Teams from across the region were invited to take part in the third annual Kevin Hoey Memorial 9u Tennis Festival, at Corby Tennis Centre on Saturday 10th January 2015. It was a fantastic opportunity for some promising mini orange players to experience competition against some of the strongest juniors in the age group. For Bucks' team (Captain Tom Edis) Aneka, Seb and Charlie, this was the first time they had represented their county at orange level, which made the day even more exciting.
The other teams were Corby themselves, Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Hereford and Worcestershire, and Warwickshire. The format was similar to that of the Lionel Cox and County Cup, with it just being a scaled-down version of these events; it was a singles competition only, and each team was placed in a group with 3 others – the final standings in each group being decided after those teams had played each other. The second phase of the competition would see each team ‘playing off’ against the equivalent placed team from the other group. The final match of the day would be determined by how these play-off matches went in order to determine the final standings from 1st to 8th place.
A combination of excitement and pre-match nerves saw Bucks get off to a rather slow start in their opening fixture against a Corby team that included national player Tabitha Holmes. Millie fought hard against her, and came close to winning a tie-break before falling short. Seb Mellows was Bucks’ shining light here – flying out of the blocks to win the teams’ first match in style. Aneka and Charlie’s defeats were not without some great play either.
Cambridgeshire too had a very strong team. Despite battling displays from all the Bucks team, it wasn’t a fruitful fixture in terms of results, although the parents and coaches were treated from some inspired tennis from the boys in particular. At least now the cobwebs had been well and truly blown away!
Against Warwickshire again Seb proved the inspiration, winning a tight rubber in 3 sets and hustling his opponent into submission. His never-say-die attitude was a fantastic example to everyone, as was his impressive court coverage and range of shot-making. This seemed to rub off on his fellow team mates, who also started to move throught the gears: Charlie was mighty unfortunate not to win his first match here, while Millie and Aneka were playing a lot more aggressively themselves. With just a little more savvy it was felt, the team could certainly get some joy.
The second part of the day saw Bucks up against a Northants team that had also finished 4th in their group. For the first time the players really seemed to click into gear (after having a good lunch it must be said!). Charlie and Seb both managed to win their rubbers in dramatic fashion – determined to make up for some lost opportunities earlier in the day. The girls were taking the ball earlier and hitting with far more purpose, as Bucks looked to play on the front foot as much as possible.
The 2-2 final score meant Millie had to play a tie break ‘shoot out’ against the Northants no.1, which she unfortunately lost after some really tight rallies. It was a pity the fixture had to be decided this way, but the teams’ overall performance against Northants was encouraging ahead of what was to be Bucks last contest of the day.
That just left Bucks with their final fixture – a repeat of the earlier contest against Warwickshire, who’d just lost to Hereford and Worcestershire. The captains made the decision (with the agreement of the tournament referee) to change the player order around to give everyone a different opponent. This worked brilliantly as the whole Bucks team started to play their best tennis of the day. Seb turned in a ‘man-of-the-match’ performance to come through 3 tight sets to win his rubber. Charlie looked a different player to the one seen earlier in the morning, going toe to toe with a far more experienced adversary, and bossing a lot of the points from the baseline. His narrow defeat was tough to take, but he took heart from the performance.
That left the girls to end the day on a high for Bucks. Millie was sadly overwhelmed by a canny opponent who seemed to intent on just hitting through the Bucks girl! Aneka by this stage was engrossed in a really close game with her opponent who was quick enough to retrieve most of what Aneka was throwing at her. In a nerve-wracking finale, both girls gave their all in a match that went to sudden death at 6-6 in the third set. After a pulsating rally, Aneka was forced into error. Unfortunately it was just one of those things, but Aneka, Millie, Seb and Charlie showed they have it within them to mix it with some of the country’s best 9u players. The experience was invaluable, not to mention highly entertaining for the coaches, parents and spectators alike!