The Prested Hall Real Tennis Club is celebrating the achievements of members Claire Vigrass, 19 and her elder sister Sarah, 23, in the Ladies’ British, Australian and World Open Championships. The sisters were losing finalists in the British Open Doubles and progressed smoothly through the singles to meet each other in the final. Both hit with awesome power and cut, but Sarah was forced into a string of snatched errors as she struggled to stay on terms with her opponent’s focus and accuracy.
Although she created chances, Sarah only managed to convert them into one game, losing the first set 1 — 6. However, her railroad serve started to take effect in the second set and she gained the initiative, forcing Claire into mistakes through the clever use of angles off the walls. Sarah took the first three games and looked on course for a fight back, but Claire showed the tenacity worthy of her ladies’ number one world ranking, pulling back to 4 — 4. Sarah was leading 30 — 15 in the next game when she drove a seemingly easy shot into the net and Claire took command. She hit a series of winners to an immaculate length and won the set and retained her singles title 6 — 1, 6 — 4.
At the Australian Open in Ballarat, the pair successfully defended their Doubles title, beating Karen Hird (Queen’s Club, GB) and Rosie Snell (Royal Melbourne, AUS) 6/1, 6/3 in the final. The Singles final was again an all-Vigrass affair, with Claire defeating Sarah by the same 6/1, 6/4 margin to take the title for the second year running. The sisters continued in devastating form throughout the world championships at Royal Melbourne Tennis Club, inflicting another defeat on Hird and Snell 6 — 2, 6 — 1 in the doubles final. The match commentator described their performance as ‘…a new dawn for ladies’ tennis…’, with Claire and Sarah playing power tennis the likes of which is usually reserved for top-line male professionals…’
Hird avenged herself against Sarah in the semi-final of the singles, recovering from a set down to win unexpectedly 1 — 6, 6 — 3, 6 — 2. In the final, Hird again lost the first set 1 — 6 to Claire, but her change of tactics to railroad serves and deceptive cross-court forehands brought her back to 4 — 5 in the second set, at which stage Claire audibly willed herself to ‘Finish it!’ She promptly took the next game, the set, and the match to become the youngest ever Ladies’ World Open Singles Champion.
Prested Hall’s head professional Ricardo Smith shares the delight of club members at Claire’s realising the ambition she has cherished almost since she first stepped on court as a 12-year-old. ‘Claire displayed talent from the outset, but it would not have paid off without the dedication and sheer hard work with which she has applied herself. She has already won every major ladies’ title, and now both sisters look set to dominate the ladies’ game for some time to come.’
Ricardo attributes the sisters’ initial success to the club’s junior training programme and members’ willingness to allow juniors to participate in club nights, competitions and social matches. He advises parents whose children are inspired to follow in Claire and Sarah’s footsteps to contact him at Prested Hall and arrange an introductory session. ‘There’s no charge, we provide the racket and other equipment free, and youngsters who show an aptitude for the game can apply for one of our bursaries which Prested Hall’s proprietor Mike Carter generously funds. We have several up-and-coming juniors, such as Kelvedon’s Lewis Williams who has won both British and French titles at junior level, but we would always welcome the opportunity to train more.’