be made of 14 year old Ashley Given (Dungannon) who took a number of senior scalps during the day and the elder statesman of senior league table tennis Norman Nabney (Belfast) who once again defied the odds to finish tenth. Meanwhile at the Ballymena Academy tournament the open singles was won by David Sulkowski (Poland) who beat former Commonwealth star Brian Orr 3-1 while Gary Crawford defeated Francis Shirley to claim the classic Hardbat title.

Ulster Senior Championships Top 20

1 Keith Knox

2 Paul McCreery

3 Daryl Strong

4 Ashley Robinson

5 Philip Wallace

6 Claire Nelson

7 Stephen Slater

8 Robert Fisher

9 Mark McGuigan

10 Norman Nabney

11 Ashley Given

12 Mervyn Funston

13 Peter Clarke

14 Ivan Jeffers

15 Trevor Montgomery

16 Cyril Fannin

17 Neil Irwin

18 Ted Mahaffy

19 Susan Murphy

20 Roy Coard