|June 30, 2009|
|University of Cambridge Men’s 2nd||13||Win|
|Oxford University Men’s 2nd||8||Loss|
Cambridge Grasshoppers 13: Oxford Penguins 8
By Minh Luu
After a bad-tempered seconds Varsity match in 2008 which had resulted in a resounding defeat for Cambridge, the Light Blues entered this year’s match determined to reverse a losing sequence stretching back to 2005. Armed with the strongest and most experienced squad in years, the Grasshoppers welcomed returning players Greg Caterer (St. Johns), Fred Floether (Homerton), Nick Jenkins (St. Johns), Stewart Walker (Robinson), captain Minh Luu (Jesus) and Andrew Nowell (Christ’s). With the two new additions in Robert Legg (Downing) and Andreas Schreiner (Gonville and Caius) also being involved in Blues squads, the team began the first round of singles confident in their ability to topple Oxford.
Initially this confidence appeared well-placed, as Legg and Jenkins eased to comfortable straight-sets victories against the Oxford No.s 4 and 6 respectively. However, on adjacent courts things were not going to plan; after losing a tight first set 7-5 in which he had competed strongly and had several break points to serve out the set, Floether’s game fell away and the Oxford No.1 took full advantage, winning the second set 6-2. Schreiner was a shadow of his training self and passively succumbed to a 6-3 6-3 defeat, while Walker made too many unforced errors in a similarly scorelined defeat. Caterer, to his credit, managed to overcome a poor start and register a tough 4-6 6-1 6-3 win over the Oxford No.2. The match was therefore finely poised after the first round of singles at 3-3 and all to play for.
The first round of doubles would be crucial in establishing any lead, and the Light Blues doubles specialist 3rd pair of Luu and Nowell played magnificently to triumph 7-5 6-4 against a decent Oxford second pair, recovering from a 0-3 deficit in the second set. Second pair Legg and Schreiner failed to make any impression on a strong Oxford first pair, but Jenkins and Floether were impeccable in seeing off the Oxford third pair comfortably. The following round of doubles, however, went according to the book, with Luu and Nowell unable to continue their good form against the Oxford first pair, going down 6-2 6-4. This meant that for the first time in years, the Grasshoppers held a lead of 7-5 after the first day, and the pressure was on to make this slender lead count the following morning.
The reverse singles began with Oxford raising their games, aware that just a few great shots could tilt the balance their way. However, Cambridge were determined not to repeat the mistakes of previous years, and grimly also raised their level. Legg was again impeccable in beating his powerful opponent 6-4 6-4, but it soon became apparent that there were final-set battles occurring on every other courts. It was a testament to the improved mental strength of the Cambridge team that they refused to lose, battling it out to the death. Jenkins fought a sore knee to win the final set 6-4, as did Walker, who fought off his own mental demons and unforced errors to triumph 6-4 also in the final set. Schreiner too was keen to exorcise the memory of his first match, aggressively adapting his clay-court game to the fast grass to win 6-3 in the third set. With that win, Cambridge led 10-5, and only needed one win to reclaim the trophy from Oxford. Floether applied the coup de grace with a ruthless demolition of his flashy opponent, 6-1 in the final set. The final flourish was a thumping ace, securing a first win for the Grasshoppers in 4 years.
The best match of the fixture however, was taking place on the next court between Caterer and the Oxford No.1, a display of thumping two handed backhands and coruscating baseline exchanges. With Caterer 7-6, 4-2 up, it looked as though Cambridge might sweep the reverse singles, but Caterer allowed his concentration to drop momentarily and his Oxford counterpart seized the initiative, racing through the next four games to level the match. The final set was a brilliant exhibition of grass-court tennis under pressure, with menacing slice backhands and brilliant touch at the net displayed by both. It was fitting that the match should end on a tiebreak, which Oxford’s No.1 won to salvage some pride; Caterer will look back upon a simple missed smash as the turning point in this tiebreak, but can rightly be very proud of his performance. With concentration levels somewhat lowered, Cambridge went on to lose 2 of the remaining 3 doubles rubbers to make the final score 13-8 to the Light Blues – but this did not detract from what was a fine effort by the team. Special mention to Nick Jenkins, who went unbeaten in both singles and doubles, and Rob Legg, who was rock-solid, especially in singles – look for these guys in the Blues squad next year.