Solid Seconds Secure Superb Start

The middle week of the month, the middle day of the week
But no middle of the road performance

The 12th of October saw the Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club second string play host to their counterparts from Hermitage Leisure in the Knighton-based outfit’s opening league fixture of the 2016 season.

Buoyed by the inclusion of First Team Captain, Ollie Wood (43), and despite the fact Hermitage were coming off the back of a comprehensive victory in their previous fixture, the feeling amongst the camp was one of confidence and optimism, particularly as each player is currently enjoying a rich vein of form, even veteran Williams. Despite 80% of the side being ex-tennis players there is a real feeling that they can more than make their presence felt in the division this year, indeed second string player Robbie Wynne (Club Squash Captain, 5x DCW Champion, local pin-up) was heard saying to Club Coach/Delivery driver Luke Parker:

We can more than make our presence felt in the division this year

With the Leicestershire boys employing the rather brilliant tactic of all arriving at different times despite clear instruction from their Captain to the contrary, the Hermitage outfit were thrown off their stride from the moment the entered the hallowed courts of the premier racquets facility this side of David Lloyd. In another masterstroke, the playing order was ruthlessly sliced and diced to the point that by the time Parker had coached his ageing pupil to within an inch of his life, the atmosphere was tantamount to pandemonium. Eventually however, the dust settled, and the opening matches were underway.

Match 1: Matt “Embers” Williams Vs Tom ‘Knitted Training Top’ Wills
(Written by Junior Sports Contributor, Matt Williams. Edited by RW)

Fresh off the back of a hard fought win at Leicester Squash against relative beginner Andrew Brown, Williams (40), stepped onto court in his now trademarked non-matching hoody and joggers (sponsored by: https://www.just-eat.co.uk/ ), knowing that the real work would start now. Taking his place at number four in the order; he aimed to get the team off to a winning start.

His opponent was an unknown youngster and it was clear from the outset this would be no walkover as the newcomer drove the ball and volleyed well in the knock-up despite being hampered by a chunky knitted sweater that looked more out of place than Dan “The Professional” Willets getting the drinks in at the bar.

As the first game got underway it was clear that Embers meant business, partly due to the fact he was the only team member wearing the regulation team kit. Following the opening reposts, neither player could open up a substantial lead; Embers mixed solid play down the wall with dreadful boasts, luckily his opponent hadn’t found his touch in the first and too many errors handed Embers the opening game. 9-7.

Following a team talk from Captain Don, which consisted of pointing out that’ he won’t miss those all night, so stop boasting’ the second got underway. True to the captains prediction about midway through the second Wills started finding his form and the boasts that had been effective became a glaring weakness in Embers game and Wills took the second 7-9.

At honours even, Embers remembered the words of long term sparring partner and idol, Robbie ‘The Natural’ Wynne, and began to push further up the court, suddenly the game became far easier and the third went Embers way without too much effort.

Unfortunately for Embers, Wills also remembered that pushing up the court was the best option and despite a spirited fight back by Embers from 2-7 to 6-7 (which included some of the worst asks for lets in recent memory), Wills took the game 7-9.

Embers was in familiar territory heading into the fifth as three out of his last five matches have been won in 5. Luckily for a tiring Embers, he saved his best squash for the last opening up an 8-1 lead. Despite eleven missed match ball attempts, Embers finally came through 9-3 with an error from a visibly disappointed Wills.

Another hard fought win; but against a lower ranked player Embers will quite rightly take a hit in the world rankings (http://www.squashlevels.com/)

Match 2: Adam “Hands” Popowicz Vs Mick ‘Ol’Timer’ Birch

The second match of the evening saw the two number fives do battle in what looked to be a good match up for the neutral. Adam ‘Hands’ Popowicz (34) is taking the Leicestershire rankings by storm and rising up the ladder at break-neck speed but faced an opponent who has clearly been around the squash block more times than Ollie Wood has walked around a Porsche garage.

The opening exchanges were cagey at best from the Leicestershire player, with some uncharacteristic errors and timing issues handing his opponent a 4 point lead. However, ‘Pops’ is made of stern stuff and the cogs were beginning to turn as he relaxed into the opening game ensuring his unique brand of rat-a-tat squash gradually saw him gain the upper hand. Suddenly his trademark short game clicked into gear, and in a flash the opening game had been turned on his head, and with yet another short ball that was too good for a ‘withering’ Birch, the game was over. 9-4.

The second game got underway and straight away it was clear that Birch had adopted ‘Plan B’. With clear intention to keep Pops at the back of the court, the Hermitage veteran was able to dictate more of the play and keep those deadly drops at bay. A more varied game seemed to throw Pops into a temporary fug and for a while it looked like the match would be squared up, but Pops was clearly up for the fight as he dug in and managed to battle back as we got to the business end of the game. With points being traded on serve, it became a battle of wills to see it out – and in that instance, there would only be one winner. Covering every inch of the court, Pops was able to make his opponent play one more ball, and eventually this told. A close game went the way of the Leicestershire man, 9-7.

The third game saw more of the same, but despite Pops having to work very hard against a player he would later describe as “a proper squash player”, this reporter could see there would only be one winner. With the pre-match prediction of Wynne (he might get to one or two of your drops, but he won’t be able to do it all match), becoming a reality, the match began to draw to a close. At 8-4 up, the final point saw a forced error gift the game to an elated Popowicz who claimed a confidence boosting victory and hand his side a 2-to-nothing advantage.

Match 3: Chris ‘The Don’ Trafford vs Mick ‘Touch of Class’ Burton
(Written by Junior Sports Contributor, Matt Williams. Edited by RW)

Following a meteoric rise up the Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club team order, Captain Don (33), took his place at number 3 against a seasoned opponent. They would know each other’s games well as they had met last season, with Burton coming out the convincing victor (9-7, 9-2, 9-1). This would be a real test for The Don and would gauge his improvement over recent months.

The Don started like a freight train; giving his opponent no time to settle, hitting powerfully from both wings and attacking with conviction. Reeling off the first 6 points there were murmurs from the gallery that an upset was on the cards; but Burton showed his metal fortitude, fighting back to make the game close; however it was still the Don who commanded the court held on to take the first 9-7.

Burton had seemingly settled and close second was expected, however the offensive juggernaut that was The Don, used all his abilities to race into an 8-0 lead. The upset was on, the summer training had paid-off, The Don kept the intensity high and closed out in style…. is what I wish I could write; in fact I urge you not read on and imagine the Dons glorious victory, as in reality what happened wasn’t pretty. Alas, The Don relaxed and began sitting slightly deeper, movement became more casual and the winners began to flow from Burtons racquet. Burton raced through 10 straight points to take the game and break the Dons resistance.

Although The Don showed glimpses of his form from the 1st game and a half; the spark had gone and getting back to such a high level against an opponent growing in confidence proved too much – indeed, his game had ‘Gone for a Burton’.

Burton came through the last 2 games for the loss of just 4 points to take a 3-1 victory.

A point well earned by The Don, but this will go down as ‘what could have been’.

Match 4: Ollie “The Tactician” Wood vs Arthur “The Defector” May

With the match poised at 2-1, next up in the lottery of the playing order were the top boys. For Leicestershire, Ollie Wood, continuing his role of bridging the gap between the First and Second Teams; for Hermitage, one-time Loughborough Students stalwart, Arthur May. With the Captain involved in a battle on the adjacent court, and with this reporters mind made up that it would be a walkover in favour of local business magnate, Wood; not much attention was paid to the opening exchanges.

Indeed, it appeared that things would go as planned despite a few close points in the first game. From my vantage point I could only see from the back of the service box forward, which incidentally meant that I didn’t see much of May as he was mercilessly sent from corner to corner by the commanding Wood. Playing with poise and confidence, this was another demolition in the making. That isn’t to say May is cannon-fodder, (in his opening match he claimed an impressive 3-nil victory), but against his more experienced opponent it was a completely different ball game, despite it still being the game of squash.

With the first game done and dusted (9-1), the second game continued in the same vein with May struggling to make any sort on impact on the match. Being pinned in the back corners it is hard to affect the game in any way, but unfortunately I can speak from experience and say that it is often just the way it is against Wood. An almost carbon-copy game followed and Ollie breezed into a 2-nil lead.

Having been made to work so hard to gain the paltry sum of 2 points, May’s spirit had been crushed. With his loved one looking on from the gallery, would he summon the fire to garner some level of dignity and respect, or would he crawl into his shell and let down not only himself, but also his family and friends? Well, dear Reader, we will never know, as the ruthless Wood gave him no option to even make a choice. A brutal third game hammered home the sense of dominance and in taking the game ironically to ‘love’, it may also have hammered home the point to the fair-haired ‘WAG’ of May, that she should perhaps look elsewhere for love and attention in the near future as her man looked a shadow of his former self.

The victory not only signalled the potential end of a fledgling romance, but also confirmed that the overall match victory belonged to Leicestershire. All that was left to see was the margin of victory.

Final Match: Robbie “The Natural” Wynne vs Lee “Hit and Run” Gattrell

The final match of the night saw the number two’s go head to head in a match that was originally due to start almost 2 hours earlier. Once again, the tom-foolery surrounding the playing order played right into the hands of the home side, and a rattled/bored Gattrell took to the court looking resplendent in Team colours accented beautifully with fluorescent orange shoes and sweatband. Having been given the pre-match download from Embers, Wynne (28), stepped on to court feeling confident and looking as dashing as ever.

For Wynne, the overall match was over but the final result still mattered. Following a stronger showing in the Summer Business Leagues than in previous years, and a number of focussed hitting sessions with mentor Wood, Wynne was keen to get off to a good start against an opponent who on paper at least, looked to be there for the taking. The warm up told Wynne that the backhand wing of Gattrell was by far the weaker and prime real estate for exploitation.

The first game got underway and Wynne began his assault. Keeping Gattrell moving and more importantly, behind him was key to the Wynne game plan. Having watched the master class from Wood moments earlier, the Wynne memory bank kept hold of the visions of dominance displayed from the T and tried to replicate wholesale. It seemed to work as Wynne was able to dictate play and pick off the loose balls as they came. Gattrell moved well so the points were relatively hard work, but thankfully they were harder for him than Wynne, and the all-round sportsman/business owner took the opener 9-2.

From the Marker’s position, Wood told Wynne not to change a thing, so he didn’t. More of the same followed as did a similar result, albeit with a few lucky bounces thrown in for good measure. 9-1.

The third game proved also to be the last. Gattrell now looked down-trodden and there for the taking. Like a Leicester-based Donald Trump, Wynne needed no second invitation to step in and take advantage, making life as uncomfortable and unbearable as possible for his prey. Concentration to stick to what was working was all that was needed, and Wynne duly obliged. Another failed ‘swish’ of the Gattrell racquet brought the game, match and overall encounter to a close.

With that, the crowd dispersed and made their way to the warm, welcoming bosom of the bar, already regaling tales of what was seen. As the players washed away the sweat and stains from battle, they could rest assured knowing that they had delivered what was required and held up their end of the bargain to the other Leicestershire Tennis Squash Teams by bringing home yet another victory.

They win as a Team and they lose as a Team. On this night it was the former and the spoils of war could therefore be enjoyed.

A successful start to the campaign for this newly formed band of brothers.

A start that shows potential

A start that shows promise

A start that shows…