Report by 10U Girls Team Captain Tom Edis
Team: Bethan Miles, Natalie Bell, Amelia Howie, Darcey Rowles
The girls travelled to North Oxford Tennis Club to play in the much anticipated Aegon County Cup qualifying group C. After the difficulty of having to adapt to both the astroturf and clay at the Lionel Cox some weeks before, the team were relieved to feel ‘at home’ on more familiar tarmac courts for the duration of the weekend.
The opening fixture against Berkshire proved to be an exciting contest with Bethan, Natalie and Amelia experiencing tough and competitive matches. Bethan and Natalie faced the aggressive and hard-hitting Isabelle Purser and Phoebe Fox respectively, while Amelia went up against County Cup rookie Zara Burney. Natalie, much as she did in the Lionel Cox, went toe-to-toe with her opponent in some fiery exchanges from the baseline – taking Phoebe on at her own game. It was however in this case Natalie’s undoing, as the Berkshire #2 showed remarkable consistency to eventually win through in straight sets.
Bethan unfortunately wasn’t getting much more joy herself, and despite putting up a good defensive performance, was also overcome – this time 4-2 4-0.
Amelia meanwhile, was having a real scrap with Zara, who seemed to have no answer to Amelia’s tenacity and impressive court coverage. The Bucks player raced through the first set 4-1 and even though Zara was able to put up stronger resistance in the second set, Amelia would not be denied – coming from 2-3 down to take the set, and therefore the match, 4-1 5-3 to secure the team’s first rubber of the weekend.
Next up for the girls was a strong-looking Oxfordshire side, who’d showed great fight against perennial group favourites Middlesex. Bethan and Natalie learned their lessons from their earlier matches and put in far more measured performances against the dangerous Oxfordshire #1 Chloe Elliot and #2 Matilda Mutavdzic respectively. Natalie was making far more balls, and causing Matilda problems with her all-action style. Even so, Matilda was equal to most things Natalie could throw at her, and the more experienced Oxfordshire girl astonishingly managed to win without dropping a game.
Bethan was completely unfazed by Chloe’s remarkable effort against Middlesex national prospect Andrea Pineda in her previous encounter, and went on to give Oxfordshire’s finest a real scare before herself losing out once more – this time 4-1 4-1.
That left Amelia again to salvage something going into the crucial doubles rubber – which she did with an even more accomplished display than the one which saw her beat Zara Burney earlier in the day. Oxfordshire #3 Diana Mascenikova won the first 2 games of the match, but from then on Amelia completely took over, winning 8 straight games to record a mighty-impressive 4-2 4-0 victory; easily the highlight of day 1 for Bucks!
The two doubles rubbers against Berkshire and Oxfordshire saw Darcey brought into the fray, with first Bethan as her partner in what turned out to be a highly entertaining match against Isabelle and Phoebe from Berkshire, and then Natalie for the Oxfordshire showdown with the solid pairing of Chloe and Matilda. In both encounters the girls showed real fighting spirit, as well as good communication and teamwork in points where the ball was regularly pin-balling in both sets of service boxes! It took a while for the Bucks duo to fully get to grips with Oxfordshire’s sharp net-game. All the same Bucks had their chances, and were unfortunate to lose in both matches here in straight sets, meaning disappointment in terms the actual results, if not individual performances going into Sunday.
A warmer, sunnier day greeted the girls on arrival early Sunday morning. The atmosphere courtside was also more akin to the previous night’s Froch/Groves title fight, with each county it seemed having more supporters and family members to cheer on the players. Darcey kicked off proceedings with an extremely awkward rubber against Middlesex #3 Monique Gundrum. The high level competition experience of the Middlesex player was telling, as Darcey succumbed 4-0 4-0 without really being able to show her true form. With Bethan fighting in vain against the imperious Middlesex superstar Andrea Pineda (certainly a name to watch out for in future – the kid looks every inch the pro and was never even close to dropping a set all weekend!), it was once again up to Amelia to provide Bucks with some cheer, which she very nearly did against Tatiana Mouzykantskii: narrowly losing the first set 5-3 before finally running out of steam in the second 4-0.
Essex were the final singles opponents of the weekend, and all of their girls seemed nearly a foot taller than ours! Natalie was showing a fleetness of foot and a determination that very nearly got the better of giant Essex #2 Grace Leigh. The Essex girl was canny however, and played all the big points well. After a tense struggle, and not without it’s controversial moments(!), Natalie was defeated 4-0 4-1, but the performance alone was enough to give Natalie the boost she needed before her doubles match with Amelia against Essex later on.
Amelia confidently brushed aside Azra Ozerin 4-1 4-2 without ever looking in trouble which dramatically set up the final singles rubber between Bethan and Essex #1 Iman Khan. Like Natalie, the sunshine seemed to have revitalised Bethan who heroically took the first set 4-2 despite being a break down. Bethan displayed fantastic defence in the second set also, as Iman sought a route back into proceedings. Several times it looked as though the Bucks #1 was down and out of the point, but she somehow managed to get her adversary to play an extra ball. Iman would not be denied however, and went on to take the second 4-2, forcing the match-tiebreak. By this stage the afternoon heat had taken it’s toll on Bethan, and she was beginning to show signs of fatigue. Iman raced into an 8-2 lead before Bethan could properly get going and eventually the Essex player was able to wear her down. Typically Bethan made her opponent play her best tennis to eventually take the tiebreak, as she managed to come back to 9-5, but the lead proved too big to make up completely, as Iman in the end held her nerve in one of the most entertaining contests of the weekend; final score 2-4 4-2 10-5.
So to the doubles. Natalie and Amelia relaxed to form a great partnership in the remaining Middlesex rubber – the two of them showing a real understanding against Monique Gundrum and Chike Ike. Indeed it was just a key break in both sets that proved the difference in the girls’ 4-1 4-2 reverse.
Bethan and Darcey too were thriving on the buoyant carnival-style atmosphere that punctuated the afternoon’s play, as they looked to upset Essex duo Iman Kahn and Kayleigh Hale. The opposition were a very savvy and cleaver proposition however, and took full advantage of the girls’ hesitant net-play to stamp their authority on proceedings, beating the Bucks girls 4-1 4-0.
Defeated, but far from deflated, the Bucks girls took heart from their overall showing in North Oxford. They realised the experience will be invaluable for their tennis development; they’ve gained a real idea of the standard at the sharp end of junior competition, and now have the drive and motivation to really push on in the coming months as they move out of mini tennis altogether and become full yellow ball competitors.