Irish champion: Stuart Baxter
The final weekend in May found a group of IRTA members travelling to London for the seventh annual IRTA Irish Championship and Open tournaments. This year the event was held at the ‘Millennium Court’, the impressive home of the Middlesex University Real Tennis Club, in Hendon, north London.
Before the tournament started, however, some of the Irish contingent were to be found refreshing their skills on other London courts. Practice sessions had been arranged on the Friday at the Queen’s Club — where preparations were under way for the annual pre-Wimbledon lawn tennis tournament — and at Hampton Court, where several afternoon games had been arranged for IRTA members through Stef King, Honorary Professional to the IRTA (and assistant pro at Hampton Court).
On the Saturday morning, play in the group stages of the IRTA Open tournament got under way at the Millennium Court, expertly coordinated by MURTC pro, Ged Eden. The entrants were divided into two groups, with single matches being played to handicap to produce four semi-finalists. The results of the group matches, as well as the subsequent stages of the weekend’s competitions, are to be found here. Interestingly, the strongest player — or at least the player with the lowest handicap — emerged as the winner of each group, with Roland Budd and Mark Keogh going undefeated in this stage of the competition. This trend was reversed in the first semi-final, played on the Sunday morning, when Anthony Prince (58) defeated Budd (29). Keogh (44) met Mark Heffernan (43) in the other semi-final, an eagerly-anticipated encounter between rivals who had in previous years provided extremely competitive, hard-fought, and at the same time entertaining tennis. This year the defending Open champion, Heffernan, edged it, winning by 6 games to 5. The final, later in the day, saw Heffernan, on his home court, demonstrate tremendous determination and stamina in overcoming the handicap to defeat Prince by 6 games to 3, thereby retaining the title he won in Cambridge in 2008.
The Irish Closed Championship was played as a knock-out event, with two-thirds of the handicap difference between the players being applied. Stephen Kelly fell to Mark Keogh in a preliminary round, and Keogh went on to sweep aside the holder Roland Budd in one of the earlier Sunday matches. Stuart Baxter, who had flown in from the US on the Saturday evening and had therefore not been able to play in the Open event, was apparently unaffected by jet-lag and played too consistent a game for Heffernan, taking their semi-final by 8 games to 4. Keogh, playing his eighth match in two days, therefore faced Baxter, playing his second, in the Irish final. In spite of this imbalance, Mark Keogh competed well, though eventually the second seed (and last year’s runner-up) Stuart Baxter was victorious, taking the final and the title, for the first time, by 8 games to 4.
This was the first time the IRTA has held its annual Championship weekend in London, and the travelling players enjoyed the opportunity to play on three different courts in the course of three days. It was the first time the tournament has involved players who have travelled from Australia. And it was the first time the tournament has been visited by the World Champion. Many thanks are due to all the participants and pros who contributed to the success of the weekend.
Thanks are also due to IRTA member (and past champion) Kárlis Zauers who did so much of the organisation of the tournament but then, unfortunately, was not able to participate. The IRTA is most grateful to the MURTC for the use of their fine club for the tournament, and to the pros, Rod McNaughtan and Ged Eden, who assisted with organisation before and during the weekend. Mark Heffernan, the IRTA’s ‘man at the MURTC’, was also central to the organisation of the event and, furthermore, the Heffernan family entertained the players, pros, and other guests to drinks at their house before dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant on the Saturday evening.
Following the presentation of prizes on the Sunday afternoon, Roland Budd provided a short update on the position regarding the court on Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin, as well as thanking the players and pros for their participation and looking forward to the next IRTA Championship weekend, in 2010.
— Stephen Kelly, Roland Budd
Many thanks to David Lowry and David Glover for these photographs.