As tennis players we have been extremely fortunate to be able to play our sport since May, but organised inter-County competition has not been possible this summer.
Thoughts therefore turned to setting up a friendly match with one of our close neighbours to fill the competitive void. As the words “friendly” and “Suffolk” have never knowingly appeared in the same sentence, for Norfolk teams, it was the logical thing to ask our friends in Cambridgeshire if they wanted to have an informal match for seniors. The challenge was gladly accepted and players were readily recruited. The age range was a little wider than originally envisaged with the younger end hardly out of nappies and able to dress themselves (i.e. early 60s) and the older end hardly able to dress themselves due to advancing stiffness (i.e. over 70). However, everyone managed to arrive at Easton tennis centre on time, fully dressed, shoe laces tied and raring to go.
The format was similar to senior Inter-county, but with some changes to allow more players, and no singles rubbers. Each county had four pairs, split into “A” and “B” groups, so everyone had two rubbers each consisting of two sets with a match tiebreak if required at 1 set all.
As befits a friendly the final tally was 4 rubbers apiece, Cambs winning the “A” match 3-1 and Norfolk winning the “B” match by the same score. The tennis was competitive and played in an excellent spirit throughout. It was a real shame that the recently imposed “Rule of 6” prevented any socialising, but there was some opportunity for a decent, socially distant, chat between the rubbers.
Our thanks go to captain Rob for all the organisation and especially the staff at Easton Tennis Centre for agreeing to set up and manage everything in a Covid-safe way. We are hopeful of a return match in Cambridge fairly soon.
Norfolk Team: “A” Squad Mike Hutson & Keith Arnold, Robert Ollman (captain) & Richard Palmer. “B” Squad Mick Musson & Cris Gates, Alan Hudson & Doug Mace.
The Norfolk Seniors County Closed is currently being held at Easton College Tennis Centre with events being played over the weekend of 12/13th and 19th/20th September.
In the Mens Over 45 category, Neil Henery (Cringleford Tennis Club) managed to claim the title. NLTA briefly spoke to Neil after his success:
Who did you play throughout the draw at the weekend? We played a fast -four format, and I won my matches against Andy Ives and Roger Clarke, then beat Rob Hall in the final
Do you play for Norfolk? How often do you play, what kind of matches, events? For the last few years I have played in the Norfolk over 45s team and over 55s. Over the course of a season we usually play 3-4 matches against other counties. There’s usually quite a lot of travelling involved, with the furthest away match I played being in Glasgow
Do you have county training sessions for your county team? We try to meet up at Easton for some training sessions during the winter and spring. They have sometimes involved a mixed group of players from the over 45s and 55s.
Are you a member at a club, if so which and do you play league tennis for them? I play regularly for Cringleford Tennis Club. It is a really friendly club and I have play for the B team in City League matches. A group of us also play at Easton over the winter to keep up our doubles play.
Do you manage to play many tournaments? I always play in our Cringleford Club knock out tournament and have played in the Cromer Senior Tournament for several years – singles and doubles, plus occasionally playing the Norfolk Closed at Lime Tree Road.
How long have you been playing tennis? What attracted you to the sport? I have been playing tennis since about the age of 8 or 9, but got invited to attend county coaching sessions after my twin brother, Paul, and I took part in a coaching scheme at Thorpe Grammar School when I was about 11 or 12. Tennis was the perfect sport for Paul and I as we were of a similar ability and either played on the quiet-ish road where we lived in Loddon or went up to the local courts. I think my Dad got us into tennis in the first place so we wouldn’t pester him on the golf course – he was a very keen golfer!
Congratulations Neil and thanks for finding a trophy for the purposes of the photo!!
Ben Collingwood, Coach to Alfie Hewett reflects on his US Open experience:
Being inside the bubble for the first tournament back for the ITF Wheelchair tour since the global pandemic, was a once in a lifetime experience. The US Open had all it’s procedures in place to provide a safe and exciting opportunity to bring the best players from around the world to compete for the title.
When myself and Alfie arrived at the hotel we were immediately taken for a Covid-19 test and had to quarantine within our individual rooms until the result came back negative, this took 29 hours. Once the result came back, we were able to travel to the site and get a feel for what the organisation was like this year and also get on the practice courts.
The tournament staff were all included in the bubble so the organisation of the event was water tight to restrict anyone coming in and out of the area. We traveled to and from the site via coaches practicing social distancing by not allowing people to sit next to each other. There were more areas which the USTA had taken precautions; live Hawkeye systems apart from the 2 stadium courts, QR code cafeteria where food was always delivered in takeaway boxes, each seeded player or past champion would get a corporate suite for the week and limitations to the locker rooms.
We also had to take a COVID-19 test every two days, we ended up taking 4 tests during a 8 day period. If one of us would test positive Alfie would be pulled out of the tournament.
As you all would have seen that this was the first tournament back for the wheelchair players since we were sent home from Georgia USA on March 12th. So the expectations of level of tennis was always unknown for all players.
However, Alfie Hewett from coming off a 15 week training block, working at Gorleston Tennis Club, Easton Tennis Centre and David Lloyd Norwich came out strong in his first match against fellow Brit and doubles partner Gordon Reid.
Alfie was then able to follow this up with a 3rd set win over Gustavo Fernandez (world No.2) in the semi finals to set up the final against world No.1 Shingo Kunieda.
As you may have seen, the final was an instant classic for the fans to watch as Alfie found himself 0-2 down in the second set to find a way to win the set 6-3 and again he was 1-4 down and pulled it back to 6-5 in the 3rd. Alfie didn’t quite make it in the tie break however, he showed unbelievable character and heart to claw his way into the match, I hope lots of our Norfolk juniors were watching and learned that you are never out of a match until the final point has been played.
On a whole, we had a very successful week as this will be the only time in each players careers where they won’t be match tight and not been able to compete for 6 months, Alfie takes home the doubles trophy for the 4th time in a row and the R/U singles trophy. We as a team are very proud of his efforts this week and acted like a true champion. Sometimes in sport matches don’t go your way, it’s how you react to these situations that reveal who you really are.
We now head back Norfolk to prepare for the “New” clay season, French Rivera and then the rescheduled Roland Garros. This means Alfie will be straight back on court with me and Coach Donna Andrews, the other critical member of our team.
Olivia Nicholls, WTA Tour Tennis star has had an amazing couple of weeks. Starting with helping to organise and compete in The Progress Tour Women’s Championships and playing alongside Andy and Jamie Murray in last weeks Battle of the Brits. Both events are part of a summer programme of events organised to prepare Britains top tennis players for a return to the professional tour. Norfolk LTA interviewed Olivia to find out what she made of the experience.
“After Jamie Murray had set up the Battle of the Brits for Men, my doubles partner and I thought why not do something similar for the Women. Me and Alicia Barnett spoke to Barry Fulcher (a fellow Norfolk ex pro player and Tournament Director for the Progress Tour) about running the event “. What transpired was a tournament played at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, between 14-18th July. The event bought together the top 16 British WTA singles competitors and the top 8 British Women’s Doubles teams.
Olivia and Alicia went on to win the Doubles event. Olivia said “Going into the tournament it was tough to know what to expect as I hadn’t competed for some time. I had been working hard during lockdown and was happy with how I played. The doubles win was fantastic, I was playing singles for the first time in 2.5 years. To make the semi finals of the tier 1 singles event was also really pleasing”.
Days later, Olivia was invited by Jamie Murray to take part in The Battle of the Brits. The event was again hosted at the NTC between 27th July – 2nd August. “It was an absolutely amazing experience. To be in the same team as Andy and Jamie was unbelievable, Judy Murray and Greg Rusedski were great captains. Judy was brilliant on court, giving us really good tips especially in the Ladies doubles. To play with Jamie was an incredible experience especially in the night match against Johanna Konta (WTA ranked 14) and Cameron Norrie (ATP 77). I had never been part of playing with such high calibre players. We lost 4-6, 5-7 but it was great for me to realise I can compete at that level and this has motivated me to keep going and keep pushing on”.
Despite some long days, with play often ending at 9pm, Olivia said the camaraderie between the players was brilliant. “We set up a group whats app chat, which is still going on now. Dan Evans was so vocal, every morning he would go to Halfords to collect horns and Andy Murray was really supportive and funny. I don’t know if it came across on TV but the banter between teams was very entertaining. It was so good to be around these guys for the whole week. There is already talk of a Union Jacks Team Reunion, it will be great to catch up with the team “.
The event reached the final day with both teams tied at 45 pts each. Olivia said it was an amazing finish to the week. “When Andy and Naomi won a second set tie break to clinch a win and take things to the final rubber the atmosphere was unbelievable. It was a shame the Union Jacks couldn’t get over the line in the decisive rubber but Joe and Harriet were just too good despite our best support from the sideline”.
With many of these players taking part in the US Open later this month, it is great to see Britain’s top players preparing for life back on the tour. For Olivia, a return to professional tennis is uncertain. “I don’t know when or where my next pro match will be. Things are still very much up in the air at the moment. Even though the US Open is going ahead, there are not many ITFs being played and all the British ITFs are cancelled so we will have to wait and see when I can start travelling again. In the mean time I will keep playing domestic events and keep training – get back in the gym”.
Report by Stu Silvester
Olivia and partner Alicia Barnett win The Progress Tour Women’s Championships
Following the popularity and success of Jamie Murray’s Battle of the Brits, Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls worked with Progress Tour tournament director Barry Fulcher and long term women’s tennis supporter Terry Oakes to bring this event to life.
Barnett and Nicholls progressed as far as their Premier and Division One semi finals respectively. It seemed fitting that they would cap off a tough week with claiming the doubles title. After a nervy start trading breaks with Emily Arbuthnott and Anna Popescu, they nudged ahead before serving out for the first set.
Starting the second set strongly, they were pegged back before a flurry of breaks and holds let to a tie-break. Despite a lot of pressure they pulled clear to clinch the match and title, 6-4, 7-6
Members of the Norfolk men’s tennis squad will compete against each other over the next few weeks in a new Summer Invitational event.
Captain Nicky Crawley has introduced the internal tournament, which will be played at venues around the county, in order to help fill the competitive void left by the cancellation of this year’s LTA Summer County Cup.
The offer to enter was extended to Norfolk-based players who have represented the men’s first team at a County Cup event in recent years, and twelve players have accepted the invitation to take part.
Four boxes of three players, named after Norfolk greats of the past, have been randomly drawn with the winner of each progressing to a knockout phase.
The field is strong and includes US college stars Will Davies and the recently graduated Tom Fisher, both of whom led the way for Norfolk last summer and are likely to contend for the title along with Loughborough University’s Alex McNaughton.
The trio have been key members of the team at recent events and are set to carry the torch for the county for several years to come.
At the most experienced end of the entry list are three players who combined have featured in nearly 800 County Cup rubbers for Norfolk, including the captain himself.
Crawley (2nd), Richard Bloomfield (3rd) and Dan Wynne (6th) are among the most-capped Norfolk players of all-time and were part of the 2011 team that were promoted to the top flight of county tennis for the first time since the 1970s.
37-year-old Bloomfield is arguably Norfolk’s greatest ever, with an unmatched record of 222 wins from 277 matches. The Alpington native reached a career high world ranking of 176 and will still be considered the tournament favourite by many in local circles.
Will Foster has tasted success and failure with Norfolk; he was part of the 2017 team that gained promotion in Ilkley but lost a heart-breaking decider with Wynne last summer that saw Norfolk relegated to Group Three at the hands of Derbyshire.
University of Cambridge graduate Jack Long-Martinez and current UEA student Alex Watkinson were in Summer County Cup squads in 2018 and 2019 respectively – both have also competed for their university teams while studying.
Fred Withers, Bhaskar Kumar, and Stephen Harlow complete the 12-man field; each has been selected for Norfolk squads in recent years, with Harlow the most recent to make his debut at the 2019 LTA Winter County Cup in Liverpool.
Kumar, who played for Norfolk at Frinton in 2016, is the oldest player to feature; at 47 years old he is 31 years the senior of Withers, who at just 16 is the youngest member of the squad and a bright light for the future of the Norfolk team.Players have until the Sunday June 28th to complete the group stages of the event before the draw for the semi-finals takes place.
Robin Lincoln Group – Richard Bloomfield, Alex Watkinson, Fred Withers
Results: F. Withers beat A. Watkinson 6-2, 6-0 (Stanmore TC)
Eddie Fox Group – Alex McNaughton, Dan Wynne, Jack Long-Martinez
Tony Spurgeon Group – Bhaskar Kumar, Will Davies, Will Foster
Jeremy Cameron Group – Stephen Harlow, Nicky Crawley, Tom Fisher