A crisp but dry evening met the players this evening as old foes Wetherby 1 and Boston Spa met in an eagerly awaited Winter League clash. Spa had opened their campaign last week with a convincing victory over Collingham which saw them lead the early table whilst Wetherby were in second with one win and a loss from two games.
Josh Bayliss made a welcome return for the hosts after missing the defeat against Boroughbridge and he teamed up with Lucy Wright whilst there was a debut for Dave Stephenson who paired up with Charlotte Todd.
Peter Smith and Lesley Haley continued for Spa after excelling last week whilst Will Parkin and Pauline Belt made their first Winter League starts of the season after showing good form for the visitors in Division Two of the Harrogate mixed league last summer.
Wright and Bayliss have enjoyed considerable success together on the circuit in recent years and the pair are an excellent combination. Bayliss has a strong serve and hits some lovely left handed deep shots from the baseline as well as producing some devastating smashes at the net. Wright was in top form tonight and battled away from deep as well as showing some classy short play which ensured the Wetherby duo would be hard to beat. However in Will Parkin and Pauline Belt they would certainly have to be at their best as this couple are extremely strong too. Parkin is a tall individual who, like Bayliss, has a strong all round game and in difficult to pass and lob. Belt, who as well as been one of the leading ladies at Spa also enjoyed a fantastic season with the all conquering Appleton Roebuck mixed team . Roebuck stormed to the York mixed Division Four title only losing once and Belt and her partner managed to win 24 rubbers from 27 along the way!. This then was to prove a real battle of quality with some superb tennis on show. The quartet were well matched and the rubber remained close throughout. Eventually a 6-6 tie proved a fair reflection of proceedings.
Charlotte Todd and Dave Stephenson are work colleagues who have played together and they faced the tricky and very experienced Lesley Haley and Peter Smith who are one of the leading mixed pairs at their club. They picked up from last week with some composed and accurate play and this rubber too proved close and exciting. Stephenson is tall and used his height to great effort with some punishing serves and lovely touches at the net. Todd was happy to attack from the baseline and relied heavily on a potent two handed backhand. However the Spa duo just had a little more up their sleeves and with eye catching nerves of steel ran out narrow 5-7 winners to leave the visitors two ahead after the opening session.
Stephenson and Bayliss teamed up then in the men’s match and this proved a real battle of the big hitters against Smith and Parkin. Rallies were at a premium as the men took early chances and the games were rattling off with the scoreboard ticking over very quickly. Not much in this tight affair but thankfully for the hosts the Wetherby men played well on debut together and just prevailed 7-5.
The Ladies was too prove a longer match with many rallies and thoughtfully worked out play resembling a chess match. Both duos were seeking weakness and the tie was cagey. However Wright and Todd have enjoyed success together this term in the ladies first team and they began to make their class tell. Making crucial winners on key points they forged ahead and were able to run out 9-3 winners which suddenly swung the match firmly in the hosts direction.
The final round began with Wetherby leading 27-21 and needing 10 more points to secure victory. However Belt and Parkin were determined to start eroding that away and were quickly out of the blocks against Todd and Stephenson. They played error free tennis and forcing the Wetherby couple onto the back foot were playing extremely well. Belt was hitting some cracking returns and with Parkin again sending some tantalising high shots and unplayable at the net, Spa were certainly taking control. Wetherby tried hard but couldn’t contain their rampaging opponents who eventually secured a 2-10 success to turn the match on its head.
Suddenly the visitors lead by two points with all eyes clued to court four where Bayliss and Wright were having a battle royal against Smith and Haley. There was once more some tremendous hitting on show and with each player giving their all no one wanted to surrender. Wetherby led 7-3 and as Lucy Wright began to serve the final game of the evening it was clear what was needed. A hold of serve would secure victory but a break meant a draw!. Despite the four now knowing the position and everything on this last game play continued at a frenzied pace. Wright certainly had to stay strong and along with Bayliss who was solid they saved three break points to finally run out 8-4 winners which resulted in a fantastic 37-35 victory for the hosts.
This really was a brilliant match and the best yet seen in the Winter League especially due to the extremely tight nature. Everyone on show can be proud of their considerable efforts. The win lifts Wetherby back to the summit two points clear of the chasing pack albeit they have played most games. Spa drop to second but a repetition of the form shown tonight will see them challenging for the title in what is developing into an excellent race for glory. Spa are next in action against Champions Rufforth which should be another match to saviour whilst before then Wetherby 1 face Starbeck two weeks today.
Thanks again to all players tonight and good luck in your remaining games.
Well done from left to right – Lucy Wright, Josh Bayliss, Charlotte Todd and Dave Stephenson.
Tough opponents from Boston Spa left to right – Pauline Belt, Peter Smith, Lesley Haley and Will Parkin.