The Harrogate One mixed first team were in action tonight at Castlegarth when they welcomed Knaresborough. Both sides have struggled this term in Division Two with just a solitary win from their opening six games so this was a crucial contest at the foot of the table. The forecast was mixed and as the players warmed up a hint of rain was in the air and some nasty dark clouds were hovering ominously.
Wetherby picked from strength with Paul Archer pairing up with regular partner Rachel Hill and likewise Marc Bickers and Helen Robinson with Mike Butterworth teaming up with captain Sue Jacklin. The visitors also selected from their usual match day six although there was a seasonal debut for Arina Fjodorova who was a regular the season before last.
Archer and Hill kicked off on the show court against Alex Kragiopoulos and Holly Bowman watched by a reasonable sized audience on the side lines who were certainly enjoying the excellent tennis from both pairs on show. There was some big hitting from the quartet and some outstanding rallies which saw some quality baseline and net play . Archer was his usual busy self, covering the court and sliding around gracefully as the rain began to fall. He served well and hitting deep with some accurate angles started to take control in a close encounter. Hill was superb at the net and remained unfazed despite the missiles flying her way. Kragiopoulos was hitting big but was ultimately let down with too many unforced errors ,albeit trying to combat a strong home top pair. Bowman served well and looked calm and confident but finally the Wetherby duo took the tie 8-4 after a very good battle. Bickers and Robinson started at seed two on court two and they took on youngster Matt Walton and Arina Fjodorova. Walton has improved in bundles after starting with the Boro second team in Division five he has effortlessly made the step up and currently tops the Knaresborough scoring charts this season. Arina looked pleased to be back in the fold and this imposing lady was enjoying herself with some impressive tennis. Bickers has a useful serve and his ability to cover all areas of the court meant the hosts were very much in another tight contest. With Robinson applying her silky short game the pair fought hard but their opponents proved too tricky and ran out narrow 5-7 victors. Butterworth and Jacklin were playing Dave Hewson and Julie Bowman and at 5-3 it was tense but close. The away duo adopted a softer but safer game plan with accuracy rather than big hitting proving a useful formula. The rain certainly did the hosts no favours as they conceded four games on the bounce to lose 5-7.
Round one finished with the scores level at 18-18 which was of no surprise as right from the start one could sense a close contest would be seen tonight.
Luckily the rain had rescinded and the sun even made an appearance as Butterworth and Jacklin took on the Boro second seeds. Walton was proving difficult to pass and was producing some remarkable recovery shots. With Arina a perfect foil the pair were going to take some stopping. Butterworth upped the tempo to try put the Boro two under even more pressure and with Jacklin producing some fine net play they certainly were well in the tie. However Walton seems to improve almost on a weekly basis and he and Arina ran out cosy 4-8 winners. Bickers and Robinson moved to court one to try their luck against Alex and Holly. The two men enjoyed their baseline battles which saw some more ferocious hitting whilst Helen and Holly tried to outfox one another at the net. The Robinson backhand was in full swing and she produced some lovely soft handed winners. However the pairs couldn’t be split and a honourable 6-6 draw was a fair reflection of the action. Archer and Hill were looking confident as they stepped out to face Hewson and Bowman but this aggressive and hard hitting duo were struggling with the slower pace their opponents continued to adopt. In fairness the hosts always looked the more likely to prevail but it was a tight 7-5 victory in the end that arguably left the visitors happier.
So the final round began with the visitors leading 35-37. Butterworth and Jacklin knew they would have to play well to prevent Kragiopoulos and Bowman from building up a large winning margin and they battled manfully to keep the score tight. Alex continued to hit hard from deep and with Holly proving a useful accomplice the Boro pair were going along nicely. The Wetherby duo knew they had to keep the scorecard ticking over and a final 4-8 result left both sides reasonably happy. Archer and Hill set out on their toughest test of the night against the form couple Walton and Fjodorova who were brimming with confidence and expecting to continue their winning ways. This certainly proved a great match and arguably the toughest of the evening with both pairs giving maximum effort and the skill levels high. After a titanic encounter they couldn’t be split and the spoils were shared at 6-6. Like a fine wine, Bickers and Robinson were maturing as the evening progressed and were nicely coming to the boil as they played Hewson and Bowman. With scores elsewhere starting to go in the visitors favour they soon realised that the emphasis was going to be on them to claw crucial points back. Luckily for Wetherby this couple are well adverse to playing together in crucial games and their great team work and understanding was certainly reaping the rewards again now. Bickers pounded down some bullets to put the visitors under the gosh and even when they thought they had found a foot hole in the rally he found the tramlines with unerring accuracy whilst Robinson used her backhand to produce some lovely winners herself. They ended up securing the biggest winning margin of the evening after a tremendous 9-3 success.
So as the scores were counted it became apparent that this close match had indeed been so tight the teams could not be separated and both take a valuable point from a very entertaining 54-54 draw. Well played to all the participants this evening for producing some memorable tennis and both clubs will feel their respective performances may be a catalyst for a better and more profitable mid season spell that can move themselves away from the drop zone.
Wetherby have a week off now to allow the annual Harrogate League tournament to take place and resume away at Starbeck A on Wednesday June 21.