Ladies Amateur Doubles 2014

20 Mar 2014

Malvern; Brilliant fight-back by Malvern College pairing in national Rackets final

The fast-improving Malvern College partnership of Shinan Zhang, 17, and sports teacher, Chey West, staged a superb fight-back in the final of this week’s British Ladies’ Rackets Doubles Championship, before losing to favourites and reigning champions Alex Brodie and Karen Hird by the narrowest of margins. Zhang and West who had lost easily to the top seeds in the group matches, trailed by 2 games to 0 in the final, thanks to explosive serving from Brodie, the world number 2 and near-faultless volleying from Hird, a fluent all-rounder who is also an international badminton, fives and Real Tennis player. In the third game, however, Zhang taking full advantage of the fast, newly-refurbished College courts and playing out of her skin, hit a string of untouchable serves while the athletic West, a Zimbabwean hockey international retrieved doggedly from all over the court to edge ahead for the first time in the game. Cheered on by a packed gallery, including former world champion Howard Angus, the Malvernians kept their nerve when seemingly on the brink of defeat, to snatch the game 18/14 after a titanic struggle. With nerves creeping into their opponents’ play, the underdogs upped the pace in the fourth game and took it 15/6 with two fine runs of serve, to level the match at 2-all. In the final game Zhang and West looked unstoppable and first led 9-1 and then 13-5, just 2 points from victory, after some virtuoso Rackets, their seemingly impossible retrieves and deceptively angled drives keeping their opponents guessing. However the impetus shifted after an inspired volley from Hird which wrested the service from the Malvernians. It remained anybody’s game up to the final point, but it was Brodie who finally clinched the title, taking the decider 18/13 with a wickedly cut serve, to deafening applause – and obvious relief from the favourites.

Zhang and West had scored an impressive victory in the group matches, beating rising star Georgie Willis and the experienced Sally Jones in straight games and despite their disappointment  at coming so close to taking the title, they admitted they had learned a lot.

“We’d have loved to win but it was incredibly exciting to be part of such a tough battle” said Zhang. “I felt we played above ourselves and rose to the challenge as we’ve been training really hard on the Malvern courts with our coach Noel Brett and some of the boys in the College rackets team.”

“Alex and Karen are great players and very experienced,” added West, who also coaches the junior county hockey side, “so to realise we could match them and run them so close was a big thrill – we’re determined to beat them next time!”

The highly-talented Zhang has enjoyed an outstanding season, winning the Plate final of the British Women’s Rackets singles championship at Queen’s Club last month, her first national senior title, despite being one of the youngest players in the event. She is one of the top seeds for the National Schoolgirls’ senior title next week and has even gone into the record books after being picked for the otherwise all-male Public Schools doubles championship which starts this weekend. She has been given special dispensation to play, teaming up with squash captain Jasper Ross, as his partner has been sidelined with injury.

“Shinan’s been playing and training very hard and she’s improved so much, she’s definitely the best ‘man for the job’.” insisted her Rackets coach Noel Brett, tongue-in-cheek. “I’m very proud of how well both she and Chey played in the British doubles and it’s really encouraging for our squad of younger girls who are just taking up Rackets to see the sort of standards they could achieve if they really work at the game.”

Tom Newman


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