|July 1, 2017||2016/17|
|Oxford University Men’s 1st||6||Loss|
|University of Cambridge Men’s 1st||15||Win|
Varsity 2017 was held at North Oxford Lawn Tennis Club over the weekend of July 1st and 2nd. Of the 8 players on the Cambridge squad, only one had experienced the last Light Blues victory, 2 years ago. This hunger motivated the team both on and off court, committing three early mornings per week, hundreds of hours in the gym and on court, thousands of practice serves and sacrificing many Sunday night Life sessions to the vision. The 18-3 victory by the Grasshoppers in the previous week and wins for all Men’s Varsity teams set the Light Blues up for what would be a very memorable weekend.
After arriving in Oxford on Friday night, assessing the courts and eating much more pasta than comfortable, the team retired, dreaming of their matches and the Doherty Cup.
The first round of singles kicked off at 11am sharp. Michal smashed through his first match against the Oxford captain Kushal Kansagra 6-3, 6-4. No mercy, with Polish war cries echoing throughout the courts. The experienced Koebele next door found it tough to deal with the sharpness and movement of Oxford’s Captain-elect, Saleem Rizvi. Despite Roddick style serves raining down on Rizvi, Oxford managed to sneak the rubber. Florea at 6 had a tough match against the Oxford 5 Miha Zgubic. Long games on both sides were just edged by the inspired Oxonian. 2-1 down in rubbers after the first round.
The light Blues charged once again. The effortlessly smooth Shemilt glided past Angus Nicholson, triumphing 6-3, 6-2 on his Blues Debut. Toni Morales – the Spanish Stallion – leveraged his left handedness, swinging his opponent Sean Marren off court and using deft touch at the net to secure a straight sets victory. Long after the first two rubbers had finished, Grandpa Tim Prossor, ex-capitan, was still on court, battling against the king of grit, Matt Morrow, also ex-capitan of the Oxford side. Tim first tried to use his beautiful game to overpower the defensive style of Morrow, but was unsuccessful, losing the first set 6-4. Whatever Tim did, Matt would hustle down balls, giving Tim nothing to work with. Prossor then regrouped, and after some comforting words from his mother, decided to change it up. Patience was required on the slower Oxford courts. He ground and ground, and only when an opening was given did he unleash with his forehand, approaching and finishing. The epitome of winning Ugly. Tim went on to take the second and third sets, requiring no more than 6 match points to close out – eventually releasing his team mates with only minor heart trauma. 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. This rubber proved to be absolutely critical, giving the Cambridge side momentum; 4-2 up rather than 3-3 going into the doubles.
Entering into the doubles, the Cambridge side were reminded not to be complacent. Jack Long-Martinez (Secretary), fresh and hungry, paired with Toni and dismantled Oxford’s Max Smeets and Miha Zgubic with leftie serves like never seen before. The opposition had to retrieve wide serves halfway into adjacent courts. 6-3, 6-4. Shemilt paired with the similarly fresh Ganendra (captain); they hoped to maintain their unbeaten BUCS streak, but knew it would be a tough ask against the Oxford 1st pair of Morrow and Rizvi. After losing the first set due to an early break, the pair regrouped and refocused, sharpening up to take the second set. However, the third would go to Oxford – in spite of the Cambridge pair having many opportunities to break, it was a single loose service game of theirs which ultimately decided the fate of the rubber. 3-6, 6-3, 3-6. The Cambridge first pair of Kaminksi and Prossor, compared on multiple occasions to the Bryan brothers, would look to continue their unbeaten streak. They lost the first set to the experienced pairing of Kansagra and Titov but dug in and, with an understanding of how much the rubber meant, played out of their skins. The pair, after defending match points, went on to take the second set and the deciding set 3-6, 6-3, 11-9. The marathon third set was the definition for clutch tennis, with the Cambridge players raising their level when it really mattered.
As light waned, and the three set matches took their toll on the Cambridge side, all three pairings lost the first set of their next match. Remembering that Varsity is often more about willpower than beautiful tennis, the three pairs went on to win all of their second sets, with the third being taken by Kaminski/Prossor (6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-4) and Morales/Long-Martinez (2-6, 6-4, 6-1). Ganendra/Shemilt, finished last, and after 9 breakpoint opportunities, were unable to convert any, losing the one breakpoint they conceded against Kush and Kiril 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
At 10pm, the matches of day 1 had finished, with the score standing at 8-4 to Cambridge. The team had a quick pasta dinner followed by icy showers, before retiring after a long day of tennis.
The overnight break can often act to reset momentum, so the Cambridge side were hungry to reach the 11 rubbers in the first round of singles. Toni Morales started strong, taking the first set with ease. The second set was a slightly different story, with nerves creeping in, but ultimately being silenced. The Spanish Stallion overcame the nerves and took a decisive 6-4, 6-4 win. 9-4. Shemilt edged through a gritty tie break in his second set against Rizvi to take the rubber 6-3, 7-6(7), showing real composure when it counted. The result was never in question, with James’s reliably scandalous tennis inevitably proving too much for his Oxford rival. 10-4. Tim, up against the inspired Oxford captain, lost the first set. Both other matches had finished and Cambridge were up 10-4, one rubber away from claiming the fixture. The weight of the team bearing upon his shoulders, the veteran changed up his game and unleashed beast mode. Guns blazing and serves raining down, he took the second and third set, winning the Varsity match.11-4.
The happiness of this moment justified wholeheartedly all sacrifices made by the team over the year in order to reach the goal. However, the match was not over yet. The Cambridge side were keen to make a statement. Team huddle, reset, and back on court.
Jack was subbed in for Florea and got off to a slow start, losing the first set 6-4. The grit and character of the captain elect then came through however. Back to the wall, he refocused. Calm and collected, serve by serve, he held comfortably, taking one break in each of the remaining sets; in an unstoppable barrage of class grass court play, the Secretary took the rubber 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. 12-4. Michal again did not give any room for his Oxford opponent, Matt Morrow, to breathe. He handed out the first bagel of the match, 6-0, 6-1. 13-4. Joe, with swollen knees and paracetamol flowing through his veins, looked to challenge the loud, competitive style of Angus Nicholson. With a slight lapse in concentration on a couple of service games, he lost the first set. What then proceeded was a show of real grit. Koebele took the Oxford veteran to a tie break in the second set and was unlucky not to convert it, losing 6-3, 7-6 (4). 13-5.
The final round of doubles. Tim and Michal won in three sets again 2-6, 6-1, 6-4. Jack and Toni dismantled their opponents 6-4, 6-4. Ganendra and Florea lost their match 5-7, 4-6, Florea playing through immense shoulder, elbow and wrist pain from surgery 3 years earlier. Final score: 15-6.
As a captain, many aspects throughout the year are outside of your control. The character of the 7 men by your side, entering Varsity, is one of these. In a summer term plagued with injuries, the squad was forced to hustle and will matches through. Ganendra (captain) and Koebele with MCL sprains 10 days before the match, Tim with recurring shoulder and elbow injuries, Shemilt with golfers elbow and Morales with a THUMB injury. The team hustled out the big points and made it happen, helping one another along the way in a manner not often seen in an individual sport like tennis.
Muhammad Ali once said: “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” The raw fight and determination of the light blues allowed the team to secure 7 of the 9 three set matches. Each individual match was close without exception. Cambridge only won 54% of games. However, winning the games that really counted meant the Light Blues secured 63% of sets and 71% of the rubbers. Extracting rubbers from the side was like drawing blood from stone. Not giving one inch, and culminating in this fantastic victory.
A special thank you to team coach Nick Brown, who has contributed so much to the club over the last 12 years. Special mention to Jack, Toni, Tim and Michal for winning all of their matches. Man of the match is shared in an unprecedented split vote between Michal and Tim – Tim winning all of his matches in tight 5 set grinds, and Michal dispatching his singles, partially due to sickening work ethic throughout the year – the man lost 15kg in Michaelmas.
A huge thank you to Oxford. The spirit of the match was competitive but retained the class associated with the Varsity Match. The large number of three set matches shows that Varsity 2017 could have gone either way.
The Cambridge team look to train harder than ever this coming season to retain the Doherty cup for Varsity 2018. They understand what is required for this, driven by that unparalleled taste of glory.