The 2018 Lawn Tennis Varsity Match was held at Moor Park Golf and Tennis Club over the weekend of June 30th and July 1st. The 8-strong Cambridge side headed into this year’s fixture with considerable confidence. The team had enjoyed excellent results throughout the year – not least comprehensive victories over their Oxford counterparts en route to victory in the BUCS Midlands 1A league – and, furthermore, much of the squad had been heavily involved in Cambridge’s comprehensive 2017 Varsity victory a year previously; the Light Blues were certainly optimistic, therefore, at the prospect of banishing memories of Varsity defeats at Moor Park in 2015 and 2016 and bringing home the Doherty Cup for a second year running.
The first round of singles proved to be highly contested from the off. Cambridge Vice-Captain James Shemilt played excellently to counteract a spirited first-set performance from his opponent and Dark Blues Captain Saleem Rizvi and win 6-4 6-1 in the opening rubber. On the courts next door, debutants Salil Navapurkar and Finn Ranson found themselves involved in a pair of classic contests. Navapurkar, playing against 5-time Varsity contestant and Oxford number 3 Kirill Titov, performed phenomenally to negate his rather confrontational opponent’s aggressive brand of tennis and edge out a 7-6 4-6 6-3 victory. Ranson, playing at number 6, was unfortunate not to follow suit; indeed, in spite of Cambridge leading by a set and 5-2 at one stage in the rubber, an inspired comeback performance by his adversary and Oxford number 5 Ed Kandel saw the match turn on its head, with the final score being a 5-7 7-6 6-2 victory for the Dark Blues. The second batch of singles rubbers followed a pattern not dissimilar from the first. Cambridge number 1 Michal Kaminski was comfortable throughout his 6-4 6-1 victory against Oxford number 2 Cameron Bowie, with Bowie struggling to cope with Kaminski’s monstrous serve and relentlessly powerful ball-striking. Cambridge number 3 and veteran of 6 Blues Varsities Tim Prossor was equally comfortable in his opening rubber, with the Cambridge player putting in a dominant performance to dispatch opponent Angus Nicholson 6-1 6-3; progress was less smooth, however, for Toni Morales, who struggled to find rhythm against an awkward opponent and was disappointed to go down 6-3 6-3, leaving the overall match score at 4-2 to Cambridge.
Certainly, at this early stage the match appeared to be very much in the balance. The opening round of doubles rubbers, however, saw a very decisive shift in momentum towards the Light Blues. Prossor and Kaminski, the Cambridge first pair, weathered a period of second-set resistance from Nicholson and doubles specialist Oliver Nunn to win 6-0 7-6. The second pair of Shemilt and Cambridge Captain Jack-Long Martinez were equally impressive in their opening encounter, brushing aside Oxford first pair Rizvi and Bowie 6-3 6-3. Perhaps the most noteworthy performance of the round, however, came from the third pair of Morales and Navapurkar; up against arguably Oxford’s most effective pairing in Titov and Kandel, the Cambridge duo were outstanding from start to finish and were able to secure a 6-4 6-2.
This momentum was carried by the Cambridge pairings into the next doubles round. Morales and Navapurkar were once again sublime in their securing of a 6-2 6-3 victory over Rizvi and Bowie, with the pairing’s doubles skill and almost telepathic interplay proving far too much for their rivals. The other two rubbers, while proving to be considerably less one-sided, also went the way of the Light Blues; Shemilt and Long-Martinez overcame an underwhelming first-set performance to win an especially fiery encounter 6-7 6-0 6-3 against Nicholson and Nunn, while Prossor and Kaminski performed outstandingly against the very game Titov and Kandel to win 6-3 5-7 6-2, leaving Cambridge with a massive 10-2 lead over Oxford at the conclusion of day one and, by extension, with the Light Blues requiring only one more rubber to secure Varsity victory.
This final rubber proved, however, to be far from a formality as the second day’s singles commenced. Indeed, each of Morales, Kaminski and Prossor – all hoping to deliver the decisive result – found themselves in absorbing contests against their valiant Oxonian counterparts. Ultimately, however, first to emerge victorious was Kaminski; faced by an inspired performance from heavy underdog Rizvi, the Cantab found an extra gear at the closing stages of each set to secure late breaks and win 6-4 6-4. This was closely followed by a victory for Morales, who put in an incredible display (including a reaction through-the-legs lob which frankly must be one of the best shots ever seen in the history of the Varsity Match) to battle through against Kandel – arguably Oxford’s best performer over the weekend – in a straight sets score of 6-3 7-5. Prossor’s match proved to be still more closely-fought, yet resulted in another rubber to Cambridge; certainly, it is testament to the Light Blue veteran’s grit, composure and all-round tennis ability that he was able to recover after a flawless second-set performance by Titov, his opponent, and win 7-6 0-6 6-4.
With the match result decided, Oxford resistance increasingly began to subside, while the Light Blues became eager to secure as any rubbers as possible and make a significant statement with respect to the rude health of Cambridge tennis. Cambridge number 2 Shemilt was imperious in his singles, absolutely dominating Bowie in a 6-0 6-2 victory. Navapurkar was equally impressive in a comprehensive 6-3 6-2 victory over Oxford number 4 and old Etonian rival Nicholson, with the Cantab’s superb baseline game and incessant booming backhand winners proving far too much for his opponent. The round was finished off in style by Ranson; the Cambridge player, undoubtedly motivated by the heart-breaking nature of his opening round defeat, was outstanding in his match against Oxford number 6 Gakuto Fuse, keeping his cool throughout and winning 6-1 7-6 – this leaving the overall score at a whopping 16-2.
Rubbers continued to head rapidly in the direction of Cambridge during the final round of rubbers. Shemilt and Long-Martinez rounded off a good year of doubles with an emphatic 6-2 6-2 win over Fuse and Oxford eighth man Shunta Takino, while Prossor and Kaminski were similarly comfortable in a 6-2 6-3 win over Rizvi and Bowie. The 2018 match was rounded off in style by Navapurkar and Aleks Mardinian (making his Blues Varsity Debut and substituting in for Morales), with the pairing delivering a routine 6-4 6-4 victory over Nicholson and Nunn to grant Cambridge a massive 19-2 overall victory.
As Captain, I am immensely proud of my team’s effort over the weekend. Certainly, in spite of the result being as one-sided as it was, it is also apparent that a lot of matches were incredibly closely-contested and that Oxford were a very game opposition team; that we only lost two rubbers in the end is both indicative, I believe, of the sheer determination and grit of this year’s Blues Squad and, moreover, a reflection of the incredible amounts of hard work put in by every single member of the team throughout the entire academic year. Special mentions ought, of course, to go to Michal, Tim, Salil and James for winning 5/5 rubbers (and to James, in particular, for managing to avoid losing serve the entire weekend). Additional thanks must go to Tim for his incredible dedication to Blues Tennis and to CULTC more broadly over this year and, indeed, the entire six years of his degree; he has been a fantastic servant of the club and an absolutely incredible influence within the squad, and we wish him all the best in his post-Cambridge endeavours. Thanks also go to team coaches Ivan Durham and Nick Brown for their help over the year and, finally, to all of those involved in the organisation and playing of the Varsity match – most notably, to John Taylor for hosting us so excellently and helping organise the post-game reception and dinner, Bob Jenkins the match referee, the Moor Park Committee for all their help over the weekend and, moreover, the Oxford team for being really competitive opponents and, importantly, for helping ensure that the match was played in a competitive yet unwaveringly fair and respectful manner.
The Cambridge team will look to build on this year’s successes and to train harder than ever this coming season. Certainly, I am sure that the 2018/19 squad will be hungrier than ever to both retain the Doherty Cup once again once next year’s Varsity comes around and, in addition, establish a new era of Cambridge dominance within the sphere of Oxbridge tennis.