While others may head for the sun or the slopes at this time of year, the IRTA seems to have developed a different habit: just as it did in 2019 (see report), the IRTA started 2020 with a visit to Newcastle, for some tennis at the Jesmond Dene Real Tennis Club.

The early starters on Saturday morning were the IRTA’s Roland Budd against Jesmond’s Darren Spurling, who had last encountered one another in November 2016 (see report). Though trailing 2–5 at one stage in the single set to 10 games, Budd prevailed 10–8 to put the IRTA ahead. Next on court for the IRTA were Denis Mullan and Laura Neill, whose spells at the hazard end trying to deal with the wily serving of Richard Sanderson and particularly Keith Anderson proved pivotal. The fixture was thus level at one match apiece going into a run of three singles matches, each involving one of the Mullan family on the IRTA side.

First up was Henry, whose match against Jesmond’s Alex Dyter was probably the tightest — in terms of result as well as in terms of tennis quality — of the weekend, with the very fit Dyter winning 10–9. Denis Mullan, carrying a muscle twinge from his earlier doubles game, was much stronger in his match against the energetic Andy Marwick than the scoreline suggests, but the IRTA found itself 1–3 behind once the first half of Saturday’s programme was complete. Alex Mullan played very effectively to defeat Paul Reading, but that was the last Irish win of the day, with none of the IRTA’s afternoon doubles combinations — Peter Dean combining with Laura Neill, Henry Mullan with Roland Budd, and Alex Mullan with Peter Dean — managing to overcome the thoughtful tactics of the local pairs.

At the close of the first day’s play, therefore, the fixture was all-but in the hands of the home team, with Jesmond leading by 6 wins to 2… and only 5 matches scheduled for the Sunday.

Those out of bed early enough on Sunday saw Alex and Henry Mullan come very close to narrowing the gap in an entertaining match against Darren Spurling and Richard MacAlister, but in the end the local pair took the final game, and the match, 10–9, leaving the home team five matches ahead with four to play. Next up was Peter Dean, who trailed against Gordon Reed before launching a comeback… but didn’t quite leave himself enough time (8–10). The second Mullan doubles partnership of the day — Alex and Denis — played well against Dean Juric and Gordon Reed (10–6), and their success was followed by another win for the IRTA when Laura Neill (who surely won’t be playing off 70 for long) defeated Richard Sanderson. While Laura struggled to read Richard’s various spinning serves throughout, she managed to return enough of them to lay chases and regain the initiative sufficiently frequently to take their match, 10–8. The day’s play concluded with a win for Dean Juric and Simon Johnston, who played a canny game to defeat Roland Budd and Peter Dean, 10–7.

Overall, therefore, it was Jesmond Dene RTC 9, IRTA 4 — so congratulations to the home team on a convincing win, and many thanks for welcoming us to Newcastle once again. Thank you in particular to Scott (now of RTC) for early work in getting this fixture into the calendar, and to Richard MacAlister and Simon Harris for raising the Jesmond team, organising the programme of play, coordinating the weekend, marking many of the matches, and arranging lunch for everyone on both Saturday and Sunday — all very much appreciated.

— Roland Budd

Results: Saturday 4th

Jesmond DeneIRTA
Darren Spurling (31·7)810Roland Budd (30·4)
Richard Sanderson, Keith Anderson (52·9)107Denis Mullan, Laura Neill (62·7)
Alex Dyter (21·2)109Henry Mullan (14·5)
Andy Marwick (56·0)101Denis Mullan (55·5)
Paul Reading (33·7)610Alex Mullan (37·2)
Andy Marwick, Keith Anderson (50·8)108Peter Dean, Laura Neill (54·1)
John Duns, Richard MacAlister (26·7)106Henry Mullan, Roland Budd (21·0)
John Taylor, Simon Johnston (38·8)105Alex Mullan, Peter Dean (40·7)

Results: Sunday 5th

Jesmond DeneIRTA
Darren Spurling, Richard MacAlister (27·1)109Henry Mullan, Alex Mullan (21·7)
Gordon Reed (48·7)108Peter Dean (48·2)
Dean Juric, Gordon Reed (47·5)610Denis Mullan, Alex Mullan (42·7)
Richard Sanderson (56·3)810Laura Neill (70)
Dean Juric, Simon Johnston (39·4)107Roland Budd, Peter Dean (37·5)


Photos — Roland Budd