Loughborough put in another solid team display and got the victory they needed to secure passage to the promotion play-offs with an 8-4 win over Durham 2s. The tie began with the four singles clashes, with James Kirkpatrick and Gav McKinlay earning comfortable straight-set victories over David Salazar and Henry Parocki respectively to put the hosts firmly in command. Loughborough, who only needed a point from the encounter to progress to the play-offs, were just one rubber away from the result they needed, leading 4-0.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s former Davis Cup hero Guy Weerasekera was busy edging a tight, exciting first set 7-5 against Durham’s Cameron Langdon. Momentum veered between both players, with Guy forcing an early break to lead 3-2 before being broken back to trail 5-4. Another break for Weerasekera gave him the chance to serve out for the lead, which this time he managed to take. The second set followed a similar pattern with both players finding their range and firing a series of scorching winners at each other. The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for Weerasekera as he closed out the match, simultaneously guaranteeing the point that the hosts needed and winning his first singles rubber of the season. Playing as number one in the team, Guy has faced some tough opponents in his matches, running many of them very close, so this win was just reward for his efforts. He was understandably delighted with the victory, remarking after the match that ‘It was a big, big win! It’s always great to beat Durham!’
Ryan Lambert was left with the task of getting Loughborough over the line in the tie and he did not disappoint, enjoying a 6-4, 6-4 win over Angus McCarr in customary battling fashion. With Loughborough 8-0 up and already home and dry, there was no real pressure on the hosts going into the doubles. Durham, to their credit, fought back impressively with Langdon and McCarr getting the north-easterners on the scoreboard with a quick 6-3, 6-1 victory over Kirkpatrick and Weerasekera. The final rubber was a terrific clash between Loughborough’s famous Lambert and McKinlay pairing and Salazar and Parocki for the visitors. There seemed to be a bit of needle between the pairs with more tension on court than you might normally expect in a dead rubber, which made for a brilliant, passionate spectacle. Durham eventually triumphed in a third-set tie-break, making the final score 8-4 to Loughborough.
Loughborough’s overall victory means that they now cannot be caught at the top of the Premier B North table, having enjoyed an excellent season with seven wins and two draws from their nine matches. Avoiding defeat next Wednesday in Stirling would complete an unbeaten season for the men in purple, a tremendous accomplishment. After that match, focus will shift to the playoffs, with Loughborough just two victories away from their ultimate aim: promotion to the elite six-university National Premier league. Loughborough will first face the Premier B South league winners, likely to be Oxford, with the winners going through to the final playoff against Bournemouth for the final place in the 2016-2017 National Premier. Exciting times for the team, then, and if they can carry on playing like this they will have every chance.