Cambridge triumph in Inter-University Tournament

25 Jan 2009

UPDATE: Simon Marshall has filed this report. THE NEXT TOURNAMENT IS IN NOVEMBER 2009


Two events�; two courts�; 13 Universities�; 33 players�; dinner at St John�s College�; Polistas Polo clothing�; Harrow racquets�; two Presidents�; one chief executive�; and, of course, several cases of Pol Roger. 2009 can undoubtedly be said to have been the year that the Inter University Tournament came of age and firmly established itself as a prime date on the Real Tennis calendar.

Its third year, and with another 50% increase in players participating, numerical necessity meant that a sad farewell had to be bade to Middlesex�s one court as the event relocated to the welcoming arms of Cambridge�s two. And at this point of transition, remembering that great trees grow from small seeds, a hearty and lasting �thank you� is due to Middlesex for having provided the well from which to draw the much needed water for the first two years of its growth.

The format, with some minor (and hopefully final) tinkering from the previous year�s, comprised two separate competitions: the Inter-University Cup and the University Handicap Singles.

Inter University Cup:

Following the National League format of two level singles (one 10 game set) and a doubles (one 8 game set), this was a straight knock-out team competition where teams could be up to a maximum of four strong, or as few as two, and in which Universities could be �amalgamated� where there was only one real tennis players � so Oxbridge would no longer have the hegemony of numbers!

Having said this � and perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly given it was on home territory � the Cambridge team, led by two of the clan �Hird�, looked pretty formidable � if not unbeatable. This impression that it might be a home banker was confirmed by the unfortunate absence of some of (defending champions) Oxford�s best players, and the potentially strong Manchester team.

In the top half of the draw, Cambridge duly booked their place in the final with successive 3 � 0 victories over Oxford and Bordeaux (the two Bordelais, Paul van der Linden and Pierre Blanchot, both off low 30s handicaps, nevertheless playing exceptionally well in defeat).

In the bottom half Bristol, the second seeds, had to work slightly harder to secure their passage through to the final, defeating the combined teams of City/London Met and Essex/Canterbury Christ Church. Indeed, in the semi-final, Essex�s Toby Bawden, conceding a 6 point handicap advantage to Bristol�s Phil Dunn (he of the never-ending phd!), battled all the way to 8 all before eventually succumbing 8-10; and in the second strings, had Tom Carew Hunt been able to replicate his efforts of the previous day, when he had swept aside Warwick�s Luke Fortune 10-1, despite giving away almost 8 handicap points, a tense doubles finale would have been in prospect; but it was not to be, and the 10-3 loss meant that it was indeed to be a Bristol/Cambridge final.

Now for Bristol to stand any chance of the taking the match into the doubles decider, one of Phil Dunn or Rory Davidson would have to play the match of their lives and overturn a handicap difference of more than 10 points in their respective matches against Rob Hird and Sarah Vigrass. To say that there was a brief flurry in the Bristol bookies with these odds would, in all honesty, be a lie � but then, possibility is always an alluring percentage of improbability.

In the first strings, Phil played exceptionally well, forcing a number of errors from Rob with some good consistent play; but, in spite of this, he was always only winning one point to Rob�s three and was left marooned up the receiver�s end for long stretches where he was often left staring helplessly at the receiving corner (racquet up in preparation, mind) as yet another of Rob�s tambour shots fizzed across the court and rolled up flush against the back wall. In the end, Rob ran out a comfortable 10-3 winner.

For the first 6 games of the second singles, the improbable did threaten to be possible, as Rory (all flailing arms, legs and mad professor hair) pegged Sarah (stylistically, quite the opposite) to 3 all. Thereafter, however, Sarah was just too strong and ran away with the next 7 games to seal victory. Karen Hird then teamed up with Ed Pearson in the dead doubles to complete Cambridge�s well-deserved victory, and Rob stepped up to receive (yet another) Cambridge trophy from the club�s President, George Pearson.

University Handicap Singles:

Starting off with seven groups of four players of roughly matching handicap from which the top two would progress, the knock-out stages were this year designed so that the 30 owe 40s and banned all sorts of things worse than a marker�s memory would be confined to the closing stages.

As it turned out though, the� 8 game final was played off a very reasonable 15 owe 15 between Canterbury�s Tom Carew Hunt (43) and Middlesex�s captain, Ross �the chat� Lewry (53) � despite the fact that their routes to the final had been somewhat contrasting.

Whilst Tom had eased through with a series of convincing victories � which including a crushing 8-1 victory over his erstwhile team-mate, Toby Bawden � Ross had had to battle through several tight matches, including against team-mate and Middlesex intern Shovan Tamjidi in the Quarters, and then, in the semi-finals, Bristol�s Tom Lewis � who fought admirably to lose only 6-8 when giving away a tough 30 owe 15 handicap.

So, with the viewing areas packed, to the final � and a nail-biter it proved to be! Always ahead, Tom stretched his lead to a seemingly unassailable 7-4. But, the last game being always the hardest to get, Ross scrapped his way back to level up at 7 all and the match went on to the inevitable 40 all. Then, to the accompaniment of several audible groans and a throat ripping roar from Tom, Ross plonked a forehand return into the net and it was all over � the trainee teacher had triumphed.

Tom was then presented with his prize by Jacques Pouyot, itinerant President of the Comit� Fran�ais.

Thanks to all the players (and their marking efforts!), from Newcastle down to the vineries of Bordeaux, for coming. And special thanks to Pol Roger, Johnny Lynn and Polistas Polo for the excellent shirts, Freddy and Harrow Racquets, and James and the T&RA � without all of whom (in the finest tradition of theatrical �thank yous�) the tournament would not have been the success that it was. And so to 2009-10!



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