Real Tennis 2009
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International Under 20s Tournament
Youngsters from clubs across the country converged on Prested Hall to take part in the new Amateur Under-20s Singles tournaments. In the preliminary handicap event, sponsored by the Tennis and Rackets Association, Honywood pupil Lewis Williams, 15, from Kelvedon, found that his handicap, which had been lowered after his recent French Under-16 championship win, outweighed his home court advantage as he lost 10-7 to Petworth’s Charlie Braham in the final.
Seven handicap qualifiers, together with Claire Vigrass who was seeded through, then competed for the Under-20s Championship, sponsored by Prested’s proprietor, Mike Carter. Eighteen-year-old Claire beat fellow Prested player Toby Bawden 6-1, 6-0, and Middlesex University’s Rene Schemschat 6-3, 6-1, to reach the final against Seacourt’s Louis Gordon, 17, who had struggled earlier to save the match point Williams held against him. Gordon raised his game, punishing a slow-starting Claire’s second serves with blistering backhand and forehand floor shots, but Claire regained her composure, hitting outright winners into the dedans and grille to take the title 6-4, 6-4.
It was left to Chris Vigrass, the Prested club’s committee chairman, to present his daughter Claire with the Mike Carter Trophy and other prizes, including coaching and court-time, since, unfortunately, Mike Carter himself was abroad as a result of disruptions to international travel.
In the finals of the club’s competitions, a notably improved Bryan Eaton lost the Wilkinson Trophy Handicap Singles to Will Stephens, despite Eaton’s courageous and determined fight back in the second set, 6-5 1-6 6-2. Stephen’s superior stamina, honed by training for the Guinness World Record marathon, told in the end, securing him a place in the TGRA’s Chetwood Trophy tournament for handicap singles winners at the Royal Tennis Club in September.
The handicap discrepancy between Chris Wilkinson, donor of the eponymous trophy, and his Wilkinson Plate adversary Simon Harris, resulted in Wilkinson’s treating spectators to a masterclass in serving, since for him to lose a point was virtually to lose the game. Chris Ronaldson, one of the sport’s foremost exponents, maintains that serving at real tennis is a great art, and advocates perfecting a variety of deliveries to unsettle opponents. Wilkinson’s stylish display of serves, ranging through boomerang, chandelle, demi-pique, giraffe, sidewall, underarm and railroad, combined with his classical elegance of shot, enabled him to take the second set 6-3, having lost the first 4-6, and the third to 5-all, before being overcome by the near-impossible odds, and losing the next game, and the match, to Harris.
The Ivan Ronaldson Level Doubles Trophy was won by the equally experienced and established partnership of Mike Carter and Mark Nicholls, who defeated Dan Mead and David Hunter 62 6-2. Mead, not yet returned to full fitness, substituted for Peter Holmes who won this competition last season partnered by Claire but had been forced to withdraw due to injury.
In the final of the Ladies’ Handicap, a new tournament instituted by head pro Matt Potter, serve was again a deciding factor, with Annabel Wyatt’s topspin underarm serves proving too challenging for Jo Bartholomew’s normally reliable returns to the sidewalls falling short of the back wall. Having lost the first set to love, Bartholomew staged a late rally, but Wyatt’s strategy of directing shots towards the grille and tambour when playing from the service end led to Wyatt’s winning the second 6-4 and claiming the Ladies’ Handicap Cup.
All the promise of the Level Singles final between Nicholls, 54, who has reigned supreme as champion for six years, and Claire, who lost to Nicholls in last season’s three-set final, was fulfilled. Claire’s precisely judged returns of Nicholls’ serves to the ‘nicks’ (corners) at the dedans penthouse end helped establish her 6-4, 5-3 lead, which many spectators believed to be unassailable. An outwardly cool, calm and collected Nicholls, however, held his nerve, and drawing on his years of experience gained in rackets and other sports, retaliated by deploying a spellbinding array of tactics. Nicholls forced balls rolling off the grille penthouse, boasted forces for the dedans off the main wall, and fired ‘thunderbolts’ into the dedans to gain dominance of the service end. In the process he deprived Claire of the second set 5-6 and went 31 up in the third. Feelings were running high on court, with Claire apparently fighting her twin inner demons — crossing the psychological barrier of never previously having beaten Nicholls and recovering from having dropped a set for the first time this year — and a revitalised Nicholls calling on seemingly limitless reserves of strength and guile. Off-court the tension among the spectators was becoming unbearable.
Claire resorted to attacking play, upping the pace to undermine Nicholls’ control of length and line, and moving up the court to chase down shots cannoning off the dedans wall, while concentrating on serving tightly and defensively to narrow Nicholls’ cut stroke options. This turned out to be a winning formula. Claire outmanoeuvered Nicholls to take the next five games and the deciding set 6-3. On presenting Claire and Nicholls with their trophies, Mike Carter congratulated both on an outstanding match which was expertly played with grace and humour. It was unanimously acclaimed as the most exciting Level Singles final spectators had ever been privileged to watch – until next year.
Potter awarded the Most Improved Player (Junior and Senior) trophies to Williams for the second season running, and to Tom Shrager, who pipped last season’s winner Jon Conway to the post.
Prested Hall Real Tennis Club members are achieving some remarkable results as the season draws to a close.
Foremost among them is eighteen year-old Claire Vigrass from Inworth, whose new handicap of 7.1 is the lowest ever achieved by a woman in the history of the game. She dismissed Josh Dodgson, Petworth House’s trainee professional and second seed without losing a game. She then proceeded to a straight-sets 6/1, 6/3 victory in the final over Hyde House’s Mark Mathias, 19, the current Under-26 Australian Amateur Singles champion.
In the British Ladies Open Singles Tournament at Seacourt, Vigrass avenged her three-set defeat in last year’s French Open Singles by beating Royal Tennis Court’s Karen Hird, 21, 6/3, 6/2. Vigrass also holds the Australian and US Singles titles. Pausing only for a short break, Vigrass, partnered by US no.1 Frederika Adam, beat Seacourt’s Alex Garside, a former Ladies Open Doubles world champion, and Aldona Greenwood of Queen’s 6/1, 6/2 to take the Open Doubles title. Vigrass thereby completed the Ladies Open Doubles grand slam, having already won the French and US doubles with Adam, and the Australian with elder sister Sarah Vigrass this season.
Vigrass and Hird, having won their respective groups, competed in the Ladies’ Real Tennis Association International Invitation Tournament at Holyport Grange. Vigrass underlined her superiority by defeating Hird 6/3, 6/1 to take yet another title.
At the time of going to press, the inaugural Amateur Under-20 Singles Tournaments are in progress at Prested Hall over the Bank Holiday weekend. The prizes include weekend accommodation, court-time and coaching by professionals at Prested Hall, all donated by proprietor Mike Carter. Youngsters from all over the country have entered the preliminary Handicap Singles event in round robin format with semi-finals and a final. The event is sponsored by the Tennis & Rackets Association (T&RA), the sport’s national governing body.
Mike Carter has donated the winner’s trophy (and annual replica) named after him. Vigrass was seeded through to the championship and made short work of fellow Prested member Toby Bawden, 19, 6/1, 6/0, in the first round.
Prested junior Lewis Williams justified the T&RA’s awarding him a Gray’s racket for best overall performance by a junior by winning the French Junior Under-16 Handicap Tournament. Williams, now 16, and a pupil at Honywood Community Science School, also made good use of his home court advantage to reach the final of the Under-20s Handicap Singles and secure a place in the Singles Championship.
Prested member Simon Harris also distinguished himself in France, winning both the Singles and the Doubles titles in the Trophee Edouard Kressman Handicap Tournaments for players aged 50 and over at the Jeu de Paume et Squash de Bordeaux-Merignac. Harris beat Chris Vigrass, Chairman of Prested Hall Real Tennis Club’s committee (and Claire Vigrass’ father) in the process. Edouard Kressman, after whom the tournaments are named, was a Bordeaux-Merignac member who passed away, aged 78, following a vigorous game of real tennis — glass still in hand!
Chris Vigrass has the consolationof being a losing finalist in the Henry Leaf Cup, the schools’ old boys’ and girls’ doubles championships held annually at Leamington.
In the prestigious Cockram matches at Lord’s for players aged between 50 and 60, Prested’s reigning singles champion, Mark Nicholls, contributed to the UK’s 4-1 victory over Australia, and 5-0 defeat of the US, by winning both of his doubles matches.