The IRTA returned to Jesmond Dene Real Tennis Club in Newcastle over the first weekend in January 2024. The programme for our visit involved singles and doubles matches — and lunch — at the court on both the Saturday and the Sunday, as well as dinner at a local restaurant for a group of some 15 players and supporters on the Saturday evening.

Image: Jesmond Dene RTC

The IRTA got off to a strong start on Saturday morning, with Gordon Reed and Laura Neill winning their respective singles matches and then teaming up to great effect in their doubles match against Richard Sanderson and Nigel Penna. However, the locals took the next three matches, through John Duns, Richard MacAlister & Mark Dickinson, and then Mark again over Alex Mullan, so the overall score was 3–3 with 5 matches remaining in the afternoon’s play. Of those, although Richard Ramjane went almost directly on court following a long drive he managed a very convincing win over Paul Reading, but Paul then teamed up with Jeremy Freedman to defeat Richard and Alex Mullan. The 3 other doubles matches of the day went to the IRTA, so the Irish contingent led at the close of play, 7–4 (a near reversal of the position in our 2023 fixture, when Jesmond led 6–3 on the Saturday evening).

Sunday also started well for the IRTA, with Magnus Garson and Roland Budd proving too strong for Simon Long and Ralph Jackson, only for Simon to defeat Roland at singles immediately afterwards. Alex Mullan enjoyed a very close win over John Taylor and then teamed up with Laura Neill to beat John and Dean Juric by a similarly narrow margin. Those two close matches came at a crucial time, stretching the IRTA overall lead from 8–5 (with 7 matches to play) to 10–5 (with 5 matches to play). While Darren Spurling played a very impressive game to defeat Magnus, Laura then won against Dean to complete her weekend undefeated (and, indeed, to secure the overall victory for the IRTA). In the final three matches of the day, Rustom and Richard each won at singles, but were, interestingly, beaten by their respective singles opponents, Nick Thompson and Peter Quinn, at doubles.

Many thanks to all involved on the JDRTC side for welcoming us so warmly, for the tennis — of course — and for all the organisational work leading up to and indeed during the weekend. Particular thanks are due to Nick and Simon for setting up the fixture and for organising such a good programme, and to Mark and Adam and others who marked the matches on both days.

—Roland Budd