The Men’s Varsity Squad was (*denotes Blue):
Cameron Johnston* (Christ’s) [Captain]
Sven Sylvester* (Trinity) [Secretary]
Constantine Markides* (Wolfson)
Jamie Muirhead* (Fitzwilliam)
Sam Ashcroft* (Magdalene)
Rob Legg* (Downing)
Charlie Cohen* (St Catherines)
Ryan Ammar (Corpus)
By Cameron Johnston
The 122nd annual Varsity tennis match, held at the National Tennis Centre, Roehampton, saw Cambridge beat Oxford by 12 matches to 9 and retain the Doherty Cup for a seventh year in succession.
The great potential of Cambridge’s newly youthful side had been obvious ever since Michaelmas when an influx of Freshers from the likes of Cyprus, New Zealand, Jersey and Repton allowed the Blues to surge out at the head of the BUCS Midlands 1a division. But torrential rain in Easter term prevented us from training regularly on grass or building up a string of wins: we all knew it would be a tight and cagy encounter.
We got off to the most auspicious of starts, with two wins from the opening three matches. Cambridge Captain and number two, Cameron Johnston, was outclassed by the Oxford number one, Tim Matthewson, but did himself no favours by serving a flurry of double faults in the first set. 6-1, 6-4 to the Dark Blue. Luckily, Varsity debutant and second-year medic Sam Ashcroft was on hand to make amends, systematically deconstructing his opponent’s game to take a classy 6-2, 6-3 win. On the adjacent court, CULTC veteran Rob Legg was making his debut as a Blue, and what a debut it turned out to be! With the match finely-poised at one set all, Rob teased out errors from his volatile opponent with dogged consistency. Finely-knifed slices and heavy, topspin forehands allowed Legg to prevail 11-9 in the third and final set, but not before he had subjected the expectant crowd to agonies on the side-lines. 2-1 to the Light Blue.
The second round was a mirror image of the first: Oxford prevailed 2-1 to leave the overnight score at three matches all. Cambridge number one Constantine Markides performed well against Oxford stalwart and number two, Greg Weir, but was eventually edged out 6-3, 7-6. But Sven Sylvester, the Cambridge Secretary, hit straight back in a topsy-turvy encounter with the mercurial Napat Thavisin to record a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory. In the last match of the day, Jamie Muirhead was unlucky to lose a three-set encounter with the unconventional Matthew Heal-Cohen. Having come back from a set down to take the second set 6-0, Muirhead looked in fine fettle. But a change of tactics allowed Heal-Cohen to take hold of the match once more and take a 6-4, 0-6, 6-2 win.
With nothing to choose between the teams at the beginning of day two, we needed to show Oxford that we wanted it more than them. Although we eventually split the singles, that is exactly what we achieved. Constantine Markides emerged second best from a ‘battle of the grinders’ with Tim Matthewson and although Cameron Johnston played far more positively and consistently than on day one, he too lost out to Greg Weir. But the Cambridge three and four showed their mettle to trot to straight-sets wins against their opposite numbers and although Sylvester was out-served by Pete Whight in a nervy deciding set, Charlie Cohen – filling in for the injured Rob Legg – romped to victory against Thavisin. The singles down, there was still everything to play for.
We were now the favourites. True, their first pair was strong but their second and third pairs both looked vulnerable at the net and were, we hoped, inferior to all three of our pairs. In the opening round of doubles, the Cambridge first pair of Johnston and Ashcroft played a tight match against the Oxford third pair to secure a routine 6-3, 6-3 victory. The third pair of Markides and Cohen had few problems, recording a simple 6-2, 6-4 win. Cambridge were flying: 8-6 up and a set to the good in the last match of the day. Yet our hopes of deciding the tie a day early were thwarted as Matthewson and Weir dug in against an inspired Sylvester and Muirhead and ground out a three set win.
The plan on day three was very simple. If we could all beat their second and third pairs, we would win 12-9 and retain the Doherty Cup. The boys didn’t disappoint. They stayed composed and took advantage of their opponents’ loose serving and unorthodox volleying to seal the all-important wins.
The young team had delivered, and in style. If they push each other to improve over the next year, they have a great chance of defending the Doherty Cup in 2013.