Loughborough Women’s 1s were beaten 8-4 by Durham 1s in a tight affair that will have significant implications in the race for the National Premier title. The two sides, which drew 6-6 in a hard-fought encounter in Durham just a week ago, had won all their other matches comfortably coming into the tie giving the clash the feel of a title decider. Both teams were missing their usual number one players, with Olivia Nicholls absent for the hosts. Unfortunately, the rest of the squad were edged out by the excellent Durham foursome.
The tie began with the singles rubbers with quality play on show on all four courts. Jess Ren gave Durham an early 2-0 lead by brushing aside Tori Bullock for the loss of a single game. Ren, who once beat Laura Robson on her way to victory in the Orange Bowl, the unofficial junior world championship, was absolutely ruthless and her position as Durham’s number three demonstrated the scale of the challenge that Loughborough were facing. Sophie Williamson fared better against Izzy Heamshaw but the Durham player came through the match 6-4 6-2 to put Durham firmly in command. Meanwhile, Emily Rodbourn was unfortunate to lose a tight first set with Polina Movchan despite racing into a 3-0 lead. A tactical switch from Movchan, seemingly on the advice of Ren, saw her game-plan change to hitting a lot of short angled strokes that Rodbourn found difficult to deal with. This changed the flow of the match, as Movchan roared back from 5-2 down to steal the first set.
Rodbourn showed a lot of spirit to wrest back control of the match after that setback, going ahead 4-1 in the second. Loughborough looked on the verge of a fightback in the tie as Louise Holtum was simultaneously launching a comeback against Brittany Wowchuk after losing a tight first set 6-4. After three breaks in a row at the start of set two, Holtum began taking control of the rallies, and looked to have figured out the Wowchuk game. ‘Lou Lou’ also looked physically fitter than her opponent, and better able to cope if the match went into a third. She impressively reeled off 8 straight games to take control of the encounter, and eventually recorded a brilliant 4-6 6-1 6-3 victory to put Loughborough on the board. Afterwards she gave credit to Coach Steve McLoughlin for the win, remarking ‘I knew it was going to be a tough match so I just stuck with the game plan that Steve and I constructed; it was very effective.’. Rodbourn was unable to continue the fightback, as once again Movchan showed tremendous fighting spirit to recover the deficit. Rodbourn served for the set at 5-4 and 6-5, but couldn’t quite make enough first serves when it counted, and eventually lost an agonisingly close match 7-5 7-6.
At the conclusion of the singles, Durham were winning 6-2, so Loughborough needed to win both doubles to force a draw in the tie. Natalie Hayden-Scott, nursing a hand injury, came in for Williamson to partner Holtum in the first of these matches, but Wowchuk and Heamshaw had too much, prevailing 6-0 6-2 to settle the tie in the visitors favour and put Durham in the driving seat in the title race. Rodbourn and Bullock showed terrific spirit and ability to steal a rubber back for Loughborough, beating Movchan and Ren in a third-set tiebreak, sealing a 6-2 2-6 (10-7) win to cap off a decent overall performance from all of the girls against a very good Durham team, who are now clear favourites to be the first National Premier champions. The 8-4 reverse was ‘a bit of a disappointing result as we didn’t get the win we wanted’ according to Holtum, who added: ‘everyone put in a good fight and I’m proud of the team’s effort. There were a few close matches that could’ve gone either way so I’m excited to get our revenge in the cup!’
With six wins, a draw, and a defeat from their eight matches this season, the team can be very satisfied with their progress, and can look ahead to the New Year with great optimism. They are almost certain to finish in the top two in the National Premier with two matches remaining, an excellent achievement, and with the prestigious ‘Championship’ knockout cup to come, there is plenty for Loughborough 1s to look forward to in 2016. Durham 1s, having cleared the formidable Loughborough obstacle, can now dream of the National Premier title. Although you never know, maybe Exeter or Leeds Beckett can do us a favour!