|July 1, 2012|
|University of Cambridge Women’s 1st||16||Win|
|Oxford University Women’s 1st||5||Loss|
The Women’s Varsity Squad was (*denotes Blue):
Emma Kudzin (Newnham)* [Captain]
Kadi Liis Saar (Trinity)* [Secretary]
Laura Morrill (New Hall)*
Amy Zhang (Trinity)*
Marilena Papadopoulou (Trinity)*
Sophie Walker (Peterhouse)*
Ilana Goodman (Christ’s)
They Came, They Played, They Conquered
Fourth Varsity Victory in a Row
By Emma Kudzin
This year saw a Varsity like no other, played on practically every surface but grass and plagued by bad weather and controversy. Yet the true light blue spirit shone piercingly through the overcast sky as the women’s Blues surpassed themselves to win the deciding number of rubbers by the second day of the three-day event. Their fourth Varsity victory in a row; the score 16-5.
As usual, Varsity took place in the prestigious setting of the National Tennis Centre, at Roehampton. The grass courts were primed and ready for use but unfortunately the weather had other ideas. Day 1, Monday 2nd July, saw near constant drizzle which delayed the start of play by almost an hour. However, it certainly didn’t dampen the women’s desire to win. Laura Morrill (New Hall), playing at #1, opened for Cambridge. A Varsity veteran, playing her fourth Varsity and at #1 for her third year in a row, Morrill didn’t bat an eyelid or miss many shots as she absolutely demolished and demoralised Oxford’s #2, 6-0 6-2. Kadi Liis Saar (Trinity), the women’s Secretary, playing at #3, followed close upon her heels as she vanquished Oxford’s #4 in a quick first set 6-1. The second set proved much tighter at 6-4 but Saar remained steady to seal the win. The last match of the first round proved no different. Marilena Papadopoulou (Trinity), CULTC’s stellar fresher acquisition this year, playing at #5, took on a stronger than expected opponent as Oxford, in a last-minute cheeky tactical move, substituted in a better player as their #6. But to no avail as Papadopoulou showed her customary intensity and spirit on the court to win 6-0 6-2; a fantastic start to her Varsity career! Cambridge were 3-0 up after the first round.
The second round of play however threw up some difficulties. Captain Emma Kudzin (Newnham), playing at #2, stepped on court against Oxford’s #1, together with Cambridge’s #4, Amy Zhang (Trinity) against Oxford’s #3, and Social Secretary, Sophie Walker (Peterhouse), Cambridge’s #6, against Oxford’s #5. Unfortunately, the rain steadily became heavier until finally the grass was unplayable and all three matches had to be taken off court, with Kudzin and Walker both down 3-2 in the first set, and Zhang up 3-2 in her first set. Sadly, these were the last points played on grass in this year’s Varsity. The referee, Bob Jenkins, then made a controversial decision to send two of the women’s matches onto outdoor clay, a surface that couldn’t play more differently to grass. Kudzin, whose game is naturally suited to grass, really struggled on the clay and lost the first set quickly 6-3. At that point the rain became too heavy to continue play so the match was pulled off court once again and moved onto yet another surface: indoor hard court. Feeling far more comfortable on this surface, Kudzin fought to the bitter end against a tough opponent, eventually losing 9-7 in the second set tiebreak, her first Varsity loss in three years. Zhang, originally from the USA and an incredible addition to the women’s Blues team this year, was also forced to play on the clay after the first rain break, her very first time playing on this surface! Not that this phased her at all as she saw off a tricky opponent with ease, winning the first set 6-2. After the second rain delay, she quickly acclimatised to the indoor courts to win the second set 6-2 as well. No problem there at all. In the final match of the day, Walker, drawing on her Varsity experience from last year, played a tight match against a very tough opponent, losing the first set 6-2 but showing true Cambridge grit to fight back and make the second set much closer, eventually losing 6-4. Cambridge were 4-2 up after the first day, exactly mirroring last year’s score at this stage.
Day 2, Tuesday 3rd July, dawned grey and rainy. Play was once again delayed as the grass was deemed unfit for play and there was controversy over the referee’s decision to give the men six hard courts to play on, but the women only two clay courts, despite the fact that both play the same format and had an equal amount of matches to play. The women fought hard against this decision but were eventually shouted down by Oxford’s Chairman. Drawing on their anger at the injustice of this in-deferential treatment they walked on court even more determined to prove their mettle. The first round saw Morrill, Saar and Papadopoulou back in action. Morrill gave her cheering spectators yet another master-class as she wiped Oxford’s #1 off the court, 6-0 6-3. Saar, in her element on the clay, picked up another bagel for the team as she won quickly 6-0 6-2. Papadopoulou faced Oxford’s fierce competitor at #5. She started the match a little tense but kept fighting pluckily, eventually losing 6-1 6-3, a score that did not reflect the closeness of the match. Kudzin was on next, facing Oxford’s #2. Bouncing back from the previous day’s defeat she shook off her nerves to win 6-1 6-2. Zhang played her second ever match on clay, which proved just as easy as her first, winning 6-3 6-3. Walker played the last singles match of the tournament this year. It proved a very long, tiring and tough-fought match in which she eventually succumbed in two tiebreaks 7-6 (4) 7-6 (5), but she kept up her cheerful outlook on the court until the very end and continued to send down her booming serves. So, Cambridge had extended their lead after the singles, 8-4, and in customary fashion were looking to secure overall victory by the end of the day.
The doubles continued to be played on clay. #1 pair Morrill and Kudzin were first on court. A seasoned and experienced pair they strode on, rackets in hand, and played a near perfect ‘golden set’ to win the first 6-0. The second set didn’t last much longer as they finished off Oxford’s #2 pair 6-2. Cambridge were one match closer to victory! #2 pair Saar and Zhang weren’t far behind as they saw off Oxford’s #3 pair without a wobble, 6-1 6-2. The score was now 10-4. Cambridge just needed one more rubber to win, and it all came down to Papadopoulou and Walker. Playing at #3 pair and facing Oxford’s #1 pair, on paper they were down to lose but they didn’t let this bother them. They played a good first set but were just pipped to it by the resilient Oxford pair, 6-4. However, buoyed up by the cheering crowd, Papadopoulou and Walker fought back and played some of their best tennis to win the second 6-1. Everything was now resting on the third set- would the two plucky Cambridge players get their deserved win after their earlier singles losses and fittingly secure the Cambridge victory for this year, or would the team still need to finish off Oxford the next morning? It was a close, gritty battle with neither side buckling but Walker’s superior serving and Papdopoulou’s poaching behaviour at the net saw them win 6-4. VICTORY!!!! Cambridge were 11-4 up, and with one day and six rubbers left to be played could not be beaten. What a stupendous result for a team that fully deserved to win after a stellar year of hard work and spectacular results. After an impromptu court invasion and team hug, the girls went home very happy to triple helpings of home-made brownies, cake, Ben and Jerrys and champagne.
Day 3, Wednesday 3rd July, saw the third consecutive day of rain, the worst weather experienced at Varsity within memory. There was also further controversy at some of the referee’s decisions which seemed to favour the men at the expense of the women, giving them only one court in comparison to the men’s three. However, Cambridge brushed off this inconvenience and remained focused, in no way intending to rest upon their laurels and fully determined to win every match. All three doubles pairs continued their domination, with Morrill and Kudzin smashing Oxford’s #3 pair, Saar and Zhang beating Oxford’s #1 pair, and Papadopoulou and Walker defeating Oxford’s #2 pair in another thrilling three-setter. The final round saw the teams running out of time and daylight, so the decision was made to play a pro set (first to 8 games) instead of a full two sets. This was supposed to be the most thrilling round as the opposite pairs finally faced each other: 1v1, 2v2, and 3v3. However, Morrill and Kudzin, and Saar and Zhang threw a major spanner in the works by winning in about 20 mins, 8-1 and 8-0 respectively. The score was now 16-4 and once again it was all down to the third pair- would Cambridge beat last year’s Varsity score (16-5) or would they equal it? Ilana Goodman (Christ’s), the Cambridge Women’s Seconds Captain and first reserve who a few weeks earlier had already captained the women’s Seconds to victory, 14-7, deservedly came in to play in Walker’s place after three days of wholeheartedly cheering on the team. Unfortunately, Goodman and Papadopoulou lost in another close match, 8-6, but Goodman did herself proud and Papadopoulou never lost her fighting spirit.
The final score was 16-5, a clear margin and a fantastic victory for the women’s Blues. Their proud captain couldn’t have asked them for any more and it was with heads held high that they went off to celebrate.