Loughborough Men’s 1sts continued their fine start to the season with an 8-4 victory on home soil over Edinburgh 1sts. This result made it three victories from their opening three matches in the BUCS Premier B North, giving them an excellent springboard to challenge for the title and promotion to the National Premier.
Gavin McKinlay put in a real captain’s performance to get the men in purple off to the perfect start, as he cruised to a 6-2 6-1 victory over Lloyd Read. McKinlay played a composed and assured style of tennis throughout, and the consistency and quality of his groundstrokes were too much for his opponent to handle. He described his display as ‘a really solid match’ and was happy to get the win for the team. Loughborough were soon 4-0 up as James Kirkpatrick demonstrated just why he is the pride of Cumbrian tennis, beating Charlie McKelvey 6-3 6-1. Kirkpatrick had been promoted from the 2s for this clash, and showed he was more than up to the task with a decent all-round performance. While his on-court demeanour can be Andy Murray-esque at times, he certainly had something to smile about after this result, remarking that ‘it was a good match to win’ after putting Loughborough firmly in control of proceedings.
Ryan Lambert wasn’t finding matters quite as straightforward, however, early on in his singles encounter with Cameron Ritchie. A torturous opening game broke the 15 minute barrier as the two players stubbornly consistent styles of play collided. The unorthodox nature of the match was underlined by three breaks of serve in the opening three games, before Lambert seemed to get the measure of his opponent and began to assert his authority on proceedings. With the loud backing of a small but vocal crowd, ‘Lambo’ showed off a full and impressive repertoire of winners, volleys and smashes to crush Ritchie’s early resistance, taking the first set for the loss of just one game. When he began the second set with what some in the crowd described as a ‘naughty’ drop shot winner in the opening game, it looked a matter of time before Loughborough were 6-0 up, but that reckoned without the stubbornness of the Edinburgh man. To Ritchie’s credit, he managed to dig in and frustrate Lambert, with his relentlessly consistent groundstrokes allowing him to gain a foothold in the set, giving him a break of serve and a 3-2 lead.
The pair traded regulation holds for 4-3, before Ritchie tightened up, playing an edgy game and allowing Lambert to steal a break back. Britain’s number 364 was nerveless in holding for 5-4, and then really turned the screw on the Ritchie serve, approaching the net with no fear and putting away terrific volleys to forge a match point opportunity. After a long rally, Ritchie dumped a forehand into the net to give Lambert a hard fought 6-1 6-4 victory, and guarantee Loughborough at least a draw in the tie. It was hard work at times, but Lambert deserved the win, proving too good for his consistent but slightly limited opponent. Lambert was reflective in victory, admitting that ‘in the second set I dipped in concentration and didn’t do the basics well enough, so I was pleased to dig in and get the result.’
Loughborough secured the three points with another fine display in the doubles, with McKinlay and Lambert combining to continue their good form, brushing aside Edinburgh pairing Ritchie and McKelvey 6-1 6-1. Edinburgh did manage to register on the scoreboard soon after, with Armand Baboin beating Loughborough’s Guy Weerasekera 6-3 6-2. In a slightly bad-tempered match, play was fiercely contested, with some brutal hitting on show. Weerasekera, who has represented Sri Lanka at Davis Cup level, was perhaps unfortunate not to come away with at least a set. The sixth and final match of the tie was another doubles; with Edinburgh taking the victory in this one as well. Baboin and Read edged out Kirkpatrick and Weerasekera 6-4 7-6 in an entertaining clash to give the final score line in the tie, 8-4 to Loughborough, a more respectable feel than had been threatened with Loughborough 8-0 up.
Performance Coach Steve McLoughlin can be very pleased with the team’s display, which gives Loughborough 1s three wins from three for the season after previous 8-4 triumphs over Leeds Beckett 2s and Manchester 1s. The victory allows Loughborough to keep pace with Stirling 2s atop the Premier B North table ahead of the crucial home clash with the Scots next Wednesday (11th). It would be good to see as many supporters as possible at the tennis centre for next week’s crunch match, as your support really does make a difference to the players!
On joining the Loughborough Tennis Programme in the summer, McLoughlin set an ambitious three-year target for Loughborough to be ‘known as the number one tennis university in the UK’. This was certainly a promising start.