Champion: Maggie Henderson-Tew

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The 9th annual IRTA Open Championships were held at the wonderful new Real Tennis court in Radley College over the weekend of 17–19 June 2011. The tournament was a tremendous success, with good quality tennis from players with a wide range of experience in the game. There were some close contests and a worthy eventual winner, with all players seeming to enjoy themselves throughout.

The salubrious surroundings of the Oxfordshire countryside that make up the grounds of Radley College and its sports complex provided a splendid backdrop as players arrived from assorted parts of Britain, Ireland, and further afield for the championships. While Radley College has delivered some of the finest in public school education for the past 164 years, the Real Tennis court opened as recently as 2008. Its construction owed much to the fantastic work done by Mick Dean during his time as a master at the school. Radley is fortunate to have the former World Champion Chris Ronaldson as resident professional and we were delighted to be playing under the watchful eye of a legend in the game. There is also a fine display at the court which charts the history of tennis and the many forms which it has taken, including Wingfield’s Sphairistike, the original name for Lawn Tennis.

The action began on Friday evening with court time available to give everyone a chance to iron out some of the rustiness. The tournament itself started with a match between Suresh Kumar and Maggie Henderson-Tew, a match in which Maggie prevailed 5–1 to send Suresh into the repechage. Richard Ramjane saw off the challenge of Stephen McKechnie in Friday’s other contest. Matches constituted one set of first to 5 games, this allowing all the matches to be played out within the one weekend in a busy schedule that involved a main draw of 16 players with a repechage tournament that allowed those knocked out to make their way back in to the semi-finals.

With more players arriving on Saturday morning the tournament got into full flow. An hour of practice time was available at the start of the day and a much-appreciated coaching session was given by David Lowry, the 2010 winner of the Irish Open title, for some of the more inexperienced players, before they went into battle on the court.

The first matches on Saturday saw some excellent and tense encounters played out. Roland Budd lost out 5–4 to 2009 Irish Closed champion Stuart Baxter in a game in which both players demonstrated their skill and intelligence to show their audience how the game should be played. Defending the title he won in 2010, David Lowry raced to a stunning 4–0 lead in his match against Mark Keogh before capitulating to 5–4 defeat in a very exciting match. Anthony Prince and Doris Siedentopf played out another 5–4 encounter, as did Robbie Woods and David Glover, with Doris and Robbie prevailing in those matches. In the other first-round contests, Mark Heffernan, the 2009 Open champion, got his campaign off to a flier by defeating Phillippe Travis 5–1, and Jack Woods saw off Sarah-Grace Wesley in their first outing on court.

The second-round matches produced some interesting pairings as the Woods twins Jack and Robbie did battle, the Marks faced each other and the ladies were guaranteed a quarter-finalist as Maggie took on Doris. With very little to choose between them in terms of ability and some difficulty for the marker in distinguishing one from the other twin the difference in handicap was a key factor in Jack sending Robbie into the repechage with a 5–1 victory. Left-hander Maggie also went through with some accurate and clever shots at the expense of Doris, who put up a good fight. Mark Heffernan was on a roll as he won out 5–2 and Richard saw off Stuart 5–2 in the final second-round match.

A fine lunch was enjoyed in the viewing gallery before the quarter-finals were played in the afternoon. In the first quarter-final Maggie defeated Jack in a very close match, her accuracy and experience paying dividends as it went to the final game. Mark Heffernan was again in imperious form in the second quarter-final, defeating Richard 5–1 in a game that was closer than the final score suggested. Both Maggie and Mark had played some skilful and thoughtful tennis to get through to the semi-finals where they would face the winners of the repechage tournament on the Sunday. Some friendly doubles matches were played late on Saturday before dinner, and other players took the opportunity to learn the game of rackets, of which Radley boasts a fine court among its miscellany of racket sport facilities. Dinner on Saturday evening was a relaxed affair in the splendid setting of the Black Horse pub in Gozzard’s Ford.

Following a night of rest for most of the players, the final day’s play was all set to kick off but for the tardiness of Roland Budd who had overslept and rolled onto court in a daze. Stephen McKechnie played a blinder to defeat poor Roland 5–0, who must have felt he was still dreaming at the time. Some great tennis was played in the repechage, particularly by Stephen and David Lowry with their hard hitting and imaginative strokeplay, however it was Richard Ramjane who made it through on that side of the repechage draw with an industrious performance. On the other side of the draw, David Glover produced some very intelligent play combined with accurate hitting and devastating serving to sweep past Sarah-Grace Wesley, Robbie Woods, and Jack Woods and into the semi-finals of the main draw, where he was to face Mark Heffernan. He continued this excellent form and showed astonishing stamina to defeat Mark 5–2 and book his place in the final. In the other semi-final, Maggie Henderson-Tew was involved in great tussle with Richard which went right down to the wire, but the left-handed Maggie prevailed 5–4 to set up a showdown with David.

The final turned out to be quite a one-sided affair. Maggie got off to a great start and continued all the way through in a consummate performance to win 5–0 and become the first ever lady champion of the Irish Open. David put up a fighting challenge throughout, but the physical effort of getting through to the final after several brave performances already that morning must have taken its toll.

The trophy was presented to a delighted Maggie by Roland Budd and he followed this by giving an update on the IRTA and the court at Earlsfort Terrace. It is hoped that a proposition to the Office of Public Works may eventually lead to a return of the court to functional use, although this is still in the planning stage. It was also announced that the Irish Closed tournament will take place later in the year. Up to now, the IRTA has held its Open and Closed tournaments at a single venue over the same weekend. This creates all sorts of logistical challenges, and this year it was decided — not least in light of demand from an ever-increasing pool of potential entrants — to hold the Open over one weekend, and the Closed at another date, probably in September.

The IRTA would like to thank all the competitors for making the trip to the tournament, playing some excellent matches, and contributing to the overall success of the weekend. The IRTA would also like to thank the Radley Real Tennis Club for being wonderful hosts, and Chris Ronaldson in particular. It was great to see our honorary professional Stef King on Sunday and special thanks are due to him for travelling up from London for the occasion, and for his ongoing support. Roland Budd and Bear North also put a huge amount of work into the organisation and administration of the weekend, for which everyone was most grateful.

— Jack Woods
(pictures: David Lowry)