Loughborough 1st team made it four wins from four matches in the BUCS Premier B North with a hard-fought victory over Stirling 2s, maintaining their 100% start to the season. The final score in a tight encounter that hung in the balance throughout the tie was 8-4, a winning margin that is becoming something of a habit for the team, with all their victories this season arriving via that score line.
The tie began with the doubles matches, with Guy Weerasekera and Matt Richmond making up one pair for the hosts, and Gavin McKinlay and Ryan Lambert combining for the other. Weerasekera and Richmond took on Ignacio Gonzalbez and Kieran McCarty, but found the going tough against the powerful Stirling pair, losing the first set 6-3. They responded well to the disappointment, taking a 4-1 lead in the second set, before Gonzalbez and McCarty launched a fightback to peg back the hosts. Richmond and Weeresekera did manage to forge a set point opportunity at 5-4 up, but were cruelly denied by an unfortunate net cord, and the match slipped away from them, Stirling taking a 2-0 lead in the tie with a 6-3 7-5 victory. Thankfully for Loughborough, the ever reliable pairing of McKinlay and Lambert managed to grind out a 7-5 7-6 win in their doubles match, beating Allan McClure and Jack George-Burnell to level the tie. Despite being down 5-2 in the second set, the pair that some fans are now affectionately referring to as ‘Glambo’ fought back to force a tiebreak. They waltzed through the breaker in near impeccable style for the loss of just one point to secure victory and leave the tie delicately poised heading into the singles.
With all four singles matches taking place simultaneously, the tie ebbed and flowed one way and the other as fortunes fluctuated on court. Weerasekera took on the impressive Spaniard Gonzalbez for the second time, and made a decent start. Both players settled quickly, exchanging an early break apiece to leave the score locked at 3-3. Although both possess hard-hitting styles, and were using their booming serves to good effect, there was plenty of guile on show too, with both producing graceful drop volley winners in a tense eighth game. Eventually, Gonzalbez managed to pull out the decisive break, and finished the job with a solid hold to take the first set 6-3. When the Spaniard delivered a violently whipped forehand winner into the corner to help himself to another break early in the second set, Loughborough looked in trouble, but thankfully for the hosts Richmond, McKinlay and Lambert had all taken the first set in their respective encounters.
The former Sri Lankan Davis Cup hero was also showing signs of life against his relentless opponent, with a defiant smash earning his first game of the set. However, Gonzalbez was in no mood for a comeback, and managed to consolidate the break, taking a 3-1 lead. Weerasekera was throwing everything at him, hitting all kinds of shots to try and force his way back into the set, but Gonzalbez seemed to possess all the answers, hitting inch-perfect lobs when Weerasekera approached the net and out-rallying his opponent from the baseline. In the end, the Stirling man proved just a bit too good, giving the Scots a 4-2 overall lead with a 6-3 6-1 triumph. Weerasekera was reasonably pleased with his performance in defeat, calling it ‘not bad, though I’m very tired now!’
With Loughborough 4-2 down, the news from the other courts needed to be positive, and thankfully from a home perspective it was, Lambert and Richmond both emerging victorious within minutes of each other. Whilst Lambert was eking out a 6-4 7-5 triumph over Britain’s number 958 George-Burnell, Richmond was busy putting McCarty to the sword 6-4 6-4, which ensured that Loughborough would come away with at least a draw from the tie. McKinlay had looked the most comfortable of the four Loughborough players in his first set, but the club chairman doesn’t appear to like doing things the easy way, with the match becoming a tighter, tenser affair in the second set as the deciding rubber of the tie played out. McKinlay dealt well with the pressure, coming through multiple gruelling rallies in the closing stages to claim a decisive 6-3 6-4 win over McClure and seal a fourth consecutive 8-4 victory for Loughborough.
The captain was delighted with the overall performance of the team, and happy to discuss the excellent start to the season that Loughborough 1st’s have made, remarking that ‘We’re looking to secure a place in the play-offs and promotion, so we can be very pleased with four 8-4 wins in a row. It’s been a great start to the season.’ The win leaves Loughborough in a strong position with maximum points from their four matches so far, sitting top of the Premier B North table with six matches of the regular season still to play. Only by topping the division can Loughborough guarantee themselves a place in the play-offs for promotion to the elite six-team National Premier, so they will look to continue their excellent run of form next Wednesday in their next match away to Durham 2nds. Good luck lads!