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U11 Boys County Cup

17th and 18th June 2023 at Boston Tennis Club, Lincolnshire.

Team Squad: Alex Salifu, Alex Vout, Robin Jones, Vega Hummerston, Miguel Dadios. Captain: Andy Scholfield

A terrific competition with all players competing to the best of their ability. For the first time we had four players from Milton Keynes Tennis Club. The team was selected from LTA rankings and performances in County Training. The Boston Club comprises of six macadam courts, four clay, four indoor acrylic and outdoor acrylic. The grounds are expansive and clubhouse facilities excellent with first class catering. The competition has been changed for this year with six counties pre -selected for national finals by player rankings; others fighting for the two remaining places and the rest playing round robin groups. Unfortunately, Suffolk could not raise a team but it meant we had four matches over the two days against Lincs, Beds, Berks, and Norfolk.

Our squad had trained very well over the Winter and many had critically competed regularly over the preceding months; with Miguel winning the 40UP! race (to complete 40 matches played) in January. He was closely followed by Archie Humphreys and Vega. They have now played over 100 matches since October 2022. Two additional training sessions at the great Gt Missenden LTC were also crucial to the team’s preparation. We had older juniors Nick Morrell and Dillon Ranauta assist in a County Training session at Gt Missenden which gave the team and squad players an insight into the expected standard at County Cup.

However, County Cup offers up many opportunities and challenges. The team loved practicing and watching each other play.

The team had arrived at The Stanley Hotel on the Friday night with very supportive parents and siblings. A team meeting where goals were set followed a pasta (or was it pizza) evening meal. All players went to bed happy and excited. Being situated on the High Street meant a lot of noise but fortunately all players slept through on both nights. Our breakfast was covered in plastic or in pots, but edible.

A captains meeting with Referee Chris preceded our on-court preparations. The weather was hot but cloudy so no sun to worry about, however we had all fortunately applied sun cream. It is always best to focus on what you need to do (control the controllables) because watching other teams can be counter-productive. Team selection proved challenging (as had the team squad of 5 with Matthew, Archie and Rory just missing out).

First on court against Norfolk - Rafa-like Miguel who is 4ft 2 inches but was able to spring up on many occasions to his opponent’s looping shots through the week-end (he was disgusted when the ball simply bounced right over his head). He showed a great fighting spirit with consistent topspin groundstrokes and consistent serve. He also has excellent hands and fast feet to enable himself to pick up shots from midcourt. The French Open’s strap line ‘Victory comes to those who are the most tenacious’ certainly applied to Miguel and other team members. He won 4-0 4-0 (we use Fast4 rules which also include sudden death deuce and match tie-break third set). Running parallel, Robin was involved in a pulsating match which kept the spectators on the edge of their seats. Hitting with little spin and attacking at all occasions he had his counter punching opponent glued to the back of the court. Too many unforced errors gave his opponent a 4-1 lead. Adjustments to his tactics and patience gave him the upper hand in the second set which he duly won 4-1. Loss of concentration and more effective groundstrokes from his opponent saw Robin two match points down 7-9. Robin staying calm (and apparently used to facing match points) positively won the first point but at 8-9 hit an unbelievable inside out flat return into the corner of the baseline (this shot, of course, won him ‘shot of the day’). Fatigued, his opponent collapsed 12-10.

Alex Vout performed very positively with attacking and purposeful groundstrokes to win 4-0 4-0. Alex Salifu using his specific game plan won first set 4-1 but changed his plan (?!) causing a 1-4 loss. He duly reset and won the tie-break against this higher ranked player 10-7. Our doubles performance was very pleasing particularly at no 1. We only lost 3 games in four sets. Norfolk were demoralized which showed in their next match against Berks.

Our next opponents Bedfordshire unfortunately only had three players which saw us 2-0 up without hitting a ball. Miguel was far too consistent for his opponent winning 4-0 4-1. Vega played at number 2 and won by the same score. His opponent could not believe he was playing someone who served and hit the ball so hard. Alex Salifu had a tougher, higher ranked opponent Aaron but with his high tempo topspin immediately put his opponent under pressure. Alex bossed the court, involving the court supervisor with a couple of calls and incidents. He won 4-2 4-2. Alex Vout and Vega again displayed good use of the Bucks tennis doubles rules and comfortably won 4-1 4-0. So another 6-0 win and we stretched down before returning to the Hotel to have pasta in the local ‘The Italian Connection’ restaurant.

The referee was concerned about the weather so we had an early start on Sunday – preparation at 8am with matches starting at 9am. Miguel was first on again against Lincolnshire and duly won 4-2 4-2. Hitting now with topspin Robin was looking more consistent but made a number of unforced errors to lose first set 3-4 (1). He changed his margins and became much more patient in his play to win convincingly 4-1 10-4. Alex Vout again performed very well with thoughtful attacking tennis to win 4-1 4-0. Alex Salifu used his counter attacking play and heavy topspin to outmanoeuvre his big serving opponent 4-1 4-3(5).

We played doubles against Lincs whilst undefeated Berkshire sat and watched. They had given Bedfordshire a walkover in the doubles (?). Again we looked very assured in our play working well together as a team; Vega with Alex Salifu and Alex Vout with Robin only losing 4 games over the four sets.

With the weather becoming cloudier the Referee pushed ahead putting three singles matches on against Berks closely followed by the 4th match which made it challenging for the coaches and supporters.

Miguel was involved in a marathon against a physically strong left-handed player Arnav who despite making unforced errors put loads of pressure on ‘mini Rafa’. Arnav hit big forehands, loopy topspin and ghosted into the net. Miguel took first set 4-2 and had match points at 3-2 then again during the tie-break; his opponent saved 10 match points in total taking the second set 13-11 and being 6-9 in match tie-break before Miguel won 10-8. I am sure Miguel will learn how to channel his energy and frustration into his performances; he is such a fiery player.

However, Alex Vout was disappointed to lose his first set of the weekend 4-1 against Hadley, but cut out his unforced errors to take 3-1 lead in the second set. Hadley came back at Alex and was able to chase down Alex’s strong rally shots and outmaneuver him. Despite a great fight Alex lost 4-1 4-3 (2). Alex played great doubles all week-end and remained undefeated. He was the standout player with his net play, calmness and consistency on return of serve!

On the adjacent court Vega stormed into a 3-1 lead; again showing good fluid serves and groundstrokes. His opponent Alex had no answers to his play. As we all know tennis is about our mental toughness and as Alex dug in forcing some unforced errors to creep into Vega’s play the matches momentum started to turn as Vega showed his frustration. Vega lost the tie-break 7-5. He reset and regained his composure to sweep aside Alex 4-0 in the second set. The challenge of the scoring system and score-board, puts many pressure situations in front of the players – how are they best able to deal with all the ups and downs which always happen in matches? A match tie-break means players start from clean slate and gives an opportunity to turn momentum around. Despite fighting hard Vega could not quite control his emotions, losing 6-10.

Everyone focused on the top number 1 players Alex S v Salim. It was the best quality tennis of the weekend with Alex having to raise his level by looking to dictate more often and hit with greater depth. Many stunning rallies kept the large crowd enthralled. Alex lost the first set 2-4 but was pleased with his performance. He showed excellent determination, co-ordination and court coverage to continue the battle and won second set 4-2.

The match tie-break swayed back and forth with Alex taking 5-2 lead only to lose some focus to go 5-6. A stunning rally ensued with Alex somehow jabbing a short volley winner after being forced out of position. At 7-8 a very close call gave Salim match point and yet another at 9-9 gave Salim another match point which he won. Another outstanding performance by Alex but it left Bucks dangling at 1-3. The doubles showed how strong we are with Alex Vout and Robin overwhelming their opponents 4-1 4-0. Very sadly Robin had to leave the Club due to what we believe was a stomach muscle strain; he was distraught at having to miss the climax of the weekend but was also in much pain. The rain started which helped Bucks more versatile players Alex and Miguel. We showed great teamwork to take first set 4-2 and at 2-1 40-15 had a big opportunity. Berks fought back to 2-3 up, Bucks lead 40-0 but were unable to close it out; Berks levelled the match at one set all. With thunder and lightning forcing the players and supporters indoor. It was clearly going to favour Berks particularly after a difficult start for the Bucks pair. Despite fighting hard we lost 5-10.

The team had an extremely successful County Cup despite the disappointment of becoming runners up. The players and parents loved each other’s company and were always very supportive of each other. There were loads of learning situations; all players have made good progress in their tennis journey. The players are desperate to play County Cup again because it was so much fun!

A huge thank you to all the players and parents and siblings who made the weekend so memorable for us all.

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