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Mixed fortunes for Warwickshire in County Week openers

Natasha Hillyer suffered defeat on the opening day of the Aegon Inter-County Championships.
Natasha Hillyer suffered defeat on the opening day of the Aegon Inter-County Championships.

FORMER Stratford coach Natasha Hillyer and debutante Lilly Mould found the going tough as Warwickshire's tennis sides experienced contrasting fortunes on day one of the Aegon Inter-County Championships, writes Sally Jones.

The injury-hit women’s side narrowly lost 4-5 to the powerful Essex team in Group 1 at Eastbourne, while the men thrashed Oxfordshire 8-1 in Group 5 at Cambridge.

An injury to former junior international Alannah Griffin left captain Katie Shaw (King’s Heath) who turns 50 next month, forced to return unexpectedly to playing duties, nearly a decade after her last Group 1 appearance, partnering Birmingham teenager Tamara Malazonia.

Hillyer and British junior champion Mould battled hard, but their inexperience as a partnership showed during the opening rubbers.

They finally snatched a tight three-set victory over the Essex seconds however, despite attritional retrieving from their opponents.

The Midlanders’ experienced top pairing of Manisha Foster and Emily Smith won two out of three rubbers but found the power and consistency of the Essex firsts, senior internationals Eden Silva and Aimee Gibson, too much to handle.

Katie Shaw will rejig her pairings to face Kent on Tuesday and is also hoping that doubles specialist Soumeya Anane from Coventry, Hillyer’s regular partner, who is currently competing at an international tournament in Hungary, will return home soon to strengthen the young side.

Men's captain Nathan Rooney took a chance on three newcomers, Max Stewart from Sutton Coldfield, plus 17-year-olds Dan Bird and Alex Griffiths, who received a last minute call-up after Stratford stalwart Steve Lee had to pull out with a back injury.

The debutants all repaid his confidence with a string of fine performances and after Stratford coach Cameron Malik and Oliver Nolan won their first two rubbers, Malik then partnered Bird in his first County Week match, only narrowly losing to the Oxfordshire first pair.

Rising star Mason Recci, who like Bird and Griffiths trains at the Edgbaston Priory Club, looked particularly impressive, combining well with Stewart at first pair and not dropping a set all day.

Rooney and Solihull’s Luke Hammond also rose to the occasion and won three out of three in punchy style.

“I was so proud of how all our youngsters kept battling,” smiled Rooney.

“Particularly our teenagers, who are finding County Week a rapid learning curve. The whole team played their hearts out and encouraged one another.

"Our next match against Dorset will be tough as they’re one of the favourites but on this sort of form, we’ve got high hopes of winning promotion.”

Results: Aegon Inter-County Cup, Group 1 Women’s Championship, Eastbourne

Warwickshire lost to Essex 4-5 (Warwickshire names first.)

Warks 1st pair: Manisha Foster/ Emily Smith lost to Essex 1st pair Aimee Gibson/ Eden Silva 1-6 2-6

Beat Essex 2nd pair Helen Parish/ Olivia Sofrionou 6-1 6-3

Essex 3rd pair Annali Olivelle/ Amanda Wainwright 6-2 6-2

Warks 2nd pair: Lilly Mould/ Natasha Hillyer lost to Essex 1st pair 1-6 1-6

Beat Essex 2nd pair 6-4 6-7 6-2

Lost to Essex 3rd pair 6-7 0-6

Warks 3rd pair: Katie Shaw / Tamara Malazonia lost to Essex 1st pair 3-6 0-6

Katie Shaw/ Tamara Malazonia lost to Essex 2nd pair 2-6 0-6

Alannah Griffin/ Tamara Malazonia bt Essex 3rd pair 4-6 6-4 6-2

Group 5 Men’s Championship at Cambridge

Warwickshire bt Oxfordshire 8-1

Warwickshire names first.

Warks 1st pair: Mason Recci/ Max Stewart bt Oxon 1st pair Joe Cartledge/ Johnny Maskens 6-4 7-6

Beat Oxon 2nd pair Nigel Matthews/ Jack Rooney 6-2 6-3

Mason Recci// Alex Griffiths bt Oxon 3rd pair Harry Brown Tom Dyakowski 6-3 6-3

Warks 2nd pair: Cameron Malik/ Dan Bird lost to Oxon 1st pair 6-4 4-6 4-6

Oliver Nolan/ Cameron Malik bt Oxon 2nd pair 6-3 6-4

Oliver Nolan/Cameron Malik bt Oxon 3rd pair 6-4 7-6

Warks 3rd pair: Nathan Rooney/ Luke Hammond bt Oxon 1st pair 6-3 7-6

Beat Oxon 2nd pair 6-4 6-4

Beat Oxon 3rd pair 6-3 6-3

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