Ladies British Open 2016

20 Feb 2016

Lea Van der Zwalmen retains her Open title. Full report and photographs


The day's play was dominated by the brilliance of the holder from this event in 2015, Lea Van der Zwalmen, who is also the Ladies World Champion.  In five matches, Lea won 11 straight games for the loss of just 21 points and delighted the gallery with a mature display of technical and tactical Rackets the likes of which have not been seen up to this point in the Ladies game.  If the quality of the final against Georgie Willis, was not up to the lofty heights of the Ladies World Championship final between Lea and Claire Fahey in May 2015, Georgie should not be in the slightest downcast, because the best-of-five final produced some rallies of true distinction and Georgie never gave up the battle to win even more rallies.

Nine players entered this year, and were divided into two groups playing best-of-three game matches, the top two players in each group progressing to the semi-finals.   In Group A, Lea won all her matches comfortably, with Eve Shenkman, from the Manchester Club, a clear second with wins over Anna Willis (from Highgate School) and over Fay Dalby (from Queen's).  In Group B, Georgie Willis and Ella Gaskell both won three matches, but the keenly-anticipated show-down between these two was denied to the spectators as Ella had to withdraw, thereby enabling Shinan Zhang from Malvern College to step into the semi-final against Lea in Ella's place, whilst Georgie Willis, as Group winner, lined up in the other semi-final against Eve Shenkman.  The other players in Group B were Chey West, who is on the teaching staff at Malvern, and a young Wellingtonian schoolgirl, Lauren Gooding, who shows the same promise at Rackets as she has already shown at her golf.


In the first of the semi-finals, Georgie served better than Eve, cutting the ball in a conventional Rackets serve, whilst Eve's forehand service from the left box ends up as a hammer serve with top-spin, and her newly acquired backhand serve from the right box comes with an unconventional wrist action which makes it difficult to generate the cut that works well on the idiosyncratic back-wall of the Championship Court.  After four hands in the first game, Eve found herself still battling for that opening point, but in three further hands reached 5-14 before Georgie won the game.  At the start of the second game Georgie went to 9-0 in the opening hand, and won the game 15/1 to reach the final for the second time.  Lea beat Shinan 15/3, 15/4 in the other semi-final to set up a repeat with Georgie of last year's final. Shinan's infectious smile charmed all watching. Both losing semi-finalists had their moments and should take away much encouragement.

The score in the final of 15/0, 15/4, 15/5 to Lea may look rather one-sided, and certainly Lea showed the progress she has made in the last twelve months working with her coach at Clifton, Reggie Williams.  Since leaving school in Summer 2015 and going up to Nottingham University, Lea has joined the T&RA Development Squad at Queen's with Head Professional Ben Snell, and has taken the opportunities to practice with a range of top amateur men, so is hitting harder than ever, especially on the backhand side, where she every so often produces winners of such glorious power and technical perfection that any player in the world, gentleman or lady, would be proud to be able to emulate them.  Georgie, too, in the last year, has brought on her game a long way, such that she must be favourite for the Judy Angus Cup in March 2016 for the Senior Schoolgirls' Singles, adding to the Schoolgirls’ Doubles title she holds with sister, Anna.  She is able to get back into play some increasingly severe shots into the corners, normally an excellent benchmark of how a player is progressing at Rackets, and her service is an effective weapon against all the lady players, with perhaps the exception of the very best, both of whom have the ability to dig out most of what Georgie might throw at them.

The exhilarating competition was concluded when Lea stepped into top gear to dispatch the valiant Georgie. Neither had lost a game throughout the day, but it is was always Lea in the final. Starting strongly in the first game and serving with impeccable length, it was Lea who established an early lead, effectively forcing Georgie to serve close to the line, leading to two double faults. Lea didn't let up, winning the first game to love. Georgie steadied her resolve in the second game, and started to return well and finally groove her serve. Volleying with confidence, there was much to admire from both players; but inevitable, the better Georgie returned, the more Lea covered the ground. Fighting hard at 4-14, it took Lea several attempts to gain the vital point and a two game lead; but a spectacular winner won the game when it came. The final game saw Lea playing breath-taking Rackets, and it was a credit to her opponent that she stayed in the match. Lea closed in and reached Championship point, but again a deft return prolonged the battle. But not for long, and the match was secured with a powerful drive which Georgie couldn't control. Lea retained the title she won last season in style.

During his speech at the prize-giving, the Chief Executive of the T&RA, Chris Davies, was able to tell the gallery that Robin Geffen, Neptune Investment Management, has recently agreed with the T&RA for Neptune to be Sponsors for the next five years of the three major Ladies Rackets events; this British Open Singles, the Amateur Doubles and the World Championship Challenge. This is wonderful news for Ladies Rackets and the games should be hugely grateful, as ever, to Robin Geffen for the on-going sponsorship support he is giving to Real Tennis and Rackets. Thanks were also given to The Queen's Club and the support of the Rackets professionals, notably Howard Angus, Ryan Tulley and Reggie Williams. Finally, he noted that the standard of play was improving year on year and, with the event now on its sixth year, the ladies game was going from strength to strength.

The prizes were presented to Georgie and Lea by Sam Beale, the indefatigable mastermind behind the splendid Clifton Boasters Rackets Club, which sets the standards for School Evening Clubs!



  • L.Van der Zwalmen bt G.Willis 15/0 15/4 15/5


  • G.Willis bt E.Shenkman 15/5 15/1
  • L.Van der Zwalmen bt S.Zhang 15/3 15/4

Old Court

  • 0930 A.Willis bt F.Dalby 11/15 15/8 15/11
  • 1000 L.Van der Zwalmen bt F.Dalby 15/2 15/0
  • 1030 E.Shenkman bt A.Willis 15/1 15/4
  • 1100 E.Shenkman bt F.Dalby 15/3 15/3
  • 1130 L.Van der Zwalmen bt A.Willis 15/0 15/0
  • 1200 L.Van der Zwalmen bt E.Shenkman 15/0 15/3
  • 1300 G.Willis bt E.Gaskell w/o
  • 1400 G.Willis bt S.Zhang 15/6 15/12

 Bridgeman Court 

  • 0930 E.Gaskell bt C.West 15/10 15/9
  • 1000 E.Gaskell bt L.Gooding 15/9 15/2
  • 1030 E.Gaskell bt S.Zhang 15/7 15/1
  • 1100 G.Willis bt L.Gooding 15/2 15/3
  • 1130 C.West bt L.Gooding 15/7 15/2
  • 1300 G.Willis bt C.West 15/9 15/9
  • 1330 S.Zhang bt L.Gooding 15/3 15/3
  • 1400 S.Zhang bt C.West 15/6 15/4

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