On the cold weekend of 2nd Week, the Men’s Blues made the trip to Bristol to play in the first group stage of the Premier Division of the BUCS League, aware that a second place finish was within their capabilities. This would give them a better chance of emulating their Top 4 position achieved last season.
First up for the team was Premier League minnows Surrey, who had been promoted from Division One the year before. Blues debutant James McCouat was up first at 5, having recently joined Oxford from Imperial, and he went into the matchup full of confidence against a player he was certain he could beat. This overconfidence may have worked against him however as he proceeded to lose the first two games. He fought back however and ground out a gritty 3-2 win in a marathon match, putting the Blues ahead in the score line. Next up was Captain Tom Trott, in his first match as team leader. The weight of responsibility seemed to weigh heavy on his shoulders however, as a lack of conviction at the front of the court saw him engaged in numerous long rallies. The match remained even up until the final moments. Two match points went begging for Trott in the fifth game, and his opponent took advantage, winning the match 3-2 and inflicting an agonising defeat on the young captain.
Tim Delport took to court at 4, hoping his rigorous summer training regime would help him to his first BUCS victory. His opponent however had other ideas, ruthlessly dispatching the token Oxford Aussie 3-0. Meanwhile longtime Oxford stalwart Tom Paine did battle at number one with Joe Blackmur, who was in no mood for long rallies and attempted to pick Tom off early on in points, with plenty of aggressive shouting, helping him to forge a two game lead. This seemed to irritate Paine, who despite mounting a comeback to take it to two games apiece, cut a frustrated figure as he lost the fifth to grant Surrey yet another 3-2 win. This sealed defeat for the Blues, yet Joe Sibley was yet to play. Last years captain was not lacking in fighting spirit however, as he kept pace with his skilful opponent throughout the encounter, surpassing perhaps the expectations of both teams. Unfortunately his efforts were not quite enough, as he went down 3-2, resulting in a 4-1 victory for Surrey. A very long and close match, in which four out of five strings went to five, saw Oxford fall just short, although not for lack of effort.
The amount of mental and physical energy that the Blues spent in the fight against Surrey seemed to show in the afternoon, as the team appeared drained in the leadup to the second match against Imperial. Efficiency was required to get the win, and this was what McCouat and Delport duly carried out, both earning 3-0 victories (and a first ever BUCS win for Tim!!) Trott followed his teammates example with another clinical straight sets win, but there was to be no clean sweep of wins as Sibley’s efforts against Surrey appeared to have sapped all of his energy. Up against an opponent who seemed to get to every ball, Joe’s head dropped and he succumbed to a 3-1 defeat. Maybe his famous diet of beer, paella and chips, touted by some as the secret to his success, may have let him down in this situation. Paine was on last, aware that the team had already sealed victory, but his the challenge in front of him was no less difficult; Seigo Masuda, the Imperial number one, was a notorious grinder who reveled in breaking his opponents through relentless length hitting and gruelling rallies. As a result, Paine adopted the innovative strategy of engaging in gruelling rallies and relentless length hitting. This did not work out as he had hoped, going down 3-0. So the Blues laboured to a 3-2 win that was more emphatic than the scoreline suggested. The team went back to their accommodation for a well-earned rest, after an athlete’s dinner of a team curry.
Sunday morning saw Oxford do battle with hosts UWE, who were by far and away the best team in the group. Aware that the odds were firmly stacked against them, the Blues went into the match hoping to grab a few points here and there. Trott was up first, and despite running around a lot, didn’t have the quality to put up a sustained challenge against his opponent, going down 3-0. The pattern continued with Delport and McCouat suffering similar defeats but with Delport managing to make his opponent break a racquet. For number one ranked Paine, his task was the hardest, with old friend James Peach able to take many players apart with little effort. The UWE man was made to work however, saving game balls before putting Paine to the sword 3-0. Sibley seemed to find his mojo again against the Danish man-mountain that is Theis Houlberg, slotting some classy winners, but could not find a way to snatch a game.
So the Oxford Men’s Blues travelled back from Bristol having finished 3rd in the Southern Premier Group. Despite missing their target of 2nd position, the boys could hold their heads up high after their commendable efforts and team spirit, particularly in the agonising defeat against Surrey. Man of the match went to James McCouat for winning 2 out of 3 matches over the weekend.
– By Tom Trott, Men’s Blues Captain