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…