Fitzwilliam meets All-England in Dublin

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The occasion of the annual Sterry Cup match between Fitzwilliam LTC and the All-England LTC in Dublin was blessed with some fine, summer weather– a spate of a few days sunshine to compensate for the generally poor summer. White canvas and straw hats and sunglasses were out in numbers in celebration. Coming a week after Fitzwilliam’s hosting of a match against the University of Notre Dame (the famous ‘Fighting Irish’), the Dublin public were treated to the prospect of another feast of fine tennis. They were not disappointed.

The Sterry Cup match has been played every year since 1964 even though a regular fixture between the two clubs has been in place since 1948. It is named after Rex Sterry, famous former All-England stalwart and keen supporter of tennis ties between the two clubs. Sterry had an impressive tennis pedigree with his mother, Mrs. Cooper Sterry, a former winner of the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championship whose title victories spanned the years 1895-1908.

As a contest between the premier clubs in Great Britain and in Ireland, the fixture is always keenly supported and importantly, gives concrete expression to the long traditions of the game in these islands. Fitzwilliam was founded in 1877, the same year in which the first Wimbledon Championships were held (the All-England Cub having been founded in 1868), further cementing the links between the two clubs.

The location of the match alternates between Dublin and Wimbledon each year and 2012 was the turn of Dublin’s Fitzwilliam to play host. The match is entirely a doubles event, each team fielding three pairings who played each of the opposing side’s pairings over the course of a day. The team rosters for the event were:

FITZWILLIAM LTC

Conor Niland/Sam Barry

Barry King/ Tristan Farren-Mahon

Stephen Taylor/Mark Carpenter

ALL_ENGLAND LTC

James Auckland /John Doran

Lee Childs/Blake Hutchins

Jim May/Ben Knapp

Mark Carpenter captained the Fitzwilliam side, while long time participant in and supporter of the fixture, John Curry acted as non-playing captain of the AELTC. Giving a measure of the calibre of the players, four of the participants are ex-pros: Niland, Childs, Auckland and King.

The official team photographs taken, the matches commenced at around 11 a.m. The Carpenter/Taylor v Auckland/Doran encounter took place on Fitzwilliam’s main court. It proved to be a tightly-fought contest, the all-England paring winning in straights sets, 6-2 ; 6-4 with Doran’s booming serve decisive throughout. The scoreline in the All-England’s favour belied a very competitive encounter with some long rallies and fine displays of artistry at the net on both sides. The foursome all have interesting backgrounds. James Auckland living outside London, is a former pro player with an edgy sense of humour, now coaching at the AELTC and at the Queen’s Club. John Doran (he of the big serve), once played with Fitzwilliam and is an Irish émigré now living in London where he works with a private equity firm. Mark Carpenter, winner of the Irish Close in 2011, as well as being Fitzwilliam’s captain, provided the team’s intellectual ballast. Currently, a Ph D student at Trinity College, Dublin, he spent his undergraduate years at Queen’s College, Oxford where he captained the University and gained a Blue. He follows in an honourable tradition of former Fitzwilliam tennis greats who gained an Oxford Blue, a tradition going back at least as far as former Irish Davis Cup stalwart, Guy Jackson (if not farther) who attended Brasenose College ,Oxford in the late 1940’s. Stephen Taylor, like Carpenter, Dublin-based, spent his time studying on America’s west coast at the University of San Diego where he honed his tennis skills. He now works in Dublin’s financial sector.

Fitzwilliam experienced better fortune in the second doubles in which Niland and Barry beat Childs and Hutchins 6-4; 6-3. Niland’s long experience added to Barry’s relative youth and vigour combined to see off the accomplished English pair in another tight contest that hinged on a few key, decisive points and games. To an Irish audience, Niland needs no introduction (former Irish No.1, now coaching and a post-Djokovic survivor!). Sam Barry, only 20 and along with a clutch of up and coming players, is the future of Irish tennis. Home-schooled, former participant in a number of junior Grand Slams and hailing from Limerick (also Niland’s home city), his height and strength will be enhanced over the years as he gains more experience at the heights of the game. Equally to a British audience, Childs and Hutchins need little introduction, both having had impressive UK track records including appearances at the Wimbledon Championships. Childs’ robust approach combined with Hutchins’ more deft and sinuous style of play provided good balance to their pairing.

In the third match, Fitzwilliam’s King and Farren-Mahon defeated May and Knapp 7-5; 7-6 (11-9) ;10-8 in by far the most thrilling encounter of the pre-lunch matches. Both teams were strong pairings working in tandem, King’s booming serve proving critical at key points of the match. Their win ensured Fitzwilliam went into the lunch break 2-1 ahead.

After a healthy salad lunch, the players resumed play at around 2.30 pm as the sunny weather became even more intense. Fitzwilliam’s Niland and Barry beat May and Knapp 6-2; 6-4 in the opening post-lunch match. This was countered by Doran and Auckland beating King and Farren-Mahon, also 6-2;6-4. These winning pairings looked and proved to be the strongest on their respective sides on the day as whole – the pro experience of Niland and Auckland particularly coming to the fore. This left the score 3-2 in Fitzwilliam’s favour. Childs and Hutchins soon managed to tie the match 3-3 with a 7-5; 7-6 win against Carpenter and Taylor – a tightly-fought match edged in favour of the more experienced English pairing on the day.

At 3-3, the match was evenly poised for an exciting series of concluding matches after tea. As the sun began to cast longer shadows across the courts, the spirit of competition intensified. Niland and Barry beat Doran and Auckland 1-6;7-6; 7-5. The final two matches were won by the All-England, however, to secure a tight 5-4 overall victory. For the English, Childs and Hutchins came good by beating King and Farren-Mahon 7-6; 7-5. May and Knapp beat Taylor and Carpenter 7-6; 5-7; 11-9, making for a thrilling conclusion to the day’s matches. Post-match drinks were never more well-earned by two sides after a hot, competitive day.

This was another typically close contest between the two clubs. So often in the past, the result has been a close 5-4 in one or other side’s favour. Although the All-England holds a decisive lead in the total number of annual wins in the event, of the last 12 encounters since the 2000 Millennium, Fitzwilliam can be proud to have claimed seven overall wins. The importance of such events clearly lies not in who wins, but in the Corinthian tradition of cementing ties of friendship and sportsmanship between player and clubs. Once the contest was over, a hearty dinner for the two teams was hosted in the Club as is the tradition (preceded, accompanied and succeeded by many liquid libations in the way all good sporting occasions should be hosted!). Next year, the event will be held at the All- England, always gracious hosts, carrying on a tradition of competitive tennis and hospitality between two clubs with long, illustrious histories and traditions.

Paul McElhinney

September 8, 2012

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