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Under 11 Boys reach National Finals

18th and 19th June at Leicester Tennis and Squash Club

8th, 9th and 10th July at Wrexham Tennis Centre for National Finals

Team Squad: Oliver Westbrook (Halton / Bisham), Daniel Boyle (Halton / Gt Missenden), Ethan Lee (Halton/Aylesbury), Thomas Skinner (from Milton Keynes), Armaan Somani (Milton Keynes). Captain Andy Scholfield (Beaconsfield)

1. Leicester Tennis and Squash Club

The Club has 12 synthetic clay courts plus other hard courts and a very good Clubhouse with a shop and mouthwatering catering facilities. We were up against Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Berkshire.

We all drove up on the Saturday morning but were disappointed to hear the Leicestershire number one (and national number 2) was unable to play through injury. Our first opponents were Northants, with each fixture allocated two courts. For each fixture four players played singles against their respective numbers followed by two doubles matches and a tie-break shoot-out if the overall score was 3-3. We stormed into 2-0 lead with Armaan and Ethan winning convincingly using the LTA fast4 scoring system – each set is up to 4 games with sudden death at deuce and a match tie-break as a third set. Our number 1 Oliver was involved in a very challenging match against Oscar Laskowski who really took the match to Oliver; attacking at every opportunity. Both players showed too much emotion when losing points but it seemed Oliver was well in control at 4-2 up but some unbelievable groundstrokes and volleys gave Oscar the second set tie-break 7-5 win. The match tie-break saw Oliver scramble some unbelievable shots and he finally came through 10-7 turning defense into attack. Little did we know at the time but this would be one of our closest matches. Dan Boyle won 4-0 4-0 with the opposition’s Captain saying to his player how well he had played despite it being his first match in a year! Lam Huynh from Stony Stratford LTC had joined us for the day and fed in good advice to the team. Coaches were allowed to communicate tactics and calm emotions at the end of each set.

Almost immediately we were back on court for our singles matches against Nottinghamshire. We dropped 7 games in 8 sets but Dan was taken to a tie-break in his first set where he reset his concentration and won 7-1 against a notoriously loud opponent. As you can imagine other matches were taking much longer than ours! We were focused on setting performance goals based around our tactical strengths with one or two technical / mental reminders to help us perform even better.

Our doubles against Northants started late afternoon but Armaan and Oliver were given a walkover due to an injury and the fact Northants could only field 4 players with a 5th arriving from France the next day. Ethan and Dan played a very good doubles match showing a good understanding of the Bucks Tennis doubles values. They won 4-1 4-3. Sadly at 5.45pm Nottinghamshire’s parents decided, against the Referee’s order of play, to rush home instead. I was very disappointed because we were all there to have fun, learn and improve! However, I agreed with their Captain and the Referee to play later the next day.

During our stay at The Premier Inn, we had a number of meetings. In our whole family meeting, we discussed the importance of becoming more independent and a parent’s long-term supportive role of helping to build confidence, resilience and self-respect. We had good fun describing our shot of the day and our performances; unbeknown to us an elderly lady and her partner were listening in and to the astonishment of us all, she came over and said how ‘remarkable’ our team was with the way we interacted and described our exciting play. The Performer of this first day was deservedly won by Dan Boyle for singles, he showed much better maturity in his play and Ethan Lee for doubles.

On Sunday we arrived for our 8.45am on court warm-up emphasizing the quality of controlling the controllables – arriving on-time completely ready to train, with the right attitude; everyone working hard as a team to deliver a quality warm-up for all individual team members.

Armaan and Ethan were far too strong against the young Leicestershire opponents and won without losing a game. Dan started slowly but managed to sort out his mind and shot selection to win 4-2 4-3. Oliver won convincingly to give us an unassailable 4-0 lead. Armaan and Oliver lost 2-4 0-4 but Thomas and Ethan were too strong for the 2nd pair. Dan was able to have a short rest and eat a large lunch which undoubtedly helped him in his next match against Berkshire which proved to be our toughest fixture.

Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1 The U11 County Cup Family Thomas put in a sterling performance with excellent positive energy which really excited the crowded supporters. He lost the 1st set 0-4 on the show court, turned the match on its head to win 2nd set 4-0 through much improved accuracy of shot and lead 8-3 in the match tie-break before losing 6 points in a row to go 8-9, then bouncing back to win 11-9 much to the delight of his team! Thomas also put on a dominant display in his doubles partnering Armaan. They just squeezed through 1-4 4-2 10-8 partly due to their positive energy and excellent team support. Dan and Ethan were disappointed to lose their doubles, playing with too much emotion and inconsistency. A 5-1 victory overall, but much closer than the score suggested. Tom Skinner showing great energy all day was undoubtedly performer of the day for singles and doubles.

The Referee wanted to do the presentation so other Counties could leave before our doubles against Nottinghamshire. The other Counties players were pleased to receive ‘hero’ sweets from us and after small speeches the Referee said to me ‘The question is are you still going to play your doubles against Notts?’. My reply ‘Of course we’ve come to improve’. However, the Notts Captain said his team had already left to go home before the presentation!

I was delighted how well our team (and parents) helped each other; the team spirit was excellent and I hope this will continue for many years. Our Bucks Tennis parents were very supportive of the whole team and as expected, showed very good respect to the other teams.

Our doubles play was a bit disappointing overall. However, Dan and Ethan played very well on the 1st day and Tom with Armaan played a great match against Berkshire. The doubles really highlighted the importance of positive communication at the end of every point, trying our best to win the cross-court battle, court positioning, shot selection, being ready and reacting effectively at the net with compact shots and fast recovery, and adapting to our opponents’ tactics eg both players on the baseline.

I was pleased our team found the goal setting useful, we were at the competition to learn and improve and I believe we achieved that. We agreed during every match we must control what we can eg support of each other, put in maximum effort, play fairly, deal with all the highs and lows which occur and respect our opponent by complimenting them on specific aspects of their play.

It was astonishing we were able to win all our singles matches with some very good performances. We all had a great experience with good memories to look back on.

We had convincingly won through to the National Finals at Wrexham Tennis Centre being played on acrylic, where we must hit with good depth and quality of shot otherwise the ball will sit-up to be attacked.

2. Wrexham Tennis Centre, National Finals.

Three-day event with 8 boys Counties placed in two groups followed by play-offs.

We were excited with the prospect of the National finals but between the two events we each had certain parts of our game to work on and ideally some match-play. After Leicester, Oliver, went straight to play for GB at Queenswood against Czech Republic, France and Estonia. He followed that with a trip to Edinburgh for a grade 2 tournament and had an invitation to play on the middle week-end at Wimbledon with Greg Rusedski and other National age group players. The rest of us were pleased to be able to practice again, this time on acrylic courts, at the excellent Gt Missenden Club.

We drove up separately on the Friday morning arriving at 10.30am for 12 noon start. There were also 8 girls Counties which meant each fixture was designated one court only. We did a physical warm up on a piece of grass at the back of the indoor courts; suddenly the fire doors were opened because of the heat, so we resumed, out of the sun, on an indoor red court. We were placed on court 8 which was overlooked by a roof-top balcony. However, due to the lack of court supervisors provided by the LTA, Mike the Referee, requested Captains to be on court during each match in order to sort out any problems (there were many).

Our first match was against the seeded Surrey team. We also had top seeds Yorkshire and Devon in our group. So pretty tough draw and could we control our emotions? Could the other Counties? Simple answer was no. Our players certainly felt more pressure and of course the players with more experience at this level were able to perform more effectively. Who was going to be selected to play the singles and doubles?

Armaan having won an u11 at BITC a week previously stepped onto court with his power rackets and small water bottle (fortunately he had two!). I sat at the side of court for the start of a marathon competition. Fortunately, our parents controlled and supported all players with good effect. We talked about the importance of supporting every player on court and despite the searing heat through the whole of the three days, it was as good as it could have been for 11 year old boys! The players on court were loving the chanting and other Counties joined in. Our parents managed to hold their own against a large and vociferous Surrey contingent. At all times the players were getting lots of verbal support from the coaches and many parents which surprisingly worked well; adding to the atmosphere and pushing the players to even better performance levels.

All players on court were of course ‘in their own bubble’ and were still improving their emotional maturity. This applied to 80% of boys from all the Counties. Our players were on an emotional rollercoaster with comments such as ‘I don’t know what to do!’, ‘I am trying not to cry!’ ‘It’s not working!’. Managing their emotions and concentration proved just as important as giving tactical feedback. We had many outstanding performances from all of our players.

Armaan found this level hard to deal with because his powerful groundstrokes were being countered by a very mobile and technically sound opponent. Dylan Pedra won 4-2 4-1. Next up Ethan Lee who rushed into a 0-4 loss of the 1st set and he was distraught; but he is a great competitor and mixing in even more slice shots and varying his attack he was able to win 2nd set 4-2 (now his opponent was in tears). The tie-break proved decisive and Ethan was able to stay ahead to win 10-7. The Surrey coaches Tom and Tom were concerned. Even more so when Dan Boyle managed to keep his focus in place for the majority of the match to win 4-3 4-1 against Myles Kiely; a very good performance by Dan. Oliver Westbrook had improved in the three weeks since I had seen him last with better spin on his backhand and more powerful serve plus better point ending emotional control. He out-manoeuvred and out rallied his opponent with great topspin and defence to win 4-1 4-0. 3 matches to 1 up against the heavily fancied Surrey. However, their doubles play was outstanding with great movement, positioning and volleying technique. Their technique on attacking groundstrokes was also very impressive. Oliver and Thomas lost 1 and 0; Ethan and Dan forced a tie-break in the 1st set but were swept aside 4-0 in the second set. At three matches all a shoot-out came into play with one player from each of the two pairs to team up to play a match tie-break. Oliver and Ethan competed well but missed too many shots at the net to lose 7-10. So close.

The other match in our group went to 3-3 with Yorks just winning the shoot-out 16-14. Our final match of the day was at number 4 singles against Devon; but big decision – who to play? After short discussions Armaan turned his performance from the morning around to win a crucial match, dictating the play and staying calmer to win 4-0 4-1.

We were lucky to book the Ramada Plaza Hotel, however, it was quite expensive with the Chester Horse racing taking place the same week-end.

Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 2 Change of ends Saturday meant an early 9am warm up followed by Ethan taking to court 8 against Reuben O’Callaghan. He raced into a 4-0 lead but at 2-2 started to rush into errors which meant his emotions got in the way; he lost 2-4 but managed to reset to win the tie-break 10-6 with good approach play and a couple of stunning counter-attacking forehands. However, Dan Boyle just could not stay tactically and emotionally patient enough losing to a very consistent Harry Rintoul 4-1 4-0. This proved a turning point for Dan with him being forced to realise he either had to ‘up’ his performance level or lose – we were at the National Finals with all players facing him ranked in the top 25! Oliver played for over 1hour 20 minutes in order to oust Charlie Prynn 4-2 4-3 (3). He was not amused at having had match points at 3-2 and being forced into a tie-break. Charlie played with much aplomb and must be applauded for sticking to his attacking strategy despite Oliver’s excellent counter attacking style of play. We managed to get ‘the monkey off our back’ in winning at number 1 doubles – Oliver and Ethan 1-4 4-0 10-7. Daniel and Armaan also played well to make a close fight of the second doubles losing 4-0 3-4 6-10. A solid 4-2 win against Devon ensured us of a higher-ranking play-off.

In our second fixture of the day, we had a shock at the start when Armann was 4-0 3-0 30-0 up against Maxim Sokol who made a very impressive comeback 0-4 4-3 10-4. It was so sorry to see because he had played immaculate attacking tennis up to this point – a tough lesson to learn; as we all know the match is not over until the last shot has been hit. Yorkshire supporters were going wild! However, Ethan was up next and he fought through to another winning match tie-break 3-4 4-2 10-6.

Dan Boyle put on a stunning performance, playing at the same time as Ethan’s match against the very strong Ben Winterbottom 4-3(11-9) 4-0. He had really pushed his level up; his best ever concentration and he out-tempoed and out-manoeuvred his opponent with thrilling forehand and backhand drives – Dan you are now playing at a national level !! Oliver proved too strong for Reuben who tried his heart out. We were 3-1 up but at just after 8pm the Referee insisted we play the doubles matches using two courts. Dan came in to partner Oliver and this proved significant. Ethan teamed up with his regular partner Thomas but were soundly beaten 4-1 4-2. It had been a very long day and Ethan had already had two match tie-break singles. It seemed like the whole of Yorkshire was against us because their girl’s team had stayed on to support, encroaching the court. As the light drew in, with the Referee Mike making one of his rare appearances; Oliver and Dan had a match point at 4-0 3-2 and another in the tie-break (finally losing that 8-10) so were forced into a match tie-break. Fortunately, Lou Lee had ordered some Dominos Pizzas at 9.15pm which was enjoyed by all our supporters off court. However, Dan kept his game together (his quality from his singles persisted) and Oliver’s topspin was as always looking very dependable. At 9.40pm we were 9-7 up and a great serve by Dan and a huge forehand won the match for Bucks. We left at 9.45pm for the Hotel. Our final day opponents Hampshire had ‘wrapped up’ a 4-0 win against Bedfordshire and were already ‘wrapped up’ in bed. Would this prove decisive in our 3rd/4th play-off? Make your own minds up.

Sunday, as Mike Booth my old adversary from Hampshire said ‘Should be over by 2pm’. Hahaha seriously? We had had a team meeting in the morning to emphasise the emotional stages we (and many other players) can potentially go through in a match. Ironically one of our opponents did just that as Danny Boyle played another outstanding match to win against the highly ranked Ben Coxon 3-4 (1) 4-2 10-7. Dan – your focus, patience and shot quality has improved so much. Unfortunately, Armaan’s match-up against the smart counter attacker Jasper Yu was a match too far for him losing 2-4 0-4. Ethan faced a similar challenge as Armaan against a player with very sound technique and stroke-play who was able to deal with Ethan’s slice shots and tempo. However, Ethan being the great fighter, of course, took the match into a 3rd set but this time his opponent’s better quality and accuracy of shot proved too much and he lost 6-10. Oliver duly won 4-0 4-0 against another emotional player. So, a big decision at 2-2 – who to partner who? A couple of players were very tired so in the end Oliver partnered Dan to ensure a win 4-1 3-4 10-5. Tom and Ethan played even better but just lost 3-4 1-4. This meant another shoot-out to decide 3rd place. Another team meeting but the obvious choice was Oliver and Ethan to team up! We got off to a disastrous start 1-5 but clawed our way back to 7-9; to 9-9 just hitting the top of the net to go 9-10. A huge looping topspin rally ended when Hants shot landed on the baseline and bounced over the top of Oliver’s racket on his back-hand side to hit the back fencing.

After 24 matches and two shoot-outs we ended the National Finals in 4th place. A special mention must go to Oliver and Ethan who played in all matches including both shoot-outs. We were all exhausted and we were the last match on court finishing at 5pm.

However, it was truly a team performance with Thomas Skinner playing a vital role in supporting all of his team mates. Our parents were magnificent in their support and the way they managed their boys.

Many lessons learnt for so many players.

The hope is they will all be inspired to continue working hard to do their best to improve their tennis.

Thank you everyone for a very memorable County Cup and let us hope we all stick together for future County Cups and hopefully other Bucks players will endeavour to reach this high level.

PS Surrey won all their other matches 4-2 only losing one doubles match to become National Champions.

Pps Every Surrey player halted play between serves or points to remove every ball off their court even if it was ‘glued’ to the net. Our players were not fazed by it.

Andy Scholfield 28th July 2022

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