The new grass at West Heath has been growing well over the exceptionally mild winter. Long may it continue, and we look forward to the improved courts come the new season!
[Photos to follow!]
The new grass at West Heath has been growing well over the exceptionally mild winter. Long may it continue, and we look forward to the improved courts come the new season!
[Photos to follow!]
The Men’s II team topped their league after completing a victory against The Drive III. They now move into the heady heights of Middlesex North East Division V!
After some heavy rain during the night, the day was clear, but not particularly warm. The courts were still slightly moist when the singles matches began, though there was no risk of rain for the spectators. These included our international social member, Blake Fillion, who is now working in San Francisco but came to visit us for the second week of the tournament.
The Finals Day Tea was as sumptuous as the occasion demands, and everyone is still finishing off various cakes.
Congratulations to Cedric de la Chaise on a clean sweep of events, repeating his performances of 2005, 2006 and 2011.
Umpired by Julia Abbot, this match involved no less than three Valarches for a needle contest of mother, Elena, vs daughters Carine (18 and off to Cambridge if she gets her A*, A*, A) and Margaux (16). Marjan and Carine brought some heavy ground strokes to the table, while Elena and Margaux are both very comfortable at the net. Carine has less experience of match-play doubles than the others as she is the one who does not spend all available leisure time playing tennis. On the other hand, returning on the backhand, she has a heavy cross-court return which can set up the point for Margaux to win at the net. The youngsters had the edge in the first set, which they took 6-3.
The second set was a much closer affair, reaching 6 all to give the youngsters a target of winning one of the two tie-breaks (set tie break and champions tie break) to take the match. However, they only needed the first tie-break which they won 7-3 for a 6-3 7-67-3 victory. Hopefully Carine and Margaux will defend their title next year.
The more perceptive among you will already have realised, but in any case Elena would want me to point out the change of outfit between the singles (turquoise) and doubles (white top with blue pleated skirt) finals. That’s to make her feel a little better after losing both finals – to her doubles partner and her children respectively.
Again, under the eagle eye of LTA umpire James McKenzie this year’s final was also the third final in a row that these pairs had contested, Cedric and Peter getting the upper hand in 2013 and 2014. The courts must have dried out considerably by the time of the doubles final, because Peter seemed to have no qualms about throwing himself around the courts with customary abandon when putting his all into getting a shot which might have otherwise been out of reach. From the perspective of Sultan and Graeme, the fact Graeme had clocked up his first loss in the West Heath singles final in the immediately preceding match might have been a little dispiriting.
Another factor may be that Graeme’s solid topspin baseline game has less impact in a doubles match. And while Sultan played very well in the doubles semi-final, he was not on top form right at the start of this match. These factors combined with great play by Cedric and Peter, and some bad bounces, allowed the title holders, Cedric and Peter to increase their winning margin from last year to win the match 6-1 6-1 (last year was 6-4 6-1)
Peter is unlikely to compete and win with Cedric in next year’s tournament, as his company has asked him to go on a prestigious two-year assignment to Japan in early August. We wish him all the best in his new role, and hope he will be returning to play at West Heath at the conclusion.
In a repeat of the 2013 and 2014 ladies’ singles finals, Marjan Denis and Elena Valarche squared off to each other for the third year in a row, umpired by Greg Lim. The match tactics went pretty much as you would expect. Elena would chip and charge the net at every opportunity, and the outcome of the point depended mainly on whether Marjan could withstand the pressure and hit the ball cleanly and precisely on the first passing shot.
In the first set, Marjan executed very well, allowing Elena very few winning vollies, and resulting in Marjan taking the set to love. However, in the second set Marjan started missing, allowing Elena into the match for the first time. At one point it looked like the match might go to a third set. But Marjan regained her concentration, starting to hit the passing-shot winners once more, and winning the second set 6-4 for a 6-0 6-4 victory.
Regrettably the fact the court was slippery from the overnight rain, and the occasional poor bounce had an impact on this match which was umpired by our very own LTA umpire, James McKenzie. Cedric was reluctant to run full-tilt for balls at first. Graeme has been a slow starter in previous round matches this year, and in the 2014 singles final (which he won). However, in this final he came out of the blocks like an express train, steamrollering a reluctant Cedric, unsure of his footing, into conceding the first set 1-6.
In the second set, perhaps the court was drier, or maybe Cedric now knew what acceleration it would take, because Cedric started competing more vigorously. Aided and abetted by one or two favourable bounces he leapt into the lead and maintained it to win the set 6-3.
In the third set the momentum remained with Cedric. He kept the pressure on Graeme, who made a few unforced errors, whereas Cedric hit the ball like a man on a mission, and chased everything down. Cedric took the final set 6-1 for a 1-6 6-3 6-1 victory – the mirror image in terms of sets won of the 2014 singles final. This is the first time Graeme has been outplayed by Cedric in the three year history of meeting him in the final.
An interesting child’s perspective on this result emerged later at the prize giving. Julia Abbot has very kindly donated two singles runners-up trophies for the West Heath Tournament. After the prize giving Graeme’s daughter exclaimed it was excellent that Graeme had been presented with a shiny brand-new [runners up] trophy instead of the older, battered 1905 [winners] one!!!
Now wouldn’t you think, having won, Cedric would be looking happier than Graeme? Not a chance!
The mixed doubles final was contested by the unseeded James McKenzie and Lesley South and the second seeds Cedric de la Chaise and Margaux Valarche. Marjan Denis umpired. The match started on court 3 pending the finish of the men’s singles semi-final between Logan Mair and Graeme Pearson, whereupon it moved to court 2 which was much more convenient for the vast majority of spectators.
Although the second seeds had stronger, more powerful strokes and a greater level of consistency than the challengers, there was no doubt that the crowd’s favourite in the match was Lesley, because of her underdog status, uncanny tactical understanding and the ability, while at the net, to place an unexpected winner in places where the more mobile Margaux and Cedric just could not get to in time. This winner was invariably greeted by raucous applause and shouting from an unashamedly partisan crowd who always believed they knew the inevitable outcome of the match and were determined to encourage the underdogs.
As often seems to be the case in matches where the opponents are not evenly matched, Lesley and James put up a good defence in the first set, losing it only 6-3. However, either Cedric and Margaux worked out how to win faster, or James in particular could not keep the required level of intensity up into the second set, which Margaux and Cedric won 6-0 for a 6-3 6-0 title.
Rachael Gangji baked fish pie, which, by common consent, gets more excellent every year (unless memories just fade), plus lemon tort and cheesecake which maybe provided too much in the way of temptation.
The resumption of the ladies’ singles semi-final between Lesley South and the second seed Elena Valarche started from 2 all in the final set. Although Lesley provided resistance, Elena was the more determined and closed out the match for a 7-5 2-6 6-3 victory.
On court 1, the sixth seed Gabor Felsen hoped to make a dent in the final appearance record of the second seed Cedric de la Chaise. To allow Gabor more convenient seated banana breaks, the officials were now providing on-court chairs for courts 1 and 2 – just like the hard courts really. Cedric generally had a look of grim determination on his face, and generally played the more accurate and penetrating tennis, evincing various expressions in Hungarian and English from Gabor, particular when losing a point had been due to Gabor’s unforced error. Gabor claims the Hungarian translates into phrases such as “Come on! Your grandmother plays better tennis than this”. Certainly the English phrases, though loud, did not seem likely to solicit a penalty for a verbal obscenity. Cedric took all this in his stride, though at a certain point you could see him trying unsuccessfully not to laugh.
Cedric’s accurate and mobile tennis in the first set proved too much for Gabor, who did clock up one game, but nothing he tried was able to staunch the flow of points and games to Cedric. Perhaps in the second set Gabor became more resigned to his fate, because the exclamations all but disappeared. The outcome was the same, for a 6-1 6-1 victory to Cedric.
The other men’s semi-final had the potential to be a much closer affair, as Logan Mair has a penetrating and almost unreturnable serve at its best, whereas Graeme Pearson’s strengths are accuracy and consistency. Graeme also seems to be a slow starter, and Logan broke him to get the opportunity to go 3-1 up which would have given him a sporting chance of the first set, but did not take it. It was fascinating tennis, because you could not determine the outcome of each point from the start. Logan tended to come to the net and use angled volleys in alternate directions to try to get the ball out of Graeme’s reach. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes Graeme produced a stunning passing shot from a full stretch. Graeme won the first set 6-3. The second set was similar, but Graeme was well warmed up by now and Logan could not quite keep up the pressure from the first set, so Graeme took the match 6-3 6-2.
If Logan really has not been playing much over the past year or so then he is only going to get better with more practice and play. If he devotes more time to his tennis over the next year then expect to see him put in a serious challenge in the 2016 tournament.
Moira Duncan provided a tasty Moroccan lamb tagine, with complementary yoghurt dessert, which went down well.
In the ladies’ semi-final, Julia Abbot played Marjan Denis, the title holder. Julia is a consistent player with decent speed about the court, but Marjan has the stronger strokes, as well as being fast about court, though she may not always be as steady. Although it was a good game to watch, Marjan always had the slight edge, including more aggressive placement, and won the match 6-2 6-2. The photo has incredible contrasts with black storm clouds looming in the background while the club courts are in brilliant sunshine!
One of the two men’s doubles semi-finals played featured Greg Lim and James McKenzie, the third seeds, against title holders Cedric de la Chaise and Peter Fitzgerald. For those that don’t already know, Peter and his family are soon off to Japan for a two year assignment.
In the first set matters were relatively even, with Greg and James playing somewhere near their potential, the difference usually being Cedric’s ability to make the correct placement with plenty of disguise to hit a winner, often at close quarters. This enabled the holders to win the first set 6-4. In the second set Greg and James could not sustain the level required to compete fully for every game, and their error rate went up, enabling Cedric and Peter to register a 6-4 6-1 win. It would have been good to capture the body language and expressions on Greg and James’ face after one of their unforced errors, because such a picture might have summed up their view of the second set very well.
The other men’s doubles semi-final took place on court 3, to the disappointment of spectators who had selected seats giving a good view over courts 1 and 2. Marcio Sugui and Ed Fitzgerald took on the second seeds Sultan Gangji and Graeme Pearson. Although there was some good tennis played, and some good serving from Ed, Sultan and Graeme were playing well, unlike a previous match in which Sultan appeared to make a number of unforced error, and the result was a 6-1 6-0 win to Sultan and Graeme.
The evening was fine, and all five scheduled matches were completed.
Lesley South prepared a tasty selection of Thai curries, and there were plenty of takers for seconds. She also provided meringue and sorbet for dessert. Seconds here were more of a challenge as I was not the only person to experience losing my dessert bowl. I put it down for a microsecond while Sultan insisted on a salacious photo, and having it whisked away smoothly and unnoticeably by someone clearing up!
The first show court match was a quarter-final match between the seventh seed Philip Reid and the title holder Graeme Pearson. Both seemed to specialise in good-length topspin drives, and both achieved good court coverage in retrieving the others drives. But the snag with this from Philip’s viewpoint is that Graeme’s error rate was lower than his, and Graeme’s accuracy slightly better, so the approach favoured a victory by Graeme. It is difficult to be sure, but on the odd point or two where Philip hit a drop shot to the opposite side from where Graeme had just hit a drive, he stood a better chance of winning the point. Graeme may have been able to counter such a strategy, but this may have opened up otehr opportunities to Philip. And lastly, Graeme may have had plenty up his sleeve and been very happy to practise topspin drives for an hour. The net result was a 6-3 6-1 victory to Graeme.
Alongside this match we had the two ladies doubles semi-finals. On number 1 court Julia Abbot and Sally Tornow played the first seeds Elena Valarche and Marjan Denis. Although Julia and Sally hit a number of good shots, the title holders were too strong for them and won 6-0 6-1.
In the ladies semi-final on court 3 Moira Duncan and Lesley South took on the partnership of the Valarche sisters, Carine and Margaux of ages 18 and 16 respectively. Both have had group coaching for a number of years so have consistent, mainly technically good strokes, and Margaux in particular has extremely good mobility around the court. Further, Lesley had used up virtually all the energy in her legs the previous evening playing doubles then singles against Elena Valarche, not to mention the mental energy required to plan and cook the evening’s Gourmet Dinner. All of which did not bode well for the more mature couple. And so it proved as the score was the same 6-0 6-1 as in the other semi-final.
The second of the mixed doubles semi-finals involved the second seeds Margaux Valarche and Cedric de la Chaise versus Jane Boyle and Greg Lim. Although Jane and Greg played well, the superior shot-making and mobility of Margaux and Cedric were key. The challengers got two games in each set for a 6-2 6-2 victory for Cedric and Margaux.
In the show court men’s doubles quarter final, Tim Simpson and Oleg Khomenko (pronounced something like “Alec” as Elena Valarche insisted on telling us every time we said it) were attempting to upset the second seeds Sultan Gangji and Graeme Pearson. It appeared that Sultan was not having a good match, and Oleg also started slowly, whereas Tim seemed to be playing out of his skin while Graeme was steady. The tight first set was won 6-4 by Sultan and Graeme, though this was a bit of a shock to specators who had not been following the score closely. In the second set Oleg’s level improved quite a bit, which made it an even tighter affair than the first set. The challengers service games were always under threat but they managed to hold until 5 all, when a break handed Sultan and Graeme the match 6-4 7-5.
The dodgy weather this evening meant that only two of three matches were completed. The third was abandoned due to bad light in the final set.
For the Gourmet Dinner, Julia Abbot prepared a delicious moussaka, and Carine Valarche provided complementary Greek delicacies of figs and baklava.
What a complete men’s singles quarter-final it was – the match of the tournament so far – between the fourth seed, Greg Lim and the fifth seed Logan Mair.. Both players were going for it in a way we did not see yesterday between Gabor Felsen and Marcio Sugui. No quarter was asked for or given. Proof of the fact that Greg was executing split steps on Logan’s shots emerged accidentally when a photo was taken on an adjacent court of the end of a match! Either that or he has learned to walk on air.
In the first set Logan’s first serve had a few problems, and this was enough for Greg to be able to break him. Despite his languid style, Greg is very capable of hitting powerful flat winners off second serves, and it was no surprise he was able to break and take the set 6-3. But Logan’s first serve improved in the second set, which put the pressure more on Greg, who started to miss a little more. Logan took the second set 6-4, preparing the way for a thriling conclusion to the match.
In the third set Logan’s first serve was firing on all four cylinders, and Greg could often not return it at all. Further, Logan was putting the pressure on and Greg found it increasingly difficult to resist. At 2-5 down Greg was feeling the pressure so much that he double faulted three times to give Logan match points. To see the culmination of the match click on video of match point. (Sorry, had to move the embedded video that was here because the web hosting company reported it was likely to use all our allowed bandwidth before the end of the month!)
Logan won the third set 6-2 for a 3-6 6-4 6-2 victory.
On seeing himself serving on video for the first time, Greg’s immortal quote was : “That’s a really weird service action”!!!
In the completed match on court 2, the first mixed doubles seeds, Elena Valarche and Marcio Sugui were challenged by James McKenzie and Lesley South (of doubles “yours!” fame). This was a pretty even affair. The top seeds started well, winning the first set 6-2, but there were numerous rain delays (although the singles on court 1 carried on through them all). In the second set Elena’s dynamic play was less evident, as the possibility of slipping increased. James, however, played better, continuing the running, and Lesley retrieved a number of shots that you would not necessarily expect her to, and returning them with her customary tactical flair for placement. The challengers narrowly took the second set 6-4.
In the ensuing champions tie break Lesley and James took a lead of around 4 points. Bearing in mind that the previous year Elena and Marcio had retrieved a champions tie break from a seemingly impossible position, we were all expecting a comeback. But it did not arrive, and James and Lesley deservedly won the match for playing beyond normal expection with a score of 2-6 6-4 [10-7].
Elena Valarche and Lesley South then faced each other again, this time in the singles. Elena won a tight first set 7-5. In the second set Lesley perhaps remembered that it was better to run around a bit more in singles, and proceded to amaze us all with her retrieving, aided and abetted by anticipation which has been honed over many years. At one point Elena slipped and asked for the match to be adjourned for the evening, but the hard-hearted officials declined the request. The second set went to Lesley 6-2.
The third set got only as far as 2 all before the light on the overcast evening became too dim, leaving all to play for after a 5-7 6-2 2-2 (to Lesley) score line.
Four days ago, today (Sunday) was confidently predicted by the Met Office to be a wash out. In the event it was an ideal day for tennis – mostly sunshine but with a few occasional clouds to stop it getting too hot.
In the men’s singles, Tim Simpson thought he was having a good match against the first seed, Graeme Pearson, because he was 2-0 40-15 up. False confidence. From that point Graeme proceded to take 12 straight games for a 6-2 6-0 victory.
Philip Reid beat Jeff Fine 6-3 6-3.
Peter Davies had a good start to the first set against the number four seed Greg Lim despite Greg getting the better of most of the low bounces on court 2. After exchanging breaks to get to 2 all, Peter held and broke Greg to lead 4-2. Greg stepped up his game and broke back and the score reached 5 all. On his serve Peter had an incoming volley behind the serve to get game point, but put it wide, which enabled Greg to break to win the set 7-5. By the time the second set got under way Greg had his eye in and his flat ground strokes were keeping Peter pinned to the back of the court. Although Peter had volleys and passing shots for game and break points, few went in and Greg’s superior execution enabled him to win 7-5 6-0.
By far the most watched men’s singles match was Marcio Sugui vs Gabor Felsen. Gabor’s approach to the change-overs (apart from the end of the first game of each set) may be unique in the annals of West Heath tournament play. At each change over Gabor would come off court, sit down at his seat on a spectator bench, munch some banana and take a swig of energy drink. Then he would walk back on to court to resume play.
The play itself was very defensive. Gabor preferring to slice the ball to various depths on the court. Marcio said later he felt heavy on his feet, and typically he would play very conservative topspin or slice shots nowhere near the lines, though there was one period where he went for it, and achieved a much higher win rate of points. But mostly he was too worried about unforced errors against Gabor who was retrieving and defending very well. Gabor won the first set 6-4. Marcio took the second 7-5 including his patch of finally hitting out, but Gabor won the third 6-4 after various interruptions to cause the match point rally to be played at least 3 times.
Sultan says Gabor’s “banana breaks” are well within the rules which allow 90 seconds, and those of Gabor which I took rough timings on were no longer than 60 seconds. So there is no issue there, despite various mutterings among the surprised and at least partially partisan crowd.
Geoff Isaacs beat Paul O’Flynn 6-4 7-6 7-2.
In the men’s doubles Greg Lim and James McKenzie had few problems in despatching Paul O’Flynn and Maciek Janowski, winning the match 6-1 6-3.
There were two mixed doubles matches played late on. In the first, James McKenzie and Lesley South were playing Sultan Gangji and Sally Tornow. Rachael Gangji was feeling exhausted after her lengthy spell managing the International Boxes on the Wimbledon centre and number one courts, so decided to take a rest during the West Heath tournament, and Richard Nightingale was feeling the same way after a lot of international travelling including another trip soon. The net of it was that Sally, originally Richard’s partner, ended up playing with Sultan. This was their second match, having beaten Oleg Khomenko and Moira Duncan in the first round.
Matters did not go so smoothly this time around for Sultan and Sally. Sultan did not seem at his best and missed a number of shots you would normally expect him to make, and the pair lost the first set 1-6. The second set was a tighter affair, but James and Lesley’s superior execution and tactical nous enabled them to win the match 6-1 6-4.
Not so fresh from his men’s singles defeat at the hands of Gabor Felsen, Marcio Sugui was partnered again in the number one seeding by Elena Valarche (one of the more partisan parties during Marcio’s singles match). The opponents were Dhananjay and Anahita Talwar. Elena is a very determined net player and doubles is not a format where Marcio can gain anything by playing defensively, so the result was a 6-2 6-1 victory for the top seeds.
A new West Heath tradition seems to have sprung up in the last couple of years, and not just at tournament time, which is that of Anna Ganev bringing a bottle (or two) of gin and a large bottle (or two) of tonic. She then proceeds to serve G&T to those left at the club in the evening on a Saturday or Sunday. There must be few prettier cocktail waitresses after a hot afternoon of sets and matches, and it is a shame she feels obliged to spend half the summer tennis season in Bulgaria with her family! Let her take a lesson from Margaret Murphy who feels no such compunction….