The second annual international fixture between Ireland and Euskal Herria (Pays basque) took place on the 25th–27th April 2014. A packed schedule was arranged for the team of five that gathered in Biarritz for a weekend of tennis, both competitive and friendly. The team comprised of Rustom Manecksha, Robbie Woods, David Lowry, Derek O’Sullivan and Mark Heffernan, with the latter two arriving from London to meet the Dublin contingent in Biarritz. Enthusiastic support for the team was provided by the sixth travelling member Sophie O’Sullivan.
Less than four hours after leaving the tarmac in Dublin, the team were preparing for a hit on the trinquet de St. Martin in Biarritz, thanks to a prior arrangement between David Lowry and Michel D’Arcangues. Not only did this prove a useful warm-up for the forthcoming competitive matches, but it allowed the team to experience a court only recently back in action for real tennis, something that the IRTA are aspiring towards on home territory. Our generous hosts were very interested in progress on the Dublin court. Those team members unaccustomed to the differences of the trinquet court soon saw potential in the railroad serve weapon of left-handed leading player Rustom Manecksha. The trinquets are generally smaller than most current real tennis courts, there is no penthouse on the receiving end and the tambour is set back into the corner of the court, thus some adaptation in the approach to the game was necessary.
Following a productive session of friendly doubles matches with our hosts on court, some of the team ventured to the coastline in Biarritz and found a suitable venue for discussion on possible tactics for the matches on Saturday. After a quick detour to the Spanish border, the team members congregated in La Bastide Clairence, a village approximately 45 minutes from Biarritz. The O’Sullivans enjoyed a feast of Charcuterie in the restaurant of Ghislaine Potentier, La Bastide Clairence RTA president, before being joined by the others for a fantastic meal of Cote de Boeuf with the trophy present to whet our appetites for the tennis. This was followed by a visit to the trinquet, which appeared to double as the social centre of this small 16th century countryside village. We were allowed a court inspection by the local players, during which a closely fought game of pala was played between members of the Irish team, with David Lowry and Robbie Woods emerging victorious.
The team gathered early in the morning on court for a two-hour practice session prior to the beginning of the tie. This was used productively both to practice serving on the smaller court and to judge the correct weight to apply to the ball to fall nicely into the corners. At midday, the first match took place between Mark Heffernan and Alex Foix, current French junior champion. Mark started out well but was unable to carry this forward and home advantage ultimately led to Mark’s undoing, the match ending 12–2. Rustom Manecksha was next to play and faced the club’s leading player Txomin Sourgens, who demonstrated some fantastic shots. Rustom played some wonderful tennis but was unable to get his potent serve consistently firing effectively on the court and eventually lost 12–3 to leave the Irish team 2–0 with three matches remaining.
David Lowry was next to play and faced the same opponent he lost to last year in Mathias Bonneval and so the Irish hopes were hanging by a thread. Lowry rose to the challenge and showed great temperament on court take victory 12–8 in a very close encounter. Robbie Woods took on Valerie Foix in the next match and took a few games to find his rhythm before taking seven games in a row from 5–5 to win 12–5 and leave the fixture tied at 2–2. Crowd numbers had swelled and they were on the edge of their seats as Derek O’Sullivan walked on court to take on local favourite Cecile Behoteguy. Derek went into the lead from an early stage and held his nerve to see out a tense encounter with a 12–4 win and victory for the Irish team.
Following some stimulating refreshments, the team congregated once again at the restaurant of the La Bastide Clairence RTA president where they enjoyed another fantastic meal and were presented with the elegant, although somewhat diminutive, trophy to take back to Ireland.
Thanks to more arrangement from David Lowry, some of the team travelled to Pau early on Sunday morning to sample yet another court back in regular use for real tennis. Local pro Simon Marshall and French RTA president Paul Mirat welcomed us and described the plans to renovate the court to full use for real tennis. We enjoyed a closely fought friendly doubles match that required further adaptation due to no penthouse at either end, pyrex glass doubling as the dedans at the serving end.
The IRTA would like to extend thanks to Johnny Borrell for his instrumental role once again in organising the fixture but who unfortunately could not attend, as well as to Valerie and Gilbert Foix, Ghislaine Potentier, Michel D’Arcangues, Paul Mirat and Simon Marshall for their efforts in entertaining us to a wonderful and successful weekend of tennis. We look forward to a trip to defend the trophy next year.
— Robbie Woods