STRATFORD-upon-Avon players were among the star performers as Warwickshire’s men’s tennis side secured a stunning 6-3 victory over Hereford & Worcestershire to clinch the Aegon Inter-County Championships Group Five title and a long-overdue promotion, reports Sally Jones.
There was joy for new men’s captain Gavin Henderson as his well-matched pairs ensured a clean sheet of five victories after seeing off the highly-rated Lancashire and West of Scotland teams at the start of the week.
The Stratford partnership of Cameron Malik and Luke Hammond promoted to first pair, looked a class act throughout, as did their clubmate Oliver Plaskett.
The Sutton Coldfield duo of Max Stewart and Oliver Nolan and the highly-experienced Simon Ferguson, imported for the last few days, were equally gritty and defiant, with Ferguson winning three out of three on day five.
Despite a few sore heads on the final day, thanks to enthusiastic celebrations with promotion in the bag by Thursday night, the side held it together to win the three final rubbers after being pegged back by Hereford & Worcester to three-all at tea.
“I’m delighted with how our young side jelled and backed one another up all week,” said skipper Henderson.
“They’ve really come together and pulled their weight. Malik and Hammond have been a revelation and Ferguson added some real character and experience which boosted the camaraderie and teamwork among the whole side.
“With promotion guaranteed, we’re now determined to keep up the momentum and win promotion again next year to Group Three – and not before time.”
Meanwhile, former Stratford coach Natasha Hillyer played a key role in the depleted women’s team which narrowly lost their crucial relegation battle with Yorkshire in Group One at Eastbourne 6-3, dropping two out of three rubbers in the final round which had been held over from the rain-disrupted previous day.
They then lost 6-0 to unbeaten Hertfordshire, three of whose international players had achieved the impressive feat of winning 15 rubbers out of 15.
This sealed the Midlanders’ fate and they and Essex were relegated to Group Two, their first foray out of the elite Group One since 2013.
“The girls battled their hearts out,” said Katie Shaw, in her 20th year as county captain.
“With several experienced players missing, this was always going to be a big ask, but I was proud of how everyone, including our youngsters and newcomers performed at this highly-competitive level.
“I know they’ll be raring to bounce back up from Group Two next year.”
Big-hitting Lilly Mould, the former national junior champion combined well, both with debutant Josie Williamson from Blossomfield and with Rugby’s Lizzie Massie, while Coventry stars Natasha Hillyer and Soumeya Anane showed the way at first pair, staging a string of fine fight-backs and winning three out of three in the county’s one win, over Essex.
Katie Malazonia and newcomer Kara Biggs from Warwick Boat Club proved an impressive scratch pairing, while the fluent Holly Reid went for her shots boldly against highly experienced Hertfordshire opposition.