This year's Brodie final was a local derby between OUTC and Radley...played in the mutually convenient location of the Hyde club in Bridport. Having dispatched several excellent teams en route to the final, the Oxford contingent travelled in hope, buoyed by the idea of a weekend at the seaside. Of course, getting used to a new court is half the battle, and special mentions to Jean de Pourtalès who made the trek twice in successive weekends so he could check out the court, and Mark Fischel who through some combination of enthusiasm and hangover managed to collide head first with the main wall after ninety seconds of practice.
Still, as the final dawned bright and drizzly, we were in high spirits, and Oxford started strongly. The quality of play in the second doubles (for those of 45 handicap) was literally breathtaking, with plenty of long rests which involved all four players. Harry Lawes and Oscar Marshall are a pairing made of strong stuff, and watching how they anticipated each other's movement around the court was wonderful. It also saved Oscar, playing at the net, serious injury as Mark was sent repeatedly scrabbling in the backhand corner to retrieve carefully placed balls. They prevailed 6/4 6/2.
The next match was the game of the day, featuring a now-recovered Mark versus experienced campaigner Paul Kettle. The tie swung one way and then the other as Mark tried to deal with Paul's deadly drag serve, which had a habit of clinging to the side wall as it dropped. Keeping hold of serve was the key to this match, which went right to the wire at 5/5 in the third set before falling Radley's way.
The same can't be said for the next match, which featured your reporter against the up and coming talent of 15-year old Ned Batstone. Ned's game is superb, and he deployed his array of volleys, crosscourt returns and a nasty spinning serve with aplomb. He quickly wrapped up a 6/2 6/2 victory, but instead of that, let me tell you about a long rally which went from corner to corner and from careful floor shots to well-defended forces at both ends which I eventually ended by a very emphatic smash into the winning gallery. It was a wonderful shot, and I'm happy to report the memory of it is not at all marred by its complete and dramatic failure the next three times I tried it.
Completing the singles roster was Natalie Barber, who was making her Brodie Cup debut at this late stage in the competition. The match was a contrast in styles, with Natalie's elegant cross-court ground strokes disrupted by her opponent's willingness to volley everything possible, extremely hard. The court at Hyde has walls which take a lot of pace off the ball, and both players fought hard to adjust to what was coming towards them. Unfortunately, Natalie had no more luck than Mark or I, and a clean sweep of singles gave Radley the title.
That left Doug Holden and Jean playing in a dead rubber, but inspired by the prospect of getting to the champagne presentation they made short work of their Radley opponents. Even a very professional new racquet sported by Adam Jeffrey (playing for Radley) couldn't do much about shots hit with vicious cut, backed up by superb volleying at the net. A 6/1 6/1 victory left an Oxford team wondering what might have been, but the truth is we were beaten by superb tennis from our neighbours. The Brodie Cup thus resides up the road for a while, but we'll make another run next year.
Congratulations to George Peel and OUTC captain Mark Fischel on winning the Wroth Cup (club level doubles championship). They were convincing winners, beating Adrian Fawcus and Jean de Portales 6-2, 6-1 in the final.
When we found out we were playing Seacourt in the Brodie cup semi-final, one of the Oxford team was horrified—playing a club with a reputation for bringing on rapidly improving juniors in a handicap competition was always going to be tough. This attitude turned out to be shared by the junior members of the Seacourt team who felt that if ‘the adults get one game of three’ they’d be in good shape.
On the other hand, this was the first home Brodie semi-final in many years, and our Oxford tambour gives a huge advantage. The first line of defence was the Blues’ Mark Fischel, who was quickly locked in a battle of wills with his opponent. The first set secured 6/3, the second rested on a series of five games all of which went to multiple deuces. Luckily, Mark—who when his head wasn’t involved retained a wonderful set of instinctive shots—prevailed 6/3, and Oxford’s first adult point was in the bag.
For the second round in a row, Jean de Pourtalès met his partner on the way onto the court. He and Doug Holden bonded quickly enough to sneak the first set against an experienced pair, but once Simon Flynn and Jess Garside settled it looked bleak for the Unicorn club. Seacourt took the second set 6/2, but Jean decided not to be distracted by Jess’s increasingly piercing screams of frustration, and as his volleying matched Doug’s consistent play from the back of the court they took the decider 6/3. This was the best doubles set of Doug’s brief Oxford career, and having lost their ‘banker’ Seacourt were wobbling. Marker Andrew Davis summed up the state of play: ‘Win ugly’, he said, ‘but win’.
I did my best to let them back into it, going 5/3 down to an opponent who had a great eye for the ball and kept returning my serves. Luckily, I eventually managed to decipher the hand gestures coming from supporters in the dedans, and found a subtle, slow sidewall serve that caused problems. Despite two set points against, I came back to win 6/5 and found myself 5/0 up in the second set. This inspired my opponent, who saved set points including one off 1 yard. The shot was a long looping one, which I’m told would have landed about chase 4, but which was dispatched into the net. Those in the dedans were critical, but each of them would have hit it too and winning the next match point saved my bacon.
Their now inevitable defeat heralded a youth movement from Seacourt. Graham Piddock, recovering from being beaten by a bandit in the last round ran up against a young man of 14 years whose ostensible handicap bore no relation to his talent. The first set was a lesson in placement and in boasting, but Graham dug in for the second, running a lot closer than the 2/6 score suggests.
The final doubles saw Grant Bates champions Oscar Marshall and Harry Lawes take on another youthful Seacourt team. In winning our club tournament Oscar and Harry were barely challenged, but they found themselves up against hard-volleying, hard-hitting opponents who were determined to make a point. More work on court placement is needed, but it was a noble defeat nonetheless.
So 3/2 Oxford, both a fair reflection of the day and a gritty win. Earlier in the season the Brodie team had been inspiring; today they were determined to do enough to win. A local derby against Radley awaits in the final, and the team are three wins from Oxford’s first Brodie win.