On the back of our recent success at the Masters Racketball, Surrey headed up to Wolverhampton Tennis & Squash Club for the Open Grade Intercounty Racketball event on 15th & 16th June. We were defending champions in the B grade and we were also excited to enter an A grade team this year too.

A Grade

Prospecting for players to join the A Grade team began back in January and I was amazed by the interest that was gained in replies from a number of our local professionals. Unfortunately dates for this event were not working out for many but all were keen to be involved next year. That said we were going with a very strong team:

1. Miles Jenkins – St George’s Hill

2. Jack Webster – David Lloyd

3. Jake Johnston – Surbiton

4. Nick Hiley – Surbiton

5. Joe Blackmur – Surrey Sports Park

Our first match was against Shropshire who had already played earlier in the day losing out to Warwickshire of which 3 of their matches had gone to 3-2. This may have impacted their play as we stormed to a 3-0 lead with Joe, Nick and Jake all coming through comfortably 3-0. Jake had to handle probably the hardest hit serve witnessed in racketball from the no 1 over 50 in the UK Chris Morris. But he did this with ease and his youthfulness proved too much. Next on were both Jack and Miles. A question had been asked of both as to when they had last played. Jack was a couple of weeks ago and Miles was over a year ago. So the anticipation was high as we witnessed the first few rallies from Miles but he was like a duck to water and was in a different class breezing home 3-0 dropping just 10 points in total. Jack was much the same winning 3-0 and giving surrey a convincing 15-0 win.

Next match was early an evening kick off against Warwickshire who only 2 years ago Miles had represented when they had won the event, so we knew this was going to be a much stronger tie. Once again Joe and Nick headed on first. Joe’s first game saw him working out his opponent and it was a tight game that he won. But the next two were a breeze as he commanded a 3-0 win. Nick was also having a tougher battle, but the rallies were long and enduring which wore his opponent down. At 1-1 Nick knew his opponent had nothing left in the tank and he saw the game out 3-1. By the time this had ended Miles was on court against Guy Pearson who at 21k squash levels was no mug and Miles knew his game well. The first game saw some epic rallies of over 60 strokes and the game went the distance which Guy won 14-12. A quick check in with Miles after the game and he was confident that he would win the match. And that he did taking the next 3 games 11-2/11-9/11-7 for a 3-1 win which secured our place in the final. Jake and Jack were determined to make it a whitewash. Jake was now in full flow with some incredible shots and movement which his opponent Dan Haggarty couldn’t compete with and he won 3-0 dropping just 15 points in the match. Jack meanwhile was unaware that everyone had gone home and was quite happy making every rally last for over 50 shots. Eventually

the tournament organisers said just let us know the score tomorrow as the match entered the 5th set. Jack was suffering from a slight ankle injury to which we had said that it was a dead rubber, but he didn’t want to let the team down and he eventually won 6-11/11-7/6-11/11-5/11-6 which saw surrey win the match overall 15-4.

So onto Sunday and the challenge of playing reigning champions Devon who had drafted in a new player to come in at no3 on the day and were also yet to lose a match. On paper it looked like we were going to be there just to make up the numbers – but we weren’t playing on paper.

Nick Hiley was playing first with the match being streamed live and it was a tight first game which Nick edged 12-10. What a shock we thought and then he won the second 11-6. He can’t, can he? He can – and he took the 3rd 11-9 for a 3-0 drubbing of Josh Smart.

Meanwhile Joe Blackmur was battling the demons of the night before and was taking on the old stalwart Mike Gregory. Joe was always chasing and it ended up a straight forward 3-0 win to Mike and the match tied at 1-1.

Taking to the court at the same time were Jake against the drafted in Dave Palmer and Miles was pitted against Britain’s no1 ranked player – Mike Harris. This was the first time they had played since 2022 where Mike came out on top 3-1. Both Jake and Mike had their game faces on and there was a sizeable crowd watching in anticipation. After 5 mins of Jenkins v Harris it was clear to see that this was going to be a marathon of a match as the score sat at 2-2. Meanwhile Jake was off to a great start and he won the first 11-4. Miles was frustrating Mike with his length and Harris was making a number of errors which is rare to see. First game to Miles 11-5. Back to the other game and Palmer was starting to impose himself on the 15-year-old Jake complaining constantly but Jake stood up to it well. The score was nip and tuck and Jake found himself 10-8 up and serving for a 2-0 lead. It wasn’t to be and Palmer won the game 12-10. On the opposing court Harris was starting to find his game but neither player could get away. Eventually Mike took the second 11-9. The 3rd games were shared both 11-9 as Jake and Mike both took 2-1 leads. As we moved into the fourth games of both matches the players had been on court for an hour. Both matches could go either way but Palmer suddenly found himself 7-2 up and Jake conserved his energy by letting him take the game 11-2 and tie the game at 2-2. In Jake’s own words he said, “the guy won’t know what hit him in this next game”. Back to the no1’s and Miles had let Mike take a 9-6 lead and was just 2 points away from the match. But he wasn’t giving up with a fight as he clawed it back to 9-9. He saved a match ball at 10-9 but Mike proved why he is the number one player as he closed it out 12-10 after 1hr 30mins. All eyes turned to Jake who was still moving freely around the court but there was nothing in it as they got to 9-9. But a glorious nick in the front right wall took Jake to match point followed by a trickle boast which sent the Surrey crowd wild. The match was 1 hour 45 minutes and the overall match score was 2-2. Last up was Jack playing James Snell but it was a huge anticlimax as Jack had nothing in the tank losing 11-5/11-5/11-0. So Surrey took the Runners Up spot but a brilliant effort by all the guys over the weekend. Talk had already begun about how we can win it next year.

B Grade

Hopes were high for our B Team prior to travelling up to Wolverhampton but we suffered last-minute injuries to a couple of players so a frantic search was on for someone to fill in. Glad to say that Clive Johnston came forward. Stacked with the Surbiton contingent we still had a strong team.

1. Sam Dixon – Surbiton

2. Rory Duthie – Surbiton

3. Damian Harniess – Surbiton

4. Jamews McLean – Limpsfield

5. Clive Johnston – Surbiton

It had been an early start to make the 3 plus hour travel up to the venue for a 10.15 start and as soon as we arrived we were thrown in against Shropshire C who had stepped in late following the withdrawal of Derbyshire B team. Matches were to be 3 singles and doubles and the number 1’s could not play in both singles and doubles in the same match would suited Sam perfectly.

James was first on the first and he was blowing hot and cold as his game went from high to low. After walking the first game he then found himself 2-1 down before finding his composure and closing out the match 3-2. Sam was next up and he was simply too strong for his opponent with an easy 3-0 win. Damian headed on to one court while Clive and Rory paired up for the doubles. Surprisingly they went 2-0 down and at the same time Damian was also 1-0 down but he took the 2nd game leveling his match

up 1-1 and thus ensuring we could not lose. He went on to lose the match 3-1 while Clive and Rory playing together for the first time found their shots and came back to win the match 3-2 giving Surrey an opening 10-7 win.

In their next round they met Shropshire B meaning Surrey had played all the Shropshire teams and were looking to complete the set of winning all of them. Their was a tactical change moving James into the doubles which was a risk as James hadn’t played much dubs. Rory went on at 2 and Damian moved down to three. Sam jumped on first, cruising to a very quick 3-0 win dropping 14 points along the way. Rory was having a major battle going 1-0 and 2-1 up however he was pipped in 5 making the match score 5-3 to Surrey. Damian was struggling and made it known to the whole Club with an almighty roar when he hit yet another ball into the tin. At least it got the crowd to run over as they thought something major had happened. It had in the case of Surrey as we were now 6-5 down and all eyes turned to James and Clive and the hope that James would adapt quickly to the alternate hitting. Damian’s victor took back to the court providing some worrying thoughts for the team. With myself marking the game I had to cringe as James held his own on the T – something you just don’t do in doubles. At 5-5 I had to ask him to make more effort to get out of the way after his shot as the opponents were starting to complain. Now was this a tactic as they were riled and the Surrey boys started to get some good points together, somehow closing the first game out 12-10 (6-6 match score). They came out in the second and James was now playing the game as it should be played, except he was hitting some brilliant shots and amazingly they won the match 3-0 giving Surrey an 8-6 win and a place in the final on Sunday against Wiltshire.

After a “Surrey style” night out we arrived at the Club on time the next morning to find James (who had been pushed back to playing no 3 string) already on court and spinning for serve. James started badly coming off losing 11-5 and saying “I’ve no idea what’s going on.” Probably still on the dancefloor was my first thought. Somehow he stole the second 11-9 before finding himself trailing again 2-1. Then as if by magic it all came together and he won the match 3-2 (5-11/11-9/9-11/11-4/11-6). Sam was on next against Adam Giles (British Open Over 45 RU – 2023) and while Sam has almost 20 years on Adam this guy was built like a machine. Sam worked his socks off in the first game as it went to him 14-12. But today wasn’t his day and Adam slowly got on top of Sam wining the next 3 games 11-7 / 11-7 / 11-6 and the match was now 5-4 to Wiltshire. Unfortunately, we went on to only win one more game in the doubles where Clive was now paired up with is 3rd partner of the weekend Damian. Rory was playing Calli Smith at number 2, who is 2,500 squash levels higher than Adam and was clearly an even better player. It was too tough an ask as he went down 3-0 giving Wiltshire a comfortable 11-4 win and taking the title off Surrey.

So, another silver medal for Surrey who in all had a very successful weekend but next year we hope to go one better!

 

Huge thanks to all who took part and for those that came and supported.

 

Next years event has already been booked in for the same weekend 14/15 June.

 

Rob Lelliott (Team Captain)