Tim Simpson is so looking forward to his doubles match with Marcio, against Logan and Cedric. He has been losing sleep about how to pull off a Shock Victory, or as he describes it, a match that is ‘highly winnable’.
He regaled all with his secret master plan (see image).
The 3rd seed and last year’s finalist Marcio Sugui took on club perennial stalwart Paul O’Flynn. Marcio is known the world over for his consistency (and for being a great left hander) so Paul was always facing an up hill battle. What little of the match was observed, it appeared that Marcio’s ability to get the ball back was Paul’s undoing as some of his commanding court positions were scuppered by the other West Heath stalwart, the bounce. Frustration played over Paul’s face as good opportunities to ‘seal the deal’ fell by the wayside. The 6-3 6-1 score line is possibly a little unfair, but Marcio just has a knack of doing that to people. He progresses to face either Tim Simpson (8th seed) or Lajos Szucs in the quarter finals.
The seventh seed and recent West Heath re-joiner Tim Allan took on James McKenzie on the furthest grass court. Starting at approx 6.15pm, the match went the full distance and completed some time around 8.40pm. The first set saw James rush to a three game lead, which he just about managed to keep to take the first set 6-3. There were some exceptionally nice rallies as both players adjusted to the game and style of the other. But Tim’s undoing in the first set was his serve which faulted at key points in the set. In the second set many of Tim’s service problems disappeared and he took the crucial break to go 5-3 ahead. James somehow pulled it back to 5-5 but Tim rallied to hold serve and then break to avoid the tiebreak, winning the second set 7-5. The third set was neck-and-neck until 3-3, with both players returning better than they were serving. James pounced in the (vital) seventh game to break, and pushed through to take the set, recording a 6-3 5-7 6-3 win. The match was played in exceedingly good spirits, with credit given were credit was due.
Perhaps the most anticipated showdown was between Simpson/Sugui and Reid/Reid, which promised to be a cracker. Reid Junior was heard exhorting Reid Senior to the net on multiple occasions, with youthful petulance boiling over (at least) once resulting in a racket thrown into the net in apparent disgust (although the author is unsure if the two things are connected). Anyway, the score was a relatively comfortable one for the 4th seeds. However, the final word must go to Walter and his blaze of glory; a long rally with plenty of volleys, eventually pushed Walter back towards the rear corner of the court. Some not inconsiderable flexibility allowed him to scoop a seemingly unreturnable shot from somewhere near his feet, over Marcio’s head, into the opposite corner. Not even Marcio’s famous hotdog could cut the mustard. Easily the shot of the evening, if not the tournament. Despite Reid Senior’s heroics, he and his son could not overcome Tim and Marcio who progress into the semi finals with a 6-2 6-3 victory.
The draws for the 2017 tournament have been published. You can view them here.
Please schedule your matches with your opponent, and complete them in accordance with the date shown at the top of the appropriate round. This is to ensure smooth progress of competitors through the draw, and to ensure that the right matches are played during Finals Week.
Talking of Finals Week, the Gourmet Dinners have been announced. Please sign up using the sheets in the clubhouse, on a first come, first served basis.
Monday – Ros’s Stir Fried Chicken
Tuesday – Lesley’s Oriental Special
Wednesday – Moira’s Moroccan Tagine, feat. Barbara’s as-yet-undecided dessert
Thursday – Rachael’s Famous Fish Pie, feat. Lara’s desserts
This was The Heathens’ second trip “oop North” London to Totteridge in this league, having played their fourth team back in the midsts of 2016. Talking of midsts, the conditions were certainly misty. We had the pleasure, perhaps a surreal one, of warming-up to the sounds of bagpipes which were sufficiently distant to be inoffensive.
To avoid any slippery problems with likely formation of ice, we played the match on their artificial clay courts. Although one couldn’t really see the service or baselines, it made for better tennis than slipping around on greasy tarmac. The mist gave it a certain ambience, and the temperature made it really quite cold.
Greg and James got off to a strong start and won the first set 6-0 before a Classic Wobble pushed the scores up to 2-2 in the second set. Banana, Lucozade and some kind of almond/apricot/yogurt bar to the rescue, the CW was sent packing and the rest of the games were snapped up. Meanwhile, Tim and Marcio (salve, Marcio) had made lighter work on the neighbouring court and won 6-1 6-1. Whilst Greg and James were in their second set tussle, on the neighbouring court the teams had been mixed up for a friendly game of Social Tennis.
The second rubber got underway with each Heathen pair losing just the one game in the two sets. Greg and James lost theirs in the first set, Tim and Marcio in the second. Greg’s losing streak is at least consistent – he has lost 3 games in his previous three winter league matches.
Following the completion of the match, we were treated to a warming supper in the clubhouse. We thank Totteridge for their hearty food, company and sportsmanship. The next match, against Elmwood II, is scheduled for the following week. Hopefully Tim’s and Greg’s trip to Mallorca and 10 days of consecutive tennis will put them in fine fettle for the showdown between the top two teams.
Saturday is an unusual time for a winter league match. But a welcome one, as it meant we played in the glorious, if not blazing, sunshine. Mercury were our opponents, who had very hospitably provided hot beverages to those members of the travelling team who arrived at the designated hour. The captain, as usual, was a few minutes late so missed out on a cuppa.
But to the tennis. The sunglasses were deployed, in conjunction with multiple layers and even pants. Tim, however, hard man that he is, has no pants, so shuddered his way through the warmup until his springy legs had stoked his own internal flames.
Greg and James got off to a flying start, by winning the first 6 games and the set. The Classic Wobble at the beginning of the second set materialised, and combined with some spirited play from Mercury, the score got to 2-2 in the second set. Then probably 3-3 before the wobble was dispatched for the final 3 games, to record a 6-0 6-3 result. Tim and Sam were exceedingly clinical in their match on the neighbouring court. They romped through both sets dropping only a single game, to win 6-0 6-1.
The second rubber for Greg and James was a little more comfortable than the first. No games were dropped for a double bagel serving up 6-0 6-0. Tim and Sam started their match strongly, winning the first 6-3. The second could have been as simple, but there is always room for a Classic Wobble. Trailing by 4 games in the second (I think), they produced an exceedingly dogged fightback to win 6-4.
Many thanks to Mercury for your hosting, graciousness and post-match refreshments. It was a charming way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.
The men’s Middlesex Winter League got off to a flying start against Totteridge’s fourth team on Tuesday 25th October. The awesome foursome on court were Tim, Sam and Greg and James. The four traveled to Totteridge with a week of clay court tennis behind them; some benefitted from the practice, whilst others found that their shoulders made noises that weren’t there before.
Either way, the West Heath pairings got off to comfortable starts after gradually adjusting to the Totteridge tarmac. Messrs Luscious and Leftover started with a 6-0 6-0 double bagel, which was matched by Messrs Leftie and Languid. With the travelling contingent of fans staying for a while to shake a few pompoms, there was an appreciable rise in standards from both pairings (and even a successful interception at the net from James).
The second rotation of pairings was a little less comfortable for Greg and James, with a few more deuces than they would have cared for. However, they still managed to win all the games and in doing so recorded a quadruple bagel. Sam and Tim struggled perhaps a little more with adjusting to the dropping temperatures. They ended the evening well, in spite of a mini-blip at the beginning; nonetheless they triumphed 6-3 6-0 in the end. That wrapped up a 16-0 victory for the Heathens.
Thanks must be extended to our opponents, who were most graceful in the absence of any charitable play. The evening’s refreshments and chit chat were excellent and enjoyable. The nether reaches of northern Middlesex were highly hospitable; our next fixture takes us slightly further nether-wards to Ravenscroft in 5 weeks.
The second team’s last fixture of the season was an away match against Finchley Manor IV. With WHII already confirmed as league winners, the pressure was somewhat reduced amongst the ranks. We were delighted to introduce two new players of the game we love to play into the team for our final match. Salve! to young Joseph and salve! to Paul, an erstwhile second team captain himself. So whilst specifically not new this year, Paul was making his 2016 debut. He was paired with the steady, and reliably late, Marcio for the evening, whilst Philip was tasked with guiding Joseph through the travails of the fifth division. The pairings were completed by Greg and James, both still somewhat smarting since their poor showing in the WH men’s doubles final.
All three pairings got off to, quite frankly, terrible starts*. Joseph and Philip were up against the difficult first pair. They performed valiantly, and a little nervously, but lost 6-4. Meanwhile, Paul and Marcio were also struggling against the third pair who were dogged and troublesome. Both had good ground strokes but also some excellent and clinical volleying. The clay surface favours longer rallies, so their third pair’s ability to intercept and volley the ball to safety was a potent weapon. Finally, Greg and James were going toe-to-toe against the second pair. Suffering from the well-documented macaroni cheese withdrawal symptoms, James was carried quite considerably by Greg. With the score line marching inexorably towards a tie break, it was at 4-5 on the FM serve that server’s and partner’s game went off frequency. After a series of deuces, a smash was delivered with considerable gusto to James’s feet. Getting a racket to the ball, the backspin-laden ball rose like some kind of a bird into the air. Coming down, the ball bounced on the other side of the net right next to the FM player. Due to the backspin, the ball leapt up and crossed back to the WH side. Seemingly a simple reach-over-and-put-away-kind-of-a-shot, the FM player came over all static. Gifting the point to Greg and James, it is somewhat an understatement to say that his partner was not best pleased. With a request to replay the point falling on deaf/incredulous ears, the Heathens took the next point and the set 6-4.
The second round of matches was as difficult for the Heathens as the first. The FM first pair were just too strong for Paul and Marcio, although they were certainly warming to the task. The same was true for Joseph and Philip. And as Greg was enforcing maltloaf rations at each change of ends, James was finally beginning to work a little better. By talking the second set 6-3, The Lovely Samantha informed the masses that the half-way aggregate score was 8-4 in favour of Finchley Manor. As they needed only 10 points to ensure a second place league finish and promotion, they certainly seemed on course as the minute waltz of the second round faded into the background.
But West Heath are a force to be reckoned with; it is not for no reason that league victory was secured with a match to spare. A fight back was inevitable, as the Heathens take nothing but beer and grapes lying down.
Talking about beer, James’s and Greg’s minds were finally focussed. With the maltloaf and banana deficits destroyed (and hesitation removed), it must be said that the first pair were performing unequivocally quite well. Greg is known for his pithy one-liners (to say nothing of his innuendo), and his favourite of the night was about “it being much easier to lead from the front”. Much like The Lovely Samantha had done the night before, Greg was bashing balls around with pin-point abandon. It left the first seeds on the right side of a 6-2 6-1 tour de Finchley. From a personal perspective, it left the pairing unbeaten in Middlesex for two years.
On the spectators’ benches there was a vociferous contingent from West Heath, and much of their attention was, perhaps quite rightly, directed to Joseph’s and Philip’s efforts on the far court. Having got off to a nervy start in the first two rubbers, they put their troubles behind them and were entirely relentless in their play. The FM 3rd pair, after the match, were full of praise for their serving, volleying, and ability to put the ball out of reach. To the sound of applause and whooping from the bench of travelling WH supporters, Philip and Joseph did a demolition job to win 6-2 6-0.
Paul’s and Marcio’s collective fortunes were also on the up. Tim had taken it upon himself to, from the side-lines, give them a talking to, and for once it may actually have worked. The second pair’s play improved a lot, and whilst it would be injudicious (and incorrect) to attribute the performance increase to Tim’s pep talk, it might be noted that perhaps we have found a use for WHII’s Mr Petulant as a motivational speaker. Those at the club’s tournament week must certainly be aware of his storytelling prowess in relation to the curious incident of the brother and the beard. Tim’s intervention notwithstanding, the second pair took their sets 6-2 6-1 in the kind of form reminiscent of last year’s season ending match when they were cohabiting a court in blissful harmony.
With all of the final round sets going the West Heath way, Samantha choked back, amongst other stuff, her surprise that the score had flipped from 4-8 to 16-8. The final round performance had sealed FM to a third successive third place finish in Division 5; in their stead Brondesbury take second place (by a single point) in the Division and, with it, promotion next year. The Lovely Samantha is looking forward to playing with their balls next year!
The post-match friendlies were taken in good sprits, in spite of FM’s understandable rueful disappointment at being so close to securing promotion. To their exceptional credit, they put it behind them (only mentioning it once or twice more) and hosted a most marvellous end of season meal. Their chef served up some excellent and plenteous Thai food, which was supplemented with a bit of beer and plenty of “banter”.
So as the tennis ball of destiny slams into the clay court ball mark inspection of inevitability, the 2016 summer league draws to a close. It has been a rip-roaring encounter, and a pleasure to organise such an august body (careful, Samantha) into another league-topping performance. Many thanks to all of you for playing, for reading, for cooking (Marjan!), and for supporting. So, until next year and the heady heights of the Middlesex Summer League North East Division 4! Hurrah!
* Some of this may be attributable to the not so sterling team talk delivered by the captain. For the first time this season, a pre-match team talk was requested. As there was no pressure for results, the captain told his team to go and have fun. Clearly this wasn’t sufficiently motivating.
Rachael Gangji provided the evening’s fish pie, with Lara’s cheesecake and strawberry pavlova proffered as the sumptuous climax to this year’s Gourmet Dinner season.
Three matches were played on the last mid-week evening of Finals Week. The weather, whilst still kind, had conspired to bring cloud cover to West Heath for the first time this week. The matches were played with perfect visibility for all, so there was no need to shift courts to avoid the sun or take up a defensive position behind a tree.
The first of the two men’s singles semi-finals to begin was Sam Evans against Graeme Pearson. In the absence of Cedric de la Chaise (2015 champion), Graeme is the top seed. Tim Simpson had taken 4 games off Graeme in the first set in the quarter final match, and the question was whether jet lag from Graeme’s trip to Canada earlier this week had featured in this minor delay in Graeme’s swift progress to the final; we got the answer today. Sam played well, but Graeme made very few errors, even under pressure and was almost always able to hit the ball with pace to the exact spot required. Sam hit hard balls and serves at Graeme, but Graeme typically returned them to his chosen spot as if it was the 100th ball he had drilled to that point in the last 5 minutes. Sam could not apply sufficient pressure to stop Graeme from hitting balls he had only just got to, to the most inconvenient place on the court for Sam, whereas Sam usually lost the point immediately when in the same situation. So the match was short and sweet (at least as far as Graeme was concerned) and Sam got raucous cheers from the crowd when, in the second set, he won his only game. Graeme won 6-0 6-1. Come back Cedric de la Chaise, because it is difficult to see anyone else present that Graeme will not take apart in the final on Saturday, such seemed the gulf in this semi-final.
Starting slightly after them on Court 2 was the hotly anticipated fixture between Marcio Sugui and Philip Reid. Whereas everyone knew the result of the first semi-final in advance, this one was expected to be very close indeed. The first set started with 3rd seed Marcio, the left hander, a bit cold. A lot of his topspin shots, normally hooked in, went wide, meaning that 7th seed Philip usually won the point when Marcio had to hit an angle or lose the point. Philip made errors too though, including the occasional double fault. Philip is very tall, and, considering the speed at which he can hit the serve, he should be getting huge penetration, but his service is flawed because he hits the ball when his upper body is on the way down, rather than at the peak of its extension. So the penetration and margin for error is reduced compared to what it could be. The net of all these effects is that the first set was very tight and reached 6-6, with Philip winning the resulting tie-break.
Marcio was much better warmed-up for the second set and typically succeeded in passing Philip when he came to the net, and also had the upper hand in baseline rallies whose winner depended on hitting accurate angles. Marcio won this set 6-1. At the beginning of the third set it looked like it could have gone either way, but Marcio gained the upper hand and did not let up, eventually winning 6-7 6-1 6-3.
Mixed Doubles Final
The last match was the mixed doubles final between first and second seeds, Lesley South and James McKenzie (last year’s runners up)playing Marjan Denis and Greg Lim. Not only had the seeding committee got it right but there was also a fair amount of money being exchanged on the bank regarding this match’s outcome. The new pairing of Marjan and Greg had come through a difficult semi-final encounter whilst Lesley and James were yet to drop a set. In traditional fashion, Lesley won the toss and put James in to bat. After Marjan and Greg gave their opponents ‘one in the sun’, James served and did not do so as convincingly as desired. Nonetheless, he held his serve after a deuce or two and much the more relieved for it. Greg’s service game was remarkable for pin-point accuracy in the deuce court; Lesley could do nothing with the wide serves and Greg secured points with two aces and an unreturned serve. However, the story in the ad’ court was almost the reverse, with all returns being made and then made good. Lesley and James unexpectedly secured the break after a couple of deuces and started Lesley’s service game at 2-0. Lesley’s serve is not rapid, but is exceptionally well placed. Hit consistently to both backhands, it gives an opportunity for interceptions at the net. Some of these were put away whilst others hit the back fence. After much too-ing and fro-ing, the game was held for a 3-0 lead. After replenishments at the change of ends (for one of the players, it should be noted that the half-life of macaroni cheese is notoriously short), it was Marjan’s turn to serve. With some good placement and lengthy rallies, Marjan and Greg held the game. James’s second service game was a little more comfortable, as also was Greg’s. The score reached 5-3 leaving lefty James to serve for the set. Whilst not entirely straightforward, the top seeds hung on to clinch the first set 6-3.
Perhaps in a slight daze, James, the only professional umpire on the court, claimed that the players should “change for one”. Er, not so, said Marjan whilst bananas were bolted down and Lucozade lapped up during the set break. Back in their previous positions, the second set continued with a couple of service holds and a service break to the second seeds. It seemed likely that the match was heading to a match tie-break. However, the break was quickly returned and the score after Greg’s service game was 5-4. James served to stay in the set [no pressure] and it looked like he and Lesley might have escaped. However, Harry Houdini himself would have struggled [no exaggeration – tennis wasn’t his forte] to escape. James and Lesley saved the first set point, but not the second. Marjan’s hefty returning of serve and Greg’s flat groundstrokes in that game allowed them snatch the second set 6-4.
Match tie-breaks are neither James’s nor Greg’s favourite thing [beer? – Peter]. Although not explicitly discussed, it is probably the case that Marjan favours raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, whilst Lesley has been known to be keener on bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens than match tie breaks. Alas, the final came down to the wire with a first-to-ten-with-a-margin-of-two format. After some solid play, cheeky angles and crucial net interceptions, the 1st seeds inched towards a 4-2 lead at the first change of ends and 8-4 by the second. At 9-4 Lesley served for the title and delivered a low dippy angled serve to Greg’s backhand. James pounced on the return with a decisive down-the-middle volley very fitting to winning a final, securing the title 6-3 4-6 [10-4].
Marjan and Greg played solidly throughout, with little between the four players throughout much of the match. There was some heavy hitting in all quarters, no quarter was spared, and some delicate touch shots to boot. During the deciding match tie-break it was James and Lesley who better mastered their nerves: Lesley calmly delivered angled put-aways and James was dogged at the net, perhaps due to Lesley’s faultless attention to his carbohydrate levels. Whilst Novak reached the top with a gluten-free diet, James’s path was paved with macaroni cheese supplemented mid-match with two bananas and a bottle of Lucozade. In spite of this carb-loading, there was still room for Rachael’s much anticipated – and as it turned out delicious – fish pie.
As an experiment, Sam Evans brought along a drone to take some aerial pictures. Unfortunately it was just a little too noisy (even at 50m height) to use to video sequences from the second men’s semi-final in progress, but he did take some shots of everyone and we look forward to including them in this post when available. They include a shot of Sultan ‘B. DeMille’ Gangji’s attempted choreography of the entire massed attendees at West Heath, who can be seen ‘directing’ in the photo below. Don’t give up the day job Sultan.
We are all looking forward to the four remaining finals at 2 pm on Saturday afternoon. First up on courts 1 and 2 will be the ladies’ and men’s singles finals. These will be followed by the two doubles finals, a delicious tea and an evening BBQ. See you there…