Top Two go Toe-To-Toe as Tennis Club Triumph
Top of the table clash sees big boys battle it out to determine Number 1

As we loiter between the close-knit festivals of Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night like hooded ne’er-do-wells outside a Newsagents, attention turned to Westernhay Road as second placed Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club played host to the over-priced and out-of-the-way gymnasium-based league leaders, David Lloyd.

With both sides enjoying prosperous starts to their respective campaigns, the tie promised to be an intriguing match up between common foes and recent Summer League compadres. Leicestershire welcomed back the globe-trotting Ollie Wood, ‘The Tactician’ returning from a state-side recon mission to uncover the real affects a Trump presidency would have on his business interests and assets. Whilst the enforced absence of Adam ‘Hands’ Popowicz saw the welcomed inclusion of a familiar face, Andy ‘Long Haul’ Maynard (age unknown), on the Team sheet, making his first appearance for the Leicestershire outfit in over two and a half years.

On a cold night at an eerily quiet LT&SC, both sets of players arrived knowing that victory would guarantee top spot going into week 5 of the season.

The line-ups:

1. Ollie ‘The Tactician’ Wood vs Adam ‘Wingspan’ Bagley
2. Robbie ‘The Natural’ Wynne vs Nick ‘City til I Die’ Marshall
3. Chris ‘The Don’ Trafford vs Graham ‘Trickshot’ Bagley
4. Andy ‘Long Haul’ Maynard vs Rachel ‘The Butcher’ Calver
5. Matt “Embers” Williams vs Mark ‘The Veteran’ Newitt

As the players engaged in lively, jovial, and in relation to G Bagley and A Maynard’s conversation, overly graphic banter, Nick ‘City til I Die’ Marshall suggested a break from convention and proposed the Second string get underway first. Wynne immediately began to consider the permutations of this and delved into the depths of his considerable and quite brilliant mind to decipher what brand of gamesmanship was afoot, what tactics were being employed and what possible gains the visitors were seeking to make. Almost as quickly however, Marshall showed his hand, quipping:

“That way we can get off early. Mark’s driving so I can have a few beers and watch The City”

“All you’ll be watching are winners flying past you and into the nick”, Wynne provocatively and defiantly quipped back, (in his head).

With this wonderful show of wordplay complete (albeit known to no-one but Wynne*), the players made their way to the arena with Marshall visibly rocked by the brazen verbal beatdown he had just been subjected to (Wynne thought, again in his head).

*The validity of this statement is by definition unknown and therefore represents the views of the Writer and not the Publication at large

Match 1: Robbie ‘The Natural’ Wynne vs Nick ‘City til I Die’ Marshall

Both players will have gone into this match high on confidence boasting matched 100% records in the division so far this season. Having never met each other previously, the opening exchanges were slightly cagey as the combatants sought to uncover both weaknesses and strengths in their opponent’s game. Wynne went in with the game plan of being content to grind it out feeling he had the edge fitness-wise, but his starting position in the opening game was too far from the T, and like a baby blue whale straying too far from its mothers side under the watchful gaze of a deadly (yet strangely kind-looking) pod of Killer Whales, Wynne was in danger of being brutally picked off. However, heeding the shouts from the gallery, Wynne was able to react and place himself back into the relatively calm and benign waters of the central “T” position. With this, the game to’ed and fro’ed eventually leading to game point for Marshall at 8-7. Wynne managed to force a tie-break and “Set 2” was called, meaning that at 9-8 up the athletic yet intellectual Wynne needed only one more point to claim the opening game. Unfortunately for him however, Marshall had other ideas and fought back to 9-all, and with serve had game point of his own. Despite his best efforts, Wynne tried in vain to gain back ball in hand, and the tie-break went the way of David Lloyd member no. 1896423174.

With his now full-time coach in attendance, Wynne was able to seek counsel with The Tactician who encouraged his charge to do more of the same, stating that the legs of Marshall would begin to slow and he would be forced to take more risks. Game two got underway, and it was a real cracker…!

See above but with the opposite result.

1-all.
Games 3 and 4 were again mirror images of each other, one going the way of The Natural, the other to Leicester City’s finest supporter, meaning were going into a decider. The fifth game got underway, and with the words of Coach Wood ringing in his ears “tighten up and dig in”, Wynne expertly went 4-0 down with some sloppy play, particularly on the return of serve, and remembering his earlier show of confidence (which may or may not have actually happened), Wynne thought he may well be eating a rather large slice of Humble Tart unless he did something about it. A nice cross-court drop saw Wynne wrestle the serve from Marshall and his assault on his comeback was underway. At 7-3 down Wynne felt as though he was stood at the foot of a mountain looking skyward at the task that faced him, it seemed a long way to go. However, like a Phoenix rising from the waves, the effects of his earlier exploits and efforts suddenly appeared and three successive errors from Marshall air-lifted Wynne not quite to the mountain’s peak, but certainly to a ‘bivvy’ within touching distance. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bivouac_shelter).
With an apparent shift in momentum complete, it was a surprise to all to see Marshall turn things around and kick dirt in the face of a despairing Wynne and make a break for glory. At 8-7 down, Wynne managed to save match ball and once again, we headed into a tie break. At 8-all with Marshall serving, Wynne was sure that he saw a ball down and looked to the gallery for what he expected would be universal agreement, and to his initial relief that is just what he got. Within seconds however he realised that the universal agreement was in favour of The Marker who had called the ball good. At this point, Wynne showed great stoicism and self-control by calmly and professionally accepting the decision, allowing himself only the briefest of moments to scream obscenities and gesticulate wildly, there may also have been the most gentle of taps on the wall with his racquet, but so much so that is was very difficult to pick up. Serving at match ball, Marshall went for a backhand volley nick attempt that mercifully for Wynne caressed the tin with enough purchase to ensure that this time there could be no doubts. Some tight play (a fixture of Wynne’s performance on the night) saw him square things up at 9-all, and when he was presented with an opening in the next rally, another tight backhand drop was enough to bring the curtains down on a classic.
The scores will show that this game really could have been decided by the flip of a coin, it was played on a knife-edge from start to finish, but on this occasion, on this day, the record books will show that when the clouds parted and the light began to shine across the horizon, there was but a solitary figure atop the summit, silhouetted by the sun.

Exhausted.

Defiant.

Victorious.

Match 2: Andy ‘Long Haul’ Maynard vs Rachel ‘The Butcher’ Calver
Contribution from Junior Sports Contributor Matt Williams – un-paid volunteer, Edited/Improved by R Wynne

The date 3rd November 2016, the time 20:03, the moment that Leicester legend ‘ANNNNDDDDYYYY ‘MANKYYYYY’ MMMMAAYYYYYYNARRRD’ returned to grace the sprung wooden floors of LT&SC. His opponent, the very capable Rachel ‘The Butcher’ Calver would be looking to improve on her lacklustre start to the season.

With the brothers Bagley and Andy all at one venue, there was more natural talent on display than the rest of the division combined. The man they call ‘Manky’ used all of his attacking skills, with the most ridiculous backhand drive reverse drops this reporter has ever seen, but in the end this game would come down to conditioning. Although an athlete in his own right, Calver had clearly found a training regime to outlast the mercurial Manky, and a lack of matches seemed to tell and numerous bellows from the big man showed his frustration. Against all the bluster and baffling winners, Calver netted a 3-1 victory and picked up her team’s first point of the evening. Mankys commitment was not in question as he almost knocked himself out on the sidewall midway through the match (figure 1).

Match 3: Matt “Embers” Williams vs Mark ‘The Veteran’ Newitt

Coming off the back of an expected loss against the younger Dalby brother, Williams was pitted against Mark ‘The Veteran’ Newitt (67), in this top of the table clash. Newitt is currently enjoying a rich vein of form having moved from 2 to 5 in the order following the acquisition of the brothers Bagley for an undisclosed sum.
Determined to stave off the slow starts that have plagued Embers game in recent weeks, match day preparation started early in the Embers camp and continued throughout the day (see figure 2). Sources close to Williams claim the blow picture depicts:

“6am (ish) – 2 mile canal jog”

Having been up since 3:30am that same morning with 10-month old son and all round good chap, Stanley ‘Mummies Boy” Wynne, Team mate The Natural was able to chart the rise of the sun to the minute and has cast doubt over the validity of these claims:

“There is no way that photo was taken before 7am, and covering only 2 miles, if indeed he did set out at 6am I don’t think there was much jogging going on either. More likely this is a picture of Matt scrambling across the heath in a desperate attempt to find some breakfast as a result of a website error meaning it cannot be delivered to his door. The dogs must belong to someone else.”

Shocking.

However, this Reporter has managed to uncover additional evidence that may go some way to substantiating Wynne’s claims. If the 6am jogging story is indeed a ruse and the theory of a missed fried breakfast is to be believed, it may go some way to explain why Embers was found later that day stood weeping uncontrollably by the side of what he thought were the remnants of his favourite and beloved works vending machine (see figure 3).

The lack of premium grade fried breakfast nutrition may well have caused a brain lapse and caused an hallucinogenic reaction making Williams believe he now lived in a post-apocalyptic age where all of the World’s vending machines had been destroyed, meaning easily accessible chocs, crisps and treats were a thing of the past.

Whatever the story, there will be more to come on this as we get it. Now, back to the Squash.

Fuelled by primary sponsor www.just-eat.co.uk Embers was ready to go, determined to get a quick start and put the pressure firmly on his opponent. Williams came out of the blocks like a…. sloth? Slug? ‘insert the name of any other slow moving animal’ and raced into a 2 games to nil deficit. Clearly rattled Williams was trying anything to win a point, even arguing with the exemplary marking of Captain Don.
Knowing that team-mate and long-term drinking / hitting partner was engaged in an epic on the other court, losing was not an option, especially thinking about how he would explain loss to Rob, who’s encouraging words pre-match were ringing in his mind (Figure 4).

Captain Don pointed out that Newitt wasn’t hitting as many return winners when Williams found the side wall from the serve, something that Williams hadn’t noticed in the heat of battle. With Rob’s words and The Don’s tactics in his mind Embers began to ignite his game and overwhelmed Newitt taking the third and fourth for the loss of just one point.

Into the decider with momentum on Embers side, it seemed like there would only be one winner. But again the malady that has plagued Embers this season seemed to have struck, as an early lead evaporated and Embers found himself match ball down. Knowing that the team result may well rest on the outcome of the next few moments, Embers took a leaf from the Naturals play-book and went into zero error mode. Surprisingly Newitt was perplexed by the mid court and mid-paced shots and promptly capitulated handing Williams a hard fought victory. With the demons of losing from 7-1 up the previous week vanquished, Williams enjoyed the spoils of war (new bottle purchased following every victory – Figure 5).

After the match there were a number of quotes given to this roving and devilishly handsome reporter:

“Matt was sh*t tonight” – Dan ‘The Professional’ Willets to RW
“You played sh*t tonight, don’t know how you won”- Dan ‘The Professional’ Willets to Matt post-match
“We need to send Chris on a ‘Stroke Lesson’” – Phil “Lob and Dob” Hurst to RW
“It’s funny Chris doesn’t know what a stroke is, as when you play against him, everything is!” Dan ‘The Professional’ Willets to “Lob and Dob”/RW
“Matt didn’t do anywhere near enough accumulating tonight” – Dan ‘The Professional’ Willets to himself as he walked home

Match 4: Chris ‘The Don’ Trafford vs Graham ‘Trickshot’ Bagley

With the match score sitting at 2-1 in favour of the home side, next up was the Captain, Chris “The Don” Trafford. Facing him was the lumbering figure of Graham ‘Trickshot’ Bagley. Known locally in the game as having more tricks up his sleeve than a four-armed David Blaine wearing a shirt, jumper and coat (4x(3×3) = a lot of sleeves and hence a lot of tricks), Bagley is a tricky Customer and represented another stern test for the ever-improving Trafford.

Trafford was quick out of the blocks and immediately applied the pressure to his opponent by playing his familiar style of crash-bang-wallop squash, hitting and moving with power and intent. At 6-4 up a contentious call* went the way of The Don who was adamant the ball had stayed in court, much to the annoyance of “Trickshot”. Taking heart from this slice of good luck, The Don accelerated to victory in the first game, taking it 9-4.

During the break, Embers went to provide his own brand of post-game motivation and advice. This primarily involves using stock phrases overheard from 1st Team games and plagiarising comments made by other high ranked players. Whatever was said however certainly had the desired effect as the second game was wrapped up in a jiffy, 9-3. Unfortunately, it went the way of the David Lloyd man!

Another briefing from Williams saw a slight improvement in the third game, again however it was in favour of the Hagrid-esque Bagley (Bagrid?), who rattled through the game dropping one point less than the previous game, 9-2.

At 2-1, Bagley was now full of confidence, and despite Chris opting to stay on court during the break so Matt couldn’t get near him, Embers strode on regardless to try and deposit more ‘valuable’ advice. Despite attacking the fourth game with more gusto, Bagley was now in full flow. Two successive backhand volley cross-court nicks showed just how talented this man is on his day, and with some expert deception in play at the front of the court, Chris was left floundering. The Fourth game was over to the loss of only one point, and the overall match was tied at 2-all.

*The contentious call had nothing to do with the Marker on the night (The Natural) as his vision was obscured by an over-hanging plinth meaning the out-line at the back of the court could not be seen, therefore absolving him from all blame. In fact, after the match the onlookers to a man, went away with the honest opinion that they had witnessed one of the greatest marking performances they had even seen…this Reporter imagines.

Final Match: Ollie ‘The Tactician’ Wood vs Adam ‘Wingspan’ Bagley

The final and deciding match of the evening saw the two top boys square off against each other in a battle for glory and reward. Ollie ‘The Tactician’ Wood went into the game on the back of a convincing win for the First team the night previous but still not at 100% following his trip to The States for an audience and showdown talks with Trump. His opponent was the big money mover of the Summer, Adam “Wingspan” Bagley who cashed in all his chips to take up the residency of the top spot at David Lloyd.

The opening game really showcased the difference in level between the two players and the rest of the rabble they had been forced to watch during the preceding 90 minutes. This was a different brand of Squash. This was ball-striking of the highest order. This was quick-fire decision making at its best.

This was two well matched opponents going toe-to-toe (see Headline). Following a flurry of hard, well placed hitting, it was The Tactician who had managed to get to the line first and had game-ball to take the opener. Wood is not only one of the canniest businessmen this Reporter has come across (despite the fact he employs a Gardener who refuses to cut grass), but he is also one of the canniest and ruthless players on the circuit. You don’t give this chap game ball and expect to come out the other side smelling of roses. No, you expect to come out the other side (of what I am not entirely sure), a game down. And this was the case. 9-5.

Being the King of Tactics, none of the other LT&SC players felt the need to go and have a word, particularly as Wood had taken the opener, so the second game kicked off with the home sides supporters hoping for more of the same. Unfortunately, in a surprising twist, The Tactician had begun to mix his tactics and was presenting Bagley with more opportunities to hit his vast array of glittering winners. Before he could revert-to-type, Wood found himself game ball down and following a truly shocking call of “No-Let” from clueless Marker, Williams, on a ball that was a borderline Stroke, Ollie was looking down the barrel of a gun. With the unfathomable decision still playing over and over in his mind, Ollie surrendered the second game and we were all square.

During the break a pensive Williams looked for support around the viewing gallery but his gaze was met by looks of stony indifference.

With his Teammates again deciding to leave him to it, it was left to Wood to motivate himself and find a way to lead his side to victory. The third game saw a return to the successful tactics from game one, and a sublime display of powerful but controlled hitting kept Bagley off balance and unable to attack. Moreover, it kept him moving, and for all the wonderful weaponry he has at his disposal, a good engine isn’t something he possesses. Towards the end of the game the long legs of Bagley refused to carry him to a ball and in unison, Messrs Trafford and Wynne looked at each other and said:

“His legs have gone”

The third game was wrapped up and a relentless Wood continued the assault in the fourth game, with no let-up in the pace and intensity what was proving to be all too much for his now withering opponent. Thankfully for a shell-shocked Williams there was no further drama as The Tactician was able to close out a dominating display and take victory for both himself and his adopted second home, The Sumptuous Seconds.

As the eagerly anticipated top of the table clash is consigned to the annuls of history, the records will show a narrow margin of victory, but for this loyal band of brothers the winners and losers on the night will forever be treated as equals.

This fight was won, and the march goes on.