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Victory for Blues Tennis in the 2020 Varsity Match

Both the Men's and Women's Blue Tennis teams tasted victory last weekend, sweeping aside Oxford with comprehensive victories. The success was the icing on the cake after superb seasons for both teams.Thanks to Finn and Steph for putting together the comprehensive match reports below.

 

Men's Match Report

It was a fourth consecutive Varsity crown for the men’s side as they edged out Oxford 11-10 in surely one of the fixture’s most dramatic encounters. The Dark Blues started the weekend strongly, taking a 2-0 lead as their number 3 and number 5 singles players secured straight sets victories – 6-3 6-4 and 6-4 6-2 – over Cambridge’s James Darby and Pascal Gehlert. The Light Blues hit back, with a tight 6-3 3-6 6-4 win for #2 James Shemilt over Oxford’s 1 seed Ross Martin, followed by a comfortable 6-3 6-1 victory for #3 Finn Ranson. Cambridge captain and #1 Michal Kaminski serve-volleyed his way to a 6-2 6-3 win, but #5 Jack Wilson-Smith, one of four players making his Blues Varsity debut, unfortunately went down 6-4 6-4 to Oxford’s sixth seed in a spirited performance.

At 3-3 after the first round of singles, it was all to play for. Shemilt and Ranson beat Oxford’s third pair 6-3 6-2 in a little over an hour, but there were epics elsewhere (setting the tone for the weekend). Gehlert and Darby put on a masterclass in returning and aggressive net play to defeat Oxford’s second pair, Cameron Bowie and Roman Kenny-Manning, 5-7 6-4 6-2. Kaminski and Wilson-Smith, meanwhile, battled hard after a tricky first set, but ultimately narrowly lost out to Oxford’s top pair 6-3 7-6(11) after saving countless match points in the breaker. CULTC’s very own Jimmy van Alen, inventor of the tiebreak format, would have been proud of that one.

The momentum was going Oxford’s way, though, and they started to take command of the tie in Saturday’s second round of doubles. After leading 5-1 in the opener, Gelhert and Domenic Pilger (subbed for Darby, whose doubles exertions had aggravated ongoing back trouble) went down 7-5 6-0 to Oxford’s top pair. Oxford’s third seeded pair, featuring skipper Ed Kandel, delivered a 6-4 6-4 upset over Kaminski and Wilson-Smith. Shemilt and Ranson, meanwhile, had their match suspended at 6:50, tied at a set all with Bowie and Kenny-Manning.

Reinvigorated the next morning, the Cambridge pair quickly finished their doubles contest 6-2 in the deciding set to tie 6-6 overall. The next seven hours were a test of nerve. #5 singles seed Kenny-Manning put in an imperious performance to beat Wilson-Smith 6-0 6-1; it was cancelled out by Cambridge’s Shemilt shortly after, as he defeated Bowie 6-4 6-2. Meanwhile, Pilger – taking Darby’s place in the singles as well – had edged past Oxford’s #4 7-6 in the opening set with some of the best tennis of the weekend. But his experienced opponent took command, securing the next two sets 6-3 6-0. Cambridge briefly levelled – Kaminski winning his second singles match of the weekend 6-4 6-2 – but Oxford were ahead again when Gehlert lost 6-2 6-4 to his opposite number. It looked like the tie would become irretrievable when Ranson lost his opening set 6-1 in the final singles rubber. But after a slow start to the second set, the #3 clawed his way back and won the next two sets 7-6(2) 7-5 to square the tie at 9-9.

In front of incredible support from family and the women’s Blues team, Cambridge finally clinched it in the final doubles round. Nunn and Kandel continued their momentum, beating Gelhert and Pilger 6-2 6-1; likewise did Shemilt and Ranson, who came through a long 7-5 6-4 over Oxford’s first pair. It all came down to the final doubles. Kaminski and Wilson-Smith had dropped the opening set to Bowie and Kenny-Manning, but with some incredible doubles play, they fought back to win two nail-biting sets 6-4 6-4 and seal one of Cambridge’s most hard-fought men’s Varsity titles in years.

To return to Moor Park and play at all was incredibly special. Thanks to Kureha, Nanami and Ed for all their hard work organising the event – and a very special thanks to Michal Kaminski for guiding the men’s team through another unforgettable year.

-Written by Finn Ranson, Jesus College

 

Women's Match Report

The Women's Varsity Match began with a 6-4 6-2 win from Captain Kureha Yamaguchi and a 7-5 6-2 victory from fresher Leah Hurst. The remaining singles match of the round was won in a thriller by Izzy Hearnshaw, who secured the point in a 9-7 third set tiebreak victory against an extremely strong Oxford number 1. Motivated by the first round performances, Anna Chesca, Steph Booth and Aisha Brown then delivered convincing victories 6-0 6-1, 6-1 6-0 and 6-4 6-3 respectively, to bring Cambridge a 6 point lead after Saturday’s singles.

After devouring both Tesco snacks and Moor Park’s delicious sandwiches, the team began their doubles. Hearnshaw and Booth defeated Oxford’s 3rd pair 6-2 6-0, whilst Chesca and Yamaguchi overcame Oxford’s 1st pair 6-4 6-3. Doubles specialist Jenni Mair took to the court with partner Aisha Brown but lost an epic to a strong Oxford 2nd pair, falling 6-4 in the third set. With the sun still beaming down on the London venue, the Cambridge team began their final round of the day. Teta Thuku-Benzinge stepped into the line-up for an injured Aisha Brown, and joined Jenni Mair for tough doubles loss against the Oxford first pair. Both of Cambridge’s top two pairs in Hearnshaw/Booth and Chesca/Yamaguchi took their matches, 6-2 6-1 and 6-3 6-1 respectively, culminating in the Cambridge team ending the day with a 10-2 lead, just one match away from triumph on day two.

Having fuelled up at Costa and warmed up on Moor Park’s astroturf courts, Izzy, Kureha and Leah embarked upon the race to 11 points. Izzy and Kureha secured a Light Blue victory with emphatic wins over Oxford’s second and fourth ranked players 6-2 6-0 and 6-0 6-1. Leah followed with a win in an extremely tight contest, where her strong forehands and netplay powered her to a 6-1 win in the final set. Now 13-2 up, the Cambridge team remained relentless, with Steph and Anna obtaining further points with 6-1 6-1 and 6-3 6-1 wins respectively. Teta was not able to match her Oxford opponent, and, despite fighting hard, fell 6-4 6-0.

After a lunch break to gather energy, the Light Blues began their quest to extend their margin of victory through the final doubles round. Kureha finished her year of captaincy with a resounding 6-2 6-1 win with incoming captain Anna Chesca. Izzy and Steph took the 17th Cambridge point with a 7-5 6-3 win, leaving one match on court - a blockbuster finale between Jenni and Teta and the Oxford 3rd pair. With all the team and spectators watching closely and supporting loudly, the match provided incredible entertainment and the deadly Mair/Thuku-Benzinge combination got the better of their opponents 6-4 7-6.

The Cambridge team lifted the trophy with a huge 18-3 victory after an incredible undefeated year of tennis. This was not possible without the work of amazing captain Kureha who guided the team throughout the year and helped make the event possible. The 130th Varsity Match could not have been a more perfect weekend to conclude a year of hard work, fun and tennis!

-Written by Steph Booth, Jesus College

 

Truly an even more remarkable victory given the wooden racquets! The 2020 Blues Tennis Graduates, including match reporters Finn and Steph. We wish them all the best for the future!

(L-R) Finn, Steph, Jenni, Isabelle, James