Croquet: Fired up champ prepared

By Kelly Exelby

Duncan Dixon is prepared for his opening salvo at the World Golf Croquet championship in England to be fired off the rink this week if organisers try to pull a swifty.
The former world under-21 champion left for the UK on Monday in the six-strong New Zealand men's team (which also includes Katikati's Steve Piercy), and - contrary to croquet's sedate reputation - is steeling himself for the chance of a verbal stoush with organisers of the week-long tournament in Hurlingham, near London.
Dixon's pre-worlds irritation stems from the fact that organisers might try to arrange post-section play for the top 32 players according to current world rankings, rather than finishing order in round-robin play.
The 64-strong main draw has been split into eight blocks of eight players, with the top four from each block qualifying for the knockout stages. The Mt Maunganui 22-year-old said it would be at the whim of the organising committee which way they went.
But it would be a gross injustice if players topped qualifying only to be handed a tougher road through the knockout stages, he said.
"Hopefully they won't try and do everything to the letter of the law and [instead] use some logic by applying round-robin finishing order to the top-32 knockout, otherwise what's the difference between finishing first or fourth in your block?" the three-times national golf croquet national champion said.
"I go in ranked ninth in the world (down from seventh two weeks ago) and applying that to the knockout phase would put me in the worst possible position - equivalent to third in my pool in round-robin.
"Organisers never tell the players which way they're leaning until we get there, but I'm more than prepared to rock the boat and be vocal about it if I think they're doing it the wrong way.

"I've probably earned a bit of a reputation as being bloody-minded anyway."
Dixon successfully defended his national open singles title at Katikati late last year, confirming his re-selection in the New Zealand open team two years after he won the world under-21 title in Egypt. Egyptians are expected to dominate in Hurlingham after winning every men's world open title since 1996.
Dixon is gunning for a medal - his attitude going into every tournament - and will be bitterly disappointed if he bows out before the quarter-finals (top eight).
He's had a strange build-up to the worlds, with February's earthquake disaster in Christchurch postponing a planned move south to begin a graphic design course at Natcoll Design Technology. Dixon discovered the course will now begin this weekend while he's in London.
He's only just returned to the croquet rink after a self-imposed exile to freshen for the world champs, although attempts to recapture his form have been thwarted by the ugly weather lashing the Bay.
"There hasn't been a lot of incentive to get out there in the wet and cold, although after a couple of months away it's only taken a week to get my eye back in. At one stage playing Association Croquet [the longer form of the game] I was getting really annoyed at everything, so taking time out was a pretty good call."
Largely self-coached, Dixon has turned to Christchurch-based Englishman Chris Clarke, a former Association world champion, for critical analysis of his on-rink habits.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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