Rackets: Thursday at Queen's Club

Category: Sport

Wednesday 11th December

A fogbound M4 proved no match for the College MPV as we arrived with fully three minutes to spare before the first match.

Luckily Harry McKelvey (BH Hu) had decided to forgo the delights of the Barton Hill Christmas Supper and stay in London overnight and so had arrived somewhat in better time.

Harry got things off to an excellent start, serving beautifully to deny his Cheltonian opponent any chance at all. A comfortable 15/1 15/0 victory resulted.

Next up was Yearlings hopeful Dom Coulson (C1 Sh) who eased into the next round with a mostly dominant (apart from a spirited Etonian fight back early in the second game) victory 15/1 15/10.

At this point in the narrative, a History lesson might be useful, if you will indulge me. In 1973, a young Haileyburian by the name of Robert Howard Wakely stepped onto court at Queens Club for the very first time. Knock-kneed and nervous he hacked his way through the warm up, won the spin and marched towards the service box. His serve was above the line and his heart lifted momentarily before sinking again as the return fizzed past him and died off the back wall. 30 short points later, he walked off, understandably somewhat dispirited, having lost 0/15 0/15 (a scoreline now known as a "double bagel"). A little soul-searching later, he redoubled his efforts in training and was amply rewarded when, in 1976, now a tall and suave sixth former, he won the prestigious Renny Cup sweeping all challengers aside with ease. He never looked back.

Now back to the present.

Worcester Bawden (C3 Re) was taking on the formidable U15 second seed from St.Paul's, a boy widely tipped to win the tournament. No doubt with his coach's future greatness in mind, set about emulating his first scoreline but actually outdid the current Marlborough Professional by winning a few rallies and therefore serving several more times than the great RHW had on that cold day in 1973.

Harry Davies (BH L6) then rejoined the fray with a match against a Carthusian. With the first game in the bag all was looking good. The second game was closer but with his opponent serving at 13/13 Harry boldly called "no set". The ploy worked - he won the next rally and was soon serving for the match at 14/13. Double fault! Still in shock he lost the next two points and the game. Between games he gave himself a stern talking-to and came back on court more determined than ever. It worked. He raced into an 8/0 lead and soon finished things off convincingly 15/3.

That victory earned him another match two hours later against one of Malvern's first pair. Harry couldn't make much of an impact on the first game, despite striking the ball well but, after conceding a lead in the second, fought back strongly and nearly nicked it. Not to be, though, and it ended 5/15 12/15. Harry has had an excellent few days, showing great sportsmanship and skill on court and should be delighted with his wins.

Finally, and it was nearly 9pm before the match began, Tiger Foot (U6 Tu) took on a Radleian. After completing a swiftish 15/5 first game, all was looking good for a quick end to proceedings. His opponent had other ideas and fought tooth and nail to extend the match for as long as possible. At this time in the evening the emphasis was not on playing crowd-pleasing rackets (the crowd were already perfectly happy with the contents of their glasses) but on getting the job done. After a few hiccups, Tiger did just that, eventually winning the second 15/9.

The end of a long day has arrived but there is much to look forward on Thursday with six boys still in action across the four competitions.


Thursday 12th December

Thursday's afternoon/evening session started with Kaj Larsson (B1 Hu) playground the number 5 seed in a quarter-final of the U16s tournament.

Hopes were high after he had dispatched the 4th seed in the fourth round. All was well for most of the first game and Kaj found himself serving with a healthy 12/8 lead. But rackets is a game where the comeback is always possible and the Etonian was not done. He surged back to lead 13/12 and although Kaj forced the Set to five, and battled hard the first game slipped away 15/18. Momentum was now with the seeded player and Kaj could not turn that around.

The second game was more competitive than it sounds but was lost 2/15. Kaj has an excellent tournament and although, the way he was playing, we had high hopes him reaching the semi-final, for him to reach the quarter-final and play so well in the tournament is a fantastic achievement.

Tiger Foot (U6 Tu) was then bidding to reach the Renny Cup quarter-final stage but had a very good Tonbridgian to negotiate first. The rallies were fast and furious to start with - Tonbridgians are renowned for the hardness of their hitting - but Tiger cleverly varied the pace of shots and quickly unsettled his opponent. His serving and stroke play were both magnificent and he swept through to a meeting with the top seed, winning 15/2 15/3.

Harry McKelvey's (BH Hu) quarter-final was against the second seed, the ever-confident Rory Giddins of Eton. Some excellent ball striking was on show from the start but the crispness with which Rory put away winners was telling and Harry lost the first game 2/15. The second game was much more fiercely contested and after many, many good rallies the score was 6/6. And then 8/8. And 9/9. Sadly it ended 10/15 but Harry can hold his head high, too, after a good campaign.

The Marlborough Captain of Rackets, Luke Williams (B1 U6), was up next in a best of five Foster Cup quarter-final against the second seed, Charlie Braham of Eton. Luke has reached the Semi-finals of each of the last three singles tournaments - could he make it a fourth? Braham hit the ground running and was, frankly, awesome in the first game (1/15). In the second Luke made a much better fist of things for much of the game but, as is so often the case in rackets, the scoreline didn't reflect that (2/15). Fighting hard to stay in the match he established a 5/2 lead in the third, combining some good serves with controlled power in the rallies. For several minutes, the serve kept changing hands with the score hardly progressing but a sudden run of points took the game - and the match - away from Luke (5/15). He shouldn't feel too bad - he was beaten on the day by a boy playing at a very high level who probably only made half a dozen errors in the whole match.

Tiger Foot (TU U6), too, had a job on his hands if he was going to upset the seedlings as he took on the top seed - another Etonian(!) - in the Renny Cup. The big question was whether or not he could carry on playing as well as he had played in the quarter-final earlier in the afternoon. If he did, anything was possible. He did play well, although not quite as well as in his previous match - perhaps 10% down, in the first game and the top seed was ruthless in capitalising on any loose ball (3/15). The played the second game closer to his best, but in the end nothing but his best was going to be enough. He saved three match points (one at 8/14 and two at 11/14) and then fought his way back to 14/14. His game improving point by point we suddenly had a proper scrap on our hands. Serving for the second game at 16/15 he couldn't find the killer first serve that had been the hallmark of his quarter-final but the second serve was enough and suddenly it was one game all, final game! The third game was always going to be tense but Tiger calmed himself well and played some very intelligent shots which forced his opponents into the corners and, although many were retrieved - some with interest - he edged ahead and built a useful 7/1 lead. The Etonian was not given top billing for nothing, though, and clawed his way back to 7/7 and then built a lead of his own. Tiger didn't regain the serve until it was 7/12. At 9/12 he served a double fault and was soon facing another match point - which he again saved.

A fifth match followed and was just one too many. 11/15. Tiger is yet another boy who can hold his head up high and reflect on a good tournament.


Friday 13th December

Billy sadly couldn't continue his run of successes and was unable to make much of an impression on the boy who will surely win this tournament.

There is always a slight feeling of disappointment at the end of these knockout tournaments as everyone (unless they win a cup) loses in the end. But actually the boys have, without exception, acquitted themselves well. Good performances and good sportsmanship have been evident at every turn.

Five quarter-finalists from sixteen entrants over four competitions is a very good return for their efforts - only two were seeded to get that far.

Thank you to all: to the boys making this week so enjoyable and for making Rob and I proud to be involved with rackets at Marlborough, to the parents for their support and help with travel and accommodation, and most particularly to Rob Wakely for his tireless and passionate work with the boys.

Happy Christmas!


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