British Ladies Open Doubles Rackets Championship 2017

Updated: 25 Nov 2017
Published: 19 Nov 2017

Women’s World Rackets champion Lea Van Der Zwalmen, 21 underlined her class as she and new partner Jess Garside, 22 survived an explosive struggle with Georgie Willis and Eve Shenkman to win the British Women's Rackets Doubles Championships at Malvern College.

British Ladies Open Doubles Rackets Championship 2017

Van Der Zwalmen, a former French junior squash champion, took up rackets, the ancient forerunner of squash, as a pupil at Clifton College and she and Garside from Seacourt, Hayling Island started in style with an impressive victory over her previous partner Malvern College’s Director of Sport Chey West and the fluent teenager Fionnuala Dowling-Membrado (Cheltenham.) They then powered through their semi-final against National Schools Under 16 champions Issie Thorneycroft and Lauren Gooding from Wellington College who fought bravely despite superb retrieving from Van Der Zwalmen and fine serving from Garside.

Willis and Shenkman, the experienced Oxford University partnership who beat Cambridge in the first women’s Varsity rackets match earlier this year had reached the Malvern final in style, putting out the National Schools senior champion Rose Jones and India Deakin, the top Cheltenham College pair, for the loss of just 4 points. They continued their impressive hitting in the final and after dropping the first game to the favourites, began to target the less experienced Garside and only narrowly lost the second game 15-12. After trailing in the third, Willis sent a string of accurate backhands down the line while the agile Shenkman hustled impressively and they took the game 15-7, the first that Van Der Zwalmen had dropped in any of her appearances in the event. From then on, however, it was business as usual for the top seeds, Van Der Zwalmen upping the pace and cracking a string of unreturnable boasts into the corners, while Garside’s nicely weighted serves kept the opponents under constant pressure. Willis and Shenkman responded bullishly, producing some sparkling rallies and exquisite volleys but the world champion dominated the play, pounding some fine service aces and crashing away any returns short of a length, well backed up by the stylish Garside whose coolness under pressure belied her lack of experience. Van Der Zwalmen clinched the match with a zinging backhand that died in the back corner, after one of the most entertaining matches ever seen at the championships.

Chey West and Fionnuala Dowling-Membrado were also among the winners, taking the Plate event after an impressive fight-back from a game down in the final to beat the second Cheltenham pair Martha Elliott and Georgie Baillie-Hamilton. West’s courtcraft and canny advice for the talented but inexperienced Dowling-Membrado proved crucial and the teenager visibly grew in confidence as the match progressed. A fine run of serving by West levelled the match at a game apiece and despite some spectacular winners from the richly gifted Cheltenham partnership to take them to 8-all in the decider, West’s extra consistency and calmness on the big points made the difference, as she and Dowling-Membrado served through to take the match 15-8. Former world rackets and Real Tennis champion Howard Angus, a great supporter of the women’s game, made the presentations and announced that the salver given for the Plate event was to be renamed the Norman Rosser trophy, in honour of the much-loved Malvern College master in charge of both rackets and squash, who died recently in retirement after a lifetime of service to the school.

Sally Jones

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