The Men’s Varsity Squad was (*denotes Blue):
Rob Blythe* (Emmanuel) [Captain]
Nick Jenkins (St. John’s) [Secretary]
Rutger-Jan Lange* (King’s)
John Western* (Selwyn)
Cameron Johnston* (Christ’s)
Kirill Zavodov* (Magdalene)
Kenny Taubenslag* (Emmanuel)
Rob Legg (Downing)
By Rob Blythe
Unlike the previous year, the journey to Roehampton went smoothly as both cars were on site with plenty of time to spare; fortunately, just like the previous 4 years, the result of the big match was destined to be just as successful for the Light Blue. First up on court, Cambridge number 1 and captain Rob Blythe was disappointed to never really get going and succumbed to his extremely consistent opponent. Former captain and number 3 John Western confidently brushed aside pre-Varsity form woes to dispatch the weak Oxford number 4. There were never any questions about what was going to happen on the 3rd court as Cambridge number 5, Varsity veteran, ‘The Russian Destroyer’, Kirill Zavodov more than lived up to his name. Cambridge took a 2-1 lead into the second round of singles… Kirill’s partner in crime for their four previous successes, number 2, R-J Lange came to court as an underdog against the Oxford number 1 and captain, Marc Baghdadi. However, he quickly showed he wasn’t interested in reputation as his superior tactics, consistency and intelligence resulted in him rapidly racing to a one set and 5-0 lead, despite a slight wobble, RJ crossed the finishing line and secured the result of the Varsity fixture for the Light Blue. Rookie, number 4, Cam Johnston struggled against the extremely strong Oxford number 3 but better things were to come! The other rookie, number 6, Kenny Taubenslag was unhappy with his performance despite successfully ‘digging a trench’ and bringing home a first day lead for the team, which the rest of the boys, led by the superb support of secretary Nick Jenkins and Varsity first-timer Rob Legg, were delighted with: 4-2 to Cambridge!
Play was delayed at the start of day 2 due to overnight rain. Rob eventually kicked off play once more, with both him and the Oxford number 1 having a point to prove after the first day. Both players had upped their standards, however, with Rob trying to adopt RJ’s consistent style of the day before he lost sight of his naturally more aggressive game, and with Marc playing better than before, Rob failed to overcome his 3-year Varsity nemesis! So the captain had to leave the fight to the extremely capable hands of the troops. John started superbly and took the first set in style. However, despite playing his best match while at Cambridge he couldn’t stop his opponent from working his way back into the match and was eventually overcome – if we could make Oxford work that hard for every match there was no question about the result! On the 3rd court, Kirill was greeted with an unfamiliar situation, for the first time in years he had found a worthy adversary in a Varsity match… This only spurred him on and he eventually wore his opponent down in 3 sets to mean that the good guys retained the lead in the overall fixture. Full of confidence, RJ came to court, however, despite playing well he found an opponent that was too consistent even for him and he lost the clay-court style grind-off. Despite all of the luck going against him, Cam battled hard and vocally took a vital 3 set win. Kenny fought like a dog to wear down his opponent and make sure that Cambridge led 7-5 after the singles. Due to the length of all of the matches and the late start, all of the doubles was postponed until day 3 and the boys went for a customary team pizza express and debrief.
So we took a 7-5 lead into the deciding day 3 of doubles. The first round saw top pair Rob and Cam pitted against Oxford’s strongest pair (who were playing at number 2). It was a top quality match right from the start, with just one break of serve Cambridge took the first set at a high intensity. The second set was a similar story in reverse, so the match was levelled at a set all. At 5-4 up in the 3rd set Cam was serving for the match, however in a nervy game from both players they were broken. Cambridge boys have consistently shown a greater resilience and desire than their Oxford counterparts though and this was again evident as the pair broke back before Rob served out the match to love with three aces. Cambridge’s second pair was made up of the Varsity veterans, RJ and Kirill, and despite not playing their best match, their experience was crucial in the close situations as they beat the Oxford third pair 7-6, 7-6. John and Kenny formed the final pair and certainly didn’t want to be forgotten down on court 3. Their superior teamwork and personality shone through in an epic three setter as they took down the Oxford first pair in three sets using Nick Brown’s chip and charge from Chevy Chase. Three close matches… Three Cambridge wins… It was clear that our training, team spirit, and determination was leading us to victory! The fixture was sealed with 5 matches to spare as Rob and Cam despatched the Oxford third pair 6-0, 6-1. The boys finished convincing 13-8 victors and enjoyed the continued Cambridge domination of the Varsity Tennis Match.