Match result: Oxford 3 - 2 Hatfield
Chris Lintott writes...
After dealing with a tricky tie at Moreton Morrell in the preliminary round, the Brodie team returned to the home comforts of Oxford for their first round match against a Hatfield team who have been recent finalists in this competition. We’ve learnt to anticipate comments about the size of the court, the angle of the tambour and, on a wintery Sunday, the temperature of the court, but rather than being distracted the opposition looked sharp and focused during their warm up. Luckily Oxford were up for the match too; despite student status, our first pair Archie Cornish and Natalie Barber arrived more than ten minutes early for their match.
They were on top of things from the start, even if a surfeit of enthusiasm led Archie - playing at the net - to run diagonally across court to steal a ball heading down the main wall to about chase four, straight in front of Natalie. Luckily she wasn’t perturbed and a combination of solid serving and cross-court shots gave the home pair the first set 6/2. A momentary lapse in concentration let the away pair take the first game of the second set 1/0, but Archie and Natalie rushed to a 5/2 lead, shrugging off their opponent’s new found ability to beat chase 2 at will. At this point nerves kicked in, and Hatfield crawled back to 3/5 and then 4/5 before Natalie’s serve carried Oxford over the line - a rare win in the 45 handicap doubles, but hopefully the first of many.
Next up was a tired Doug Holden, who had been training at the Fahey academy in Prested, against a determined Nick Brodie who could reach more or less the entire court just by stretching. Doug’s Fahey-enhanced winners were, as a result, returned with aplomb and facing an opponent who made almost no mistakes, Doug struggled. The first set was a tight 4/6 to Hatfield, and despite a late fight the second followed 2/6. Doug had been unbeaten for Oxford in the Brodie, and this blip suggested we had a fight on our hands.
Grant Miller looked determined to put things right, bullying Andrew James off the court in short order. Grant had one of those passages of play where everything he touched hit the grille - direct forces, looping shots, desperate rearguard actions all hit the target. For the second match in the row, his teammates were confident enough in his ability to go and get lunch while he got on with the job; playing the best tennis of his career, Grant and his ever-present saltire wristband won 6/1 6/3. Advantage Oxford.
The final singles features Graham Piddock against Alex Brodie, Hatfield’s selection clearly focusing on players who share a name with the competition. This didn’t look like a game between two players of 50 handicap, as both covered the court well producing rallies of real quality. Alex’s eye for the ball was superb, and Graham’s serve was too often dispatched to the corner of the court with a lethal volley; he did well do get four in the first set, and had chances as she tired in the second. A tense game at 5/4 to Oxford went to deuce, inspiring a desperate set of shots to the dedans from an opponent stuck at the hazard end. Unfortunately, they all hit the target, and Hatfield squeaked through 6/5 in the second.
Everything rested on the final rubber. As captain, I’d taken the sensible precaution of dropping myself and installing instead student stars Harry Lawes and Oscar Marshall. These two played brilliantly in last year’s final as a second string pair, so this was a big step up against Chris Handley and David Hudson, a pair combining experience and youth. Both ‘Flash’ Oscar (sporting a swanky gold leaf racket) and Harry were in great form, the former patrolling the net (and ensuring his partner stayed away from balls that strayed forward) and the latter covering the back of the court with great speed and finesse. A 6/3 6/2 victory wasn’t even that close.
Hatfield and the Oxford supporters who turned up made for a great atmosphere, and we’re pleased to go on to a home tie with old foes Seacort for the fifth consecutive year in the next round.
Moreton Morrell is a cold place at the best of times, and especially so at 9am on a October Sunday. Maybe that accounted for the surprise when the home team turned up to find their Oxford counterparts already practicing, getting used to a court that plays like a larger version of our own.
The locals started cold in the first match, with Archie Cornish and Natalie Barber rushing to 3/0 lead before conceding a point. Their opponents, one of whom was covering ground well and the other who, um, wasn’t, scratched a game in reply before the first of the day’s epic games, which went to at least seven deuces with multiple changes of ends before Moreton finally strung two points in a row together. Had Archie and Natalie won that they would, I’m sure, been celebrating quickly but instead it gave new hope to a tenacious pair who eventually won out 6/5 6/5.
It was Oxford’s turned to be shocked as canny Andrew Hamilton took an early lead against Doug Holden in the first of the singles matches. Doug, sporting a Nadal-like headband and waving a flashy gold leaf racket around was returning magnificently, but Hamilton knows his way around a court and kept him moving. Doug took the first 6/2 but was in trouble at 1/4 down in the second - a switch to more aggressive play (i.e. whacking it at the dedans occasionally) saw him home 6/5.
One match all, and next up was the battle of the Millers, Oxford’s Grant v Moreton’s Jonny. Grant played wonderfully, using every single shot in the book and many that aren’t to keep on top of his opponent who was playing beautiful, classical tennis to almost no affect. The pace of the ball around the court was matched by the speed with which the dedans emptied when lunch was served, but Grant spent the entire journey home telling us about a shot he hit into the winning gallery so I should mention it. It was apparently devastating as he won 6/2 6/3.
The final single match saw Graham Piddock take on Bruce Paxton, the latter billed by the locals as a ‘rapid improver’. He looked sharp in the first few games, but Graham’s calm manner and scurrying about the court together with an almost insatiable desire to hit the tambour saw him complete the victory - 6/3 6/0. All that remained was me as captain to assist Mark Bale in losing the final doubles 6/2 4/6 4/6; Mark played wonderful defensive tennis in response to a Moreton pair who got everything back and hit the ball hard and mostly at him.
It was a competitive days’ tennis played in a very friendly atmosphere at Moreton. The next step on the road back to Bridport following last year’s defeat in the final is a home tie versus Hatfield on the 19th November.