Warwickshire Tennis round-up: County Week Group 1, Eastbourne

         There was pathetically little coverage of  the long-established Tennis County Week, Group 1, at Eastbourne in the broadsheets, even the Daily Telegraph, which should know better, except the day that Andy Murray flew home to take his driving test and put in a brief appearance for North of Scotland. So here’s a roundup on how my county, Warwickshire got on this week, after ten teeth-suckingly tense, close-fought matches in rainy, windswept conditions, echoing to the sound of seagulls crying and third pairs cursing as inch-perfect lobs sailed over their heads and hit the baseline. (More details on WLTA’s website.)

Warwickshire Tennis Men and Women’s County Week, Group 1 Roundup

          Warwickshire’s women’s and newly-promoted men’s sides went to Eastbourne, the first time for decades that both had been there together, knowing that each faced a tough battle. Both teams, mainly made up of youngsters though with a couple of experienced stalwarts, were tipped to struggle at this level: the women, champions for 3 out of the past 4 years were missing crucial players Hannah Grady, the former national junior champion and former GB no 1 Louise Latimer, while the men were without Wimbledon player Dan Evans. However captain Gary Naughton admitted he felt bullish about the prospects for his rising stars Maniel Bains, Andrew Fitzpatrick and debutant Elliot Barnwell, while women’s captain Katie Shaw who opted not to play herself for the firs time, called in several inexperienced teenagers: sisters Manisha (15) and Anjoli Foster, 17and Celia Fraser, 17 plus Aimee Jarrett, Hannah James and Jess Jackson.

Day 1 revealed the extent of the challenge the two sides faced as each took on highly-fancied Hertfordshire, the men suffering a 9-0 whitewash, the women going down 7-2 to powerful opposition that included Holly Bagshaw and Kate Elliot. However despite the decision to split the experienced pairing of Luisa Cowper and Leyla Ogan to strengthen the team overall, they fought bravely to cling on for two hard-fought victories, though they were disappointed to lose two tie break deciders.

From then on there were highly-contrasting fortunes, the men’s side winning their next four matches in style, first thrashing North of Scotland 6-3 (fortunately before they were strengthened by the addition of Andy and Jamie Murray) on a rain-affected day on which most matches were left unfinished. They then beat Yorkshire 6-3, all the pairs winning two out of three including newcomer Elliot Barnwell partnering Steven Lee at third pair. Next day they kept their nerve in swirling windy conditions to squeak through against the tough Lancashire side 5-4, the consistent Nathan Rooney and James Southwood at third pair winning two out of three after Fitzpatrick and Barnwell had only managed to beat the thirds. On the final day, with survival in Group 1 ensured and a (vanishingly slight) mathematical chance of taking the title, if unbeaten Herts had lost, the Midlanders inflicted a 7-2 drubbing on Dorset to take the runners-up spot behind Herts and ahead of Lancashire,

Gary Naughton was delighted at his young side’s performances.

      “They’ve done great this week in difficult conditions,” he enthused. “Elliot and Andrew have combined really well together and Nathan and James have been absolutely consistent and professional, winning far more rubbers than anyone would expect a third pair to do. It all bodes really well for next year – and who knows, we could even be challenging Herts for the title.”

Sadly, the women’s side could not follow suit and the rainy conditions meant that several 3-setters were decided on the sudden death lottery of a championship tie-break. They lost their next match both 5-4 after trailing 2-4 against Surrey overnight. Despite heroics from the top two pairs who each snatched a win in the final round, the third pair of Manisha Foster and Aimee Jarrett went down fighting in the deciding rubber.

In their next match, against Essex, rain intervened with matters nerve-janglingly balanced at 3-all but once again the reigning champions just fell short,  big-hitting Celia Fraser, 17, brought in to partner Aimee Jarrett at third pair in place of Manisha Foster, finding the slippery conditions tough. On Thursday they clinched their first win of the week, beating fellow-strugglers Leicestershire as second pair Hannah James and Jess Jackson were the pick of the day, winning three out of three and looking a class act. Friday against the useful Buckinghamshire side, whose first pair Jemima Hayward and Julia Bone were unbeaten all week, proved a bridge too far and Shaw’s youngsters gleaned just two rubbers with many reduced to 4-game sets because of the bad weather and dead rubbers played simply as championship tie breaks. The defeat condemned them to relegation to Group 2 next year but with some gritty play on show from the whole lineup and particularly impressive performances from several of the newcomers, Shaw remained upbeat about her side’s chances next year.

“I’m certainly not disappointed” she said. “We always knew that without Hannah [Grady] and Louise [Latimer] and so many teenagers brought into the side, we were going to struggle. But I was pleased with how everyone kept fighting and I was specially impressed by Jess Jackson and Hannah James who combined superbly, volleyed well and looked one of the best pairs in Group 1. Leyla and Luisa played their hearts out, as always and our youngsters weren’t at all overawed, Manisha Foster showing she’s got good potential as a doubles player as well as in singles.

I think it will do us good to have a year to regroup, get into the winning habit again against Group 2 sides and then go all out to bounce back into Group 1 with a  year’s extra experience under their belts.”

Results: Eastbourne. AEGON Summer County Cup Tennis Championship, Group 1

Men’s event

Day 1Warwickshire lost to Hertfordshire 9-0

Day 2 Warwickshire bt North of Scotland 6-3

Day 3 Warwickshire bt Yorkshire 6-3

Day 4 Warwickshire bt Lancashire 5-4

Day 5 Warwickshire beat Dorset 7-2

Warwickshire finish runners-up behind Herts

Women’s Event:

Day 1 Warwickshire lost to Hertfordshire 7-2

Day 2 Warwickshire lost to Surrey 4-5

Day 3 Warwickshire Women lost to Essex 4-5

Day 4 Warwickshire bt Leicestershire 6-3

Day 5 Warwickshire lost to Buckinghamshire 2-7

Warwickshire and Leicestershire are relegated

Surrey are champions


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