|September 5, 2020||Varsity||2019/20|
|University of Cambridge Men’s 1st||11||Win|
|Oxford University Men’s 1st||10||Loss|
It was a fourth consecutive Varsity crown for the men’s side as they edged out Oxford 11-10 in surely one of the fixture’s most dramatic encounters. The Dark Blues started the weekend strongly, taking a 2-0 lead as their number 3 and number 5 singles players secured straight sets victories – 6-3 6-4 and 6-4 6-2 – over Cambridge’s James Darby and Pascal Gehlert. The Light Blues hit back, with a tight 6-3 3-6 6-4 win for #2 James Shemilt over Oxford’s 1 seed Ross Martin, followed by a comfortable 6-3 6-1 victory for #3 Finn Ranson. Cambridge captain and #1 Michal Kaminski serve-volleyed his way to a 6-2 6-3 win, but #5 Jack Wilson-Smith, one of four players making his Blues Varsity debut, unfortunately went down 6-4 6-4 to Oxford’s sixth seed in a spirited performance.
At 3-3 after the first round of singles, it was all to play for. Shemilt and Ranson beat Oxford’s third pair 6-3 6-2 in a little over an hour, but there were epics elsewhere (setting the tone for the weekend). Gehlert and Darby put on a masterclass in returning and aggressive net play to defeat Oxford’s second pair, Cameron Bowie and Roman Kenny-Manning, 5-7 6-4 6-2. Kaminski and Wilson-Smith, meanwhile, battled hard after a tricky first set, but ultimately narrowly lost out to Oxford’s top pair 6-3 7-6(11) after saving countless match points in the breaker. CULTC’s very own Jimmy van Alen, inventor of the tiebreak format, would have been proud of that one.
The momentum was going Oxford’s way, though, and they started to take command of the tie in Saturday’s second round of doubles. After leading 5-1 in the opener, Gelhert and Domenic Pilger (subbed for Darby, whose doubles exertions had aggravated ongoing back trouble) went down 7-5 6-0 to Oxford’s top pair. Oxford’s third seeded pair, featuring skipper Ed Kandel, delivered a 6-4 6-4 upset over Kaminski and Wilson-Smith. Shemilt and Ranson, meanwhile, had their match suspended at 6:50, tied at a set all with Bowie and Kenny-Manning.
Reinvigorated the next morning, the Cambridge pair quickly finished their doubles contest 6-2 in the deciding set to tie 6-6 overall. The next seven hours were a test of nerve. #5 singles seed Kenny-Manning put in an imperious performance to beat Wilson-Smith 6-0 6-1; it was cancelled out by Cambridge’s Shemilt shortly after, as he defeated Bowie 6-4 6-2. Meanwhile, Pilger – taking Darby’s place in the singles as well – had edged past Oxford’s #4 7-6 in the opening set with some of the best tennis of the weekend. But his experienced opponent took command, securing the next two sets 6-3 6-0. Cambridge briefly levelled – Kaminski winning his second singles match of the weekend 6-4 6-2 – but Oxford were ahead again when Gehlert lost 6-2 6-4 to his opposite number. It looked like the tie would become irretrievable when Ranson lost his opening set 6-1 in the final singles rubber. But after a slow start to the second set, the #3 clawed his way back and won the next two sets 7-6(2) 7-5 to square the tie at 9-9.
In front of incredible support from family and the women’s Blues team, Cambridge finally clinched it in the final doubles round. Nunn and Kandel continued their momentum, beating Gelhert and Pilger 6-2 6-1; likewise did Shemilt and Ranson, who came through a long 7-5 6-4 over Oxford’s first pair. It all came down to the final doubles. Kaminski and Wilson-Smith had dropped the opening set to Bowie and Kenny-Manning, but with some incredible doubles play, they fought back to win two nail-biting sets 6-4 6-4 and seal one of Cambridge’s most hard-fought men’s Varsity titles in years.
To return to Moor Park and play at all was incredibly special. Thanks to Kureha, Nanami and Ed for all their hard work organising the event – and a very special thanks to Michal Kaminski for guiding the men’s team through another unforgettable year.
-Written by Finn Ranson, Jesus College