STRATFORD players performed major roles in Warwickshire men’s and women’s sides in the Winter County Cup, writes Sally Jones.
The men won the Group 3 title and promotion to Group 2, whilst the depleted women’s side were relegated from a very strong Group 2.
Warwick and Stratford players were on song as Warwickshire men won Group 3A of the Winter County Cup at Edgbaston Priory Club by a single rubber from highly-fancied East of Scotland.
It was a proud double for new men’s county captain Gavin Henderson, the Warwick Boat Club tennis manager who in July led his young side to the Summer County Championship, Group 5, after years in the doldrums.
The Midlanders began the final day on the back of an 8-1 victory over South Wales and a 5-4 loss to East of Scotland, knowing only a handsome victory over previously unbeaten Durham could secure the title.
Warwickshire’s top player Mason Recci, 22, from Solihull, led the charge with a fine singles win over Jonathan Binding after the lively Warwick Boat Club coach Cameron Malik and big-serving Richard Partridge from Coventry had each dropped only a couple of games to useful opposition.
Stratford coach Simon Ferguson cannily outplayed Adam Barraclough and, despite carrying an injury, won every match he played, while Warwickshire number 2 Jake Hersey, 19, from Rugby, dismissed Durham’s Daniel Bennett.
With the Scots thrashing South Wales, it all came down to rubbers and, leading 5-1 after the singles round against Durham, Warwickshire needed just one rubber from the three doubles matches.
Partridge and Malik narrowly lost to an inspired Durham third pair, but Recci and Hersey secured the title, outhitting the Durham firsts, to the delight of Warwickshire’s vociferous band of supporters.
In the opening match against South Wales, rising star Harry Lazell, 16, from Warwick Boat Club, the former national U16 champion, had shown his fighting spirit by battling back to beat the durable Henry Muxworthy after dropping the first set on the tie-break.
“It was a brilliant team effort,” said captain Gavin Henderson. “Everyone played really well and pulled together and there were several upsets against higher-ranked opponents.
“Our lads really showed the benefit of the different county practices and challenge matches we’d had to decide selection for Winter County Cup.
“Even though our top player Dan Evans was on Davis Cup duty, he’d offered to come and play for us if GB had been eliminated from the competition before Friday. They reached the semi-final against Spain but it’s great he still supports the county side.
“We’re aiming for more success next year and I’m determined to make it three in a row by winning promotion again at Summer County Cup 2020. With this talented motivated young squad, I’m convinced we’re in with a chance.”
By contrast Warwickshire’s depleted women’s side, missing several stalwarts including Coventry’s Soumeya Anane, struggled in a strong Group 2 at Sheffield.
Experienced Natasha Hillyer, the former Stratford coach, was the outstanding performer, winning all three of her singles games against Hertfordshire, Hampshire and Lancashire through canny, consistent play.
Warwick Boat Club doubles specialist Kara Biggs from Leamington and tour player Tamara Malazonia fought back for a fine doubles win against the Hampshire seconds after dropping the first set 6-0.
The rest of the side, mainly inexperienced youngsters making their senior county debuts, managed only a handful of rubbers between them against tough opposition and the side was relegated to Group 3 for the first time in decades, losing 7-2 to Herts, 5-4 to Hampshire and 5-1 to Lancashire.
“Apart from Natasha who was the star of the show, I was very disappointed with my team,” said Katie Shaw.
“I told the other girls to learn from the way she won all her singles by playing smart, making lots of balls and not going for winners on ridiculous balls.
“They were facing strong, higher-ranked opposition and I know they’ll have learned from this baptism of fire. I just hope we can rebuild for next season and bounce straight back up from relegation.”