This year saw Nottinghamshire Ladies battling it out in Group 3 in a sweltering Southsea venue that offered the most lush green grass courts but little in the way of either breeze of shade.
On Day 1 we started against an incredibly strong Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Sarah Wight teamed up with Millie Rajecki (hot off the plane at 9pm on Sunday night after representing GB in the European Championships in Moscow). Emily Crowe teamed up with Livvy Tomkins and Bec Wood partnered Nina Luiggi. Despite a valiant effort and 4 three set matches the team started with an 8-1 loss with Sarah and Millie the only pair to take a match.
On Tuesday, off court Captain Sarah Usher shuffled the team about against Berkshire. Sarah Wright played with Livvy, Millie with Emily and Laura Cooper and Anna Buckley started the line up. After round 1 Notts trailed 2-1 with a great win by Millie and Emily. Bec and Nina came in as substitutions for Laura and Anna in round 2 and pulled off a fantastic win against an experienced Berkshire pair and with another win from Emily and Millie we were tied at 3-3. Luckily the 3rd round was quite swift on all courts in unbearable heat and Notts edged the win 5-4 thanks to Emily/Millie and Sarah/Livvy.
Going in to Wednesday with some amazing tennis tan lines the team were up against Buckinghamshire. Emily and Millie continue their winning streak with another 3 fine performances including a win against ex pro Laura Deighman and her partner 6-3 6-3. Sarah Wright and Anna Buckley secured a win in the final round but Notts went down 5-4 in a match that – on paper – we could have won.
Sarah U made some more changes on Thursday to try and get another win to secure our place in group 3 against Cambridgeshire who had not won a match at this point. A great start in round 1 with wins for Emily/Millie and Sarah/Nina saw Notts take an early lead. In the second round the unbeaten Emily/Millie took on Sophie and Anneka Watts who had only lost 1 match to the Hants first pair all week. They pulled of a really great win 6-2 4-6 7-6 winning the ties break 7-2. With wins from Sarah/Nina and Livvy/Anna we secured a 5-1 lead and managed to consolidate this in the third round to a 6-3 victory.
So going in to Friday was tense. Cambridgeshire and Berkshire had not won so both knew they would be relegated. But with only Hants having won 4, either team from Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire and ourselves had a shot at promotion – depending on wins and how many rubbers each team had won. While Notts had an outside chance if it went to rubbers – a 6-3 win over Leicestershire would give us promotion – a realisation that came totally out of the blue. Standing at 3-3 going in to the final round it was a big ask to win all 3 on the 15th match of the week!! With Nina and Bec losing their game quite quickly our hopes were gone – but Leicestershire needed at least 1 more for them to be promoted, otherwise Buckinghamshire would take the second slot. With both matches going to 3 sets – and having to move on the hard courts following 2 rain breaks, Bucks were cheering for Notts to win both matches. So it took until 6.30 on the Friday evening to get a final result where Emily and Millie retained their unbeaten streak (12/12) but Livvy and Anna put up an amazing fight against losing 6-1 in the 3rd and giving Leicestershire the match they needed.
My 28th County Cup was the hottest, tensest and most nail biting I have ever been at and there was great team spirit again. I have to give a final mention to the Hants first pair of Harriet Jones and Lisa Hanley who won 15/15 matches during the week. It’s always great to see any partnerships achieve this accolade and it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Emily and Millie had played together against them on day 1.
Fabulous effort by Notts Ladies.
Match report – Sarah Usher