STRATFORD players were among the star performers as Warwickshire men’s tennis side sealed victory in group five of the Aegon Inter-County Championships to clinch a long-overdue promotion into group four, writes Sally Jones.
However, the county’s women were relegated from group one after a tight battle with Yorkshire.
Former Stratford coach Natasha Hillyer played a key role in the depleted women’s team which fought valiantly in the elite group one before a narrow loss to Yorkshire ensured their relegation after several years of Houdini-style last-ditch escapes.
New men’s captain Gavin Henderson led the celebrations as his well-matched pairs beat local rivals Herefordshire & Worcestershire 6-3 on the final day to make it a clean sweep of five straight victories.
Stratford coaches Oliver Plaskett and Simon Ferguson plus their former colleague Cameron Malik and Stratford’s Luke Hammond, 20, a tennis scholar at Oklahoma State University, were all among the stand-outs, with Hammond named Warwickshire’s player of the week.
He and former junior international Mason Recci from Solihull had got the ball rolling on day one by winning three out of three in a thrilling 5-4 defeat of favourites West of Scotland, even beating their first pair Connor Thomson and Scott Macaulay – a quarter-finalist in the recent Wimbledon junior doubles championship.
Hammond and the consistent Malik then teamed up superbly, winning three out of three against Wiltshire on day four and two out of three against Herefordshire & Worcestershire.
Plaskett showed his versatility by combining well with both former junior international Max Stewart and Oliver Nolan, the national American college doubles champion, to record a string of victories.
The tough and focused Ferguson, imported for the last few days, was equally gritty and defiant, winning all three of his matches against Herefordshire & Worcestershire, partnering both Nolan and Stewart in different rounds.
“I’m delighted with how our young side gelled and backed one another up all week,” said skipper Henderson, whose canny changes of pairings kept morale high.
“We picked proper doubles players, all strong serve-volleyers, and Simon Ferguson added some real character and experience which boosted the camaraderie and team spirit among the whole side.
“After a week like this, we’re convinced we can win promotion again next year to group three.”
Results: Eastbourne Group One Women’s Championship: Day one – Warwickshire lost to Surrey 7-2; Day two – Warwickshire lost to Middlesex 6-3; Day three – Warwickshire beat Essex 7-2; Day four – Warwickshire lost to Yorkshire 6-3; Day five – Warwickshire lost to Hertfordshire 6-0.
Warwickshire finish fifth and are relegated with Essex. Hertfordshire take the County Championship.
Men’s Group five at West Worthing: Day one – Warwickshire beat West of Scotland 5-4; Day two – Warwickshire beat Lancashire 6-3; Day three – Warwickshire beat Durham & Cleveland 8-1; Day four – Warwickshire beat Wiltshire 8-1; Day five – Warwickshire beat Herefordshire & Worcestershire 6-3.