The Men’s Varsity Squad was (*denotes Blue):
John Western (Selwyn)* [Captain]
Rob Blythe (Emmanuel)* [Secretary]
James Ashton (Emmanuel)*
Kirill Zavodov (St. Edmund’s)*
Rutger-Jan Lange (King’s)*
Pavel Chichkanov (Queens’)*
Phillip Compeau (Churchill)*
Nick Jenkins (St John’s)
By John Western
The Men’s Blues tennis team made their way to the National Tennis Centre (NTC) at Roehampton bright and early on Monday 29th June in the hope of retaining the Doherty Cup for the fourth straight year.
With the matches commencing at 2pm, Oxford got off to a good start with a 2-1 lead. James Ashton (Emmanuel) made an impressive comeback against the very talented Oxford no. 1, Marc Baghdadi, but eventually succumbed 8-6, while Rutger-Jan Lange (King’s), despite a strong start against the Oxford no. 3, Greg Weir, was defeated 6-2 in the final set. However, Kirill Zavodov (St. Edmund’s) put in a blistering performance with tremendous backhands and serves to annihilate the Oxford no. 5 (John Groom) 6-0 6-3. As the second round of singles got underway, the heavens opened and made the grass courts unplayable for the rest of the day. Thus, the teams moved onto the indoor courts that the NTC provided. Rob Blythe (Emmanuel) put in a great performance against the Oxford no. 2 (Tim Weir, Oxford Captain)) in order to brush him aside 6-4 6-1, while Pavel Chichkanov (Queens’) narrowly lost in a very tentative match to Daniel Rowlands, the Oxford no. 6. Last on court was John Western (Selwyn, Cambridge Captain) against Alan Kelly (Oxford no. 4). Despite a very nervy set and a half from Western, he managed to make a comeback from 6-4 3-2 down to level at one set all. As the length of the rallies increased and the match became more gruelling, Kelly began to show signs of cramp and general fatigue. Using this to advantage, Western ground down his opponent until Kelly was forced to retire at 4-2 down in the final set with full body cramp!
Play on the second day commenced at 10.30am back on the grass, with the score at 3-3 after the first day. Oxford were once again to win 2 of the 3 singles during the first round, with both Blythe and Western losing but Chichkanov winning. Blythe played a wonderful match against Baghdadi (after having lost to him 6-2 6-1 the previous year) and pushed the match all the way to the third set but just missed out losing 6-2. Western unfortunately had a very shaky serving performance and despite playing well off the ground and from the net, succumbed to Greg Weir 6-2 6-4. However, Chichkanov turned around his tentative first round performance to narrowly defeat Daniel Tristao (who replaced John Groom (injured)) 7-6 6-4, and let out an enormous roar upon hitting a backhand drive volley winner on matchpoint! With Oxford 5-4, the pressure was on Cambridge to perform in the two rounds of doubles to come. Ashton/Chichkanov ably managed to dispatch the Oxford first pair of Baghdadi/Kelly 7-6 6-3, while the Weir brothers proved to be two strong for the Cambridge 3rd pair of Phillip Compeau (Churchill)/Zavodov. Finally, the Cambridge first pair of Blythe/Western ran out winners in an exceptionally dramatic match against Rowlands/Tristao. The oxford pair played blinding tennis in order to take a 6-3 5-4 lead and be serving for the match. However, the Cambridge pair dug deep and manged to break back to win the set and cruised to victory 6-3 in the final set. With this match being the turning point of the whole tie, Cambridge were buoyed and it must be noted that Compeau gave a very passionate and uplifting team speech with his American twang!
On to the last round of doubles for Tuesday and Ashton/Compeau destroyed Tristao/Rowlands 6-3 6-1, while Blythe/Western were eventually outplayed by Weir/Weir 6-2 in the third set, after having played a strong second set. Another crucial match was still underway however between Compeau/Zavodov and Baghdadi/Kelly. The standard of doubles was very high, and the big-serving Cambridge pair managed to edge the match 7-6 7-6 in a spectacle that was very nerve-wracking for all spectators!
With Cambridge taking a 8-7 lead into the final day’s play, all of the team were confident (yet by no means over-confident) of success. And that’s just what they got as Lange and Zavodov crushed Kelly and Rowlands respectively, leaving Cambridge needing one more win to clinch Varsity victory. Ashton duly delivered with a passing shot on match point that was to strong for the Oxford Captain, Tim Weir, and the Cambridge players ran on to the court to congratulate Ashton and each other on another splendid victory. With the tie already over and only dead rubbers remaining, Blythe and Ashton (who were both carrying slight injuries at that stage) were replaced by Lange and Nick Jenkins (St. John’s) respectively. Despite Zavodov/Compeau notching up a further victory, Cambridge lost the other two doubles.
After all the matches had finished, the Men’s Blues rushed over to watch the Ladies’ Varsity Match, and were just in time to cheer the Cambridge girls on to victory. At the presentation, Cambridge Captain John Western gave a short speech in which he thanked the organisers and sponsors of the Varsity Match, the spectators and also his own team, who had done him proud during the last three days. At the Varsity dinner at the NTC, the Cambridge Men drank their Pol Roger Champagne directly from the Doherty Cup, and all who played will have fond memories of Varsity 2009 for the rest of their lives.