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Warwickshire's promotion bid goes down to the wire

STRATFORD'S Luke Hammond played a key role in Warwickshire men's 5-4 derby victory over Hereford and Worcestershire on day four of the Aegon Inter-County Tennis Championships at Cambridge, writes Sally Jones.

Hammond, 20, and county captain Nathan Rooney have dropped only one rubber all week and again showed their fighting spirit, surviving a tie-break against the Hereford first pair and snatching a rollercoaster three-set victory against the thirds.

Rooney cannily rang the changes with his young side, including 17-year-old debutants Dan Bird and Alex Griffiths, who was drafted in on the opening day after Stratford stalwart Steve Lee had to pull out with a back injury.

Bird again combined well with the big-hitting Mason Recci to win their opening rubber against the Herefordshire seconds in three tense sets and Griffiths partnered Oliver Nolan to beat the same pair for the loss of just four games.

Recci then resumed his partnership with Max Stewart from Sutton Coldfield to clinch another vital rubber.

Once the county had taken a winning 5-1 lead and rain began falling heavily, Rooney opted to concede the final three rubbers to give his weary side the chance to recharge their batteries before taking on Nottinghamshire on Friday in the ‘must-win’ final match of the week.

This crucial tie will dictate which of the two sides will make it up to Group 4, along with unbeaten Dorset who have already secured promotion.

Both Warwickshire and Notts have three wins and a loss under their belts, so there is all to play for and only outright victory will do.

By contrast, injury-hit Warwickshire women’s side are battling to avoid relegation from the elite Group 1 at Eastbourne after slipping to a 7-2 defeat to a powerful Hertfordshire side.

On a scorching seaside afternoon and lobs into the sun the order of the day, former Stratford tennis coach Natasha Hillyer lost her opening rubber with former junior international Allannah Griffin, who was carrying a shoulder strain.

Hillyer then resumed her longstanding partnership with Coventry's Soumeya Anane and lifted spirits with a fighting victory against the powerful Hertfordshire second pair.

But they found the going tougher against Herts' highly experienced top pairing Amanda Elliott and Emily Arbuthnott, who had dropped only one rubber all week.

With Warwickshire stalwart Manisha Foster struggling in the heat and Emily Smith supporting her valiantly, the first pair who had led the team so confidently until then, lost their rubbers against the top two pairs.

Birmingham teenager Tamara Malazonia then came in for Smith and she and Foster clinched an entertaining straight sets win over the Hertfordshire thirds.

With Norfolk definitely relegated and Kent needing a win over Herts on Friday, to avoid relegation Warwickshire, who take on hot favourites Surrey in their final match, need as many rubbers as they can glean. A loss against Surrey will mean a nervy wait to see if their two wins so far will be enough to save them from the drop.

“The girls have really played their hearts out,” said captain Katie Shaw.

“But we’ve had several injuries and if we lost to Surrey, it may come down to a count-back on rubbers to see whether we stay up.

"I couldn’t be prouder of them all though, particularly the way our youngsters have risen to the challenge and our experienced players have battled away to give us a chance of staying in Group 1.

"Fingers crossed we can do it – but it looks as if it may all come down to the wire – typical County Week!”

Day 4 Results

Aegon Inter-County Cup, Group 1 Women's Championship

Warwickshire lost to Hertfordshire 2-7 (Warwickshire names first.)

Warks 1 pair: Manisha Foster/ Emily Smith lost to Kent Hertfordshire 1 pair Emily Arbuthnott/ Amanda Elliott 6-4 1-6 1-6

Lost to Herts 2 pair Mimi Bland/ Anna Popescu 2-6 6-4 2-6

Manisha Foster/ Tamara Malazonia beat Herts 3 pair Alissa Ayling/ Georgie Walker 6-3 6-4

Warks 2 pair Lilly Mould/ Leyla Ogan lost to Kent 1 pair 2-6 4-6

Lost to Herts 2 pair 5-7 5-7

Lost to Herts 3 pair 3-6 6-0 4-6

Warks 3 pair Soumeya Anane / Natasha Hillyer lost to Hertfordshire 1 pair 4-6 4-6

Beat Herts 2 pair 6-2 6-4

Alannah Griffin/ Natasha Hillyer lost to Herts 3 pair 3-6 7-6 1-6

Group 5 Men’s Championship at Cambridge

Warwickshire beat Hereford and Worcester 5-4 (Warwickshire names first)

Warks 1 pair: Mason Recci/ Max Stewart conceded to Hereford and Worcester 1 pair Michael Crooks/ Jamie Marks 0-6 0-6

Mason Recci/ Dan Bird Beat Herefordshire 2pair Robert Lowe/ Alexander Maggs 3-6 7-5 6-3

Mason Recci/ Max Stewart Beat Herefordshire 3 pair Ryan Gaskin/ Alexander Parker 6-4 6-7 6-1

Warks 2 pair Nathan Rooney/ Luke Hammond bt Hereford and Worcester 1 pair 7-6 6-2

Conceded to Herefordshire 2pair 0-6 0-6

Beat Herefordshire 3 pair 4-6 6-0 6-3

Warks 3 pair Cameron Malik/ Oliver Nolan lost to Hereford and Worcester 1 pair 4-6 2-6

Alex Griffiths/ Oliver Nolan bt Herefordshire 2pair 6-1 6-3

Conceded to Herefordshire 3 pair 0-6 0-6

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