The Tuesday evening fixture against Templars was always going to be interesting. At not quite the last minute, Philip, the team’s Templar’s bête noire, decided that his physical fitness wasn’t high enough to compete at Templars. Instead, the eminent Takuya was drafted in as his highly capable replacement. He was paired for the evening with Sam in the third pairing; perhaps an oddity that both are full time Templars members themselves. Marcio and Tim, the latter of whom causes the Captain such headaches with his “who’s with who” petulance, made up the first pair to give them much needed tournament practice and also the desired challenge against the tough Templars first pair. Greg and James were happy to cede the first pairing due to their not insignificant dislike of the Templars courts.
The weather itself has become a continuous theme this year. The heavy rains during the day resulted in watery courts, but the evening thankfully brought no further showers. Greg ensured himself an early win by gambling with Edward (a former WHII denizen) that the match would go ahead; Greg knows perfectly well that the captain does not favour rearrangements.
With the first, second and third WH pairs lined up and ready to face the opposition, the first job was to get the opponents in right place as well. Having finally succeeded in a new game of Musical Courts, Greg and James got off to a quick start and provided their third pair with nothing but a bagel. Upon asking Tim how the first pair were progressing (against their 2nd), to not inconsiderable surprise, Tim stated that the score was a mere 2-1 due to rather an epic game. Just as an FYI, 18-deuce games are not encouraged; thankfully for Tim and Marcio they came out on the right side of the advantages to win the game and then the set 6-2. Meanwhile, Sam and Takuya were making a good meal from their efforts against Templar’s first pair. Some excellent shots, from both pairs, were easily observed during James’ and Greg’s lengthy observation round. The Heathens put in a good effort, but ultimately succumbed to the strong pair recording a 3-6 loss.
The second round saw Tim and Marcio take on the third pair. They demonstrated that Greg and James were provided with no fluke score line, serving up a bagel themselves. It gave them plenty of opportunity for them to watch James and Greg take on the strong Templars first pair. Keen observers of the Middlesex Tennis Summer League North East Division 5 would have noted that this was an important rubber as both pairs had won every set that they played together. There was a lot riding on this match, and there could only be one winner. That’s the way the scoring in tennis works.
Greg and James got off to a good start by breaking the Templars coach, with the first point of the game setting the tone. Greg returned excellently to stun the opponents with a perfectly crafted point. As the Heathens changed ends they were pumped up and ready for a fight back. The second game was a protracted affair with many deuces on the Greg serve; the Heathens prevailed to consolidate the break. Templars put their feet down in the next two games and the Heathens found themselves back at 2-2 with the coach serving. He made no mistakes during his second service game and they took a 3-2 lead. The change of ends brought the best out in Greg and he dutifully held the game to level the set. Another break for West Heath against the (slightly) weaker Templars serve gave James the opportunity to serve for a 5-3 lead. With some skidding serves, fabulous forehands and versed volleys James and Greg conspired to hold the game and leave the Templars pair to opportunity to serve to stay in the rubber. At 15-30, James got the rub of the net with a thick net cord to set up two set points. Duly taken, the Heathens came out on top with a 6-3 victory. It was a highly enjoyable fixture to play, with plenty of solid rallies, and good sportsmanship.
Whilst all that was going on, Sam and Takuya faced off against the tricky second pair. They traded games all the way through but unfortunately couldn’t hang on to a 6-5 lead at the bitter end. The fixture was tied at 6-6; with no tie break, the protagonistic pairs claimed a single point each.
The final round of rubbers saw Sam and Takuya take on the third Templars pair. In the first of two sets they came out on the other side of a 6-5 lead and avoided the draw with a 7-5 score line. In the second set they put their feet down (carefully though, to avoid slipping) and made easier work of it. A 6-3 score meant that the third pair contributed a hefty 5 points to the WH total. This is a strong showing for a third pair, as a season can be made or broken by their results.
Tim and Marcio took up the baton against the first pair. Clearly spurred on by the tour de force of Greg and James, with a proven lefty/righty combination, they advanced the scoreboard to 5-5. A bizarre interlude followed, where the Heathens confirmed that tie breaks are neither played at 5-5 nor 6-6 in this league. WH were not deterred by this incident and cooly claimed a point with a 6-6 first set score line. The second set had the potential to be another proper ding-donging humdinger; Templars had other ideas. They were the Murray to West Heath’s Tsonga in the 2016 Wimbledon Quarter Finals. No mistakes in the final set resulted in a perhaps unfair 1-6 score on the door.
Greg and James were making hard work of their final match, and from a dominant position in the first set their backs were up against the wall. James was missing volleys and Greg took a fall on the courts. With a badly twisted ankle, the prospects were not good. Greg, however, continued gamely on, and found himself serving at 4-5. Having drastically adapted his service motion to feature exactly no jumping (and the painful landing), he was not helped by some wayward volleying from James. Serving at 30-40, this was the first set point that they’d been on the wrong side of in two years. Having come so far without losing, Greg and James dug deep to see out the service game and level the set. A break against the Templars serve spun the set back around, and with Greg’s ankle limbering up a little, James had the opportunity to serve for the set. Duly taken to win the first set 7-5, they were in no mood for falling at this particular hurdle. In the second set at 3-1 they managed to break again for a hopefully decisive three-game margin. Greg served with his feet firmly on the floor for a 5-1 lead, and Templars held the subsequent game to give James the opportunity once more to serve for the set. A mercifully straightforward game, topped off beautifully at 40-0 with an ace out wide. A highly enjoyable way to win a set, and maintain the unbeaten streak with a 6-2 victory.
It was a tough evening of tennis, from which West Heath emerged 18-6 victors. Congratulations to both teams for a hard-fought contest and an enjoyable evening with perhaps two of the largest pizzas available in north west London. Philip’s persona non grata status was discussed just a couple of times, as was the impending (or not) predicament facing the Templars members in the near-ish future.
The result leaves WH guaranteed a top-two finish this season (unless the Captain’s done the maths wrong), and only 3 points required for a mathematically certain 1st place (ditto). The team’s final match against Finchley Manor is an away fixture on July 25th, against the only other team with a prospect of winning the league (and promotion hopes of their own no doubt).
We are looking forward to the season finale!
With Finchley Manor only achieving a 15-9 victory over Brampton III this week, this leaves them unable to top the division as they have two games to play and are more than 48 points behind. It confirms that West Heath II are, for the second year in a row, the Divisional Champions. The race is very much on for second place: Brondesbury, Totteridge and Finchley Manor could all scoop the second spot and with it promotion to Division 4.