Amherst 2, Crowborough 2
(Wilson Sandford Winter Doubles –  Ladies League 2) 

There is a friendly but deep-seated rivalry in Hastings tennis between its two private clubs: The Green, whose courts are located in the street of that name in St Leonards, and Amherst, tucked on the Hastings side of Summerfield Woods. Each club currently enters five teams in the Tennis Sussex seasonal doubles leagues sponsored by Wilson Sandford. While The Green offers three men’s fours and two women’s, that proportion is is reversed at Amherst. And after some years when The Green Ladies, headed by the formidable pair of Beaula Page and Amanda Ruck, could reasonably regard themselves as the top team in town, that primacy has been reversed over the past year or two as Amherst Ladies have been promoted past them in both summer and winter leagues. 

Captain Jane Garrett ready to receive 
PIC: Dave Young

Last Sunday, a miserably damp and grey morning was enlivened by an enthralling contest on the artificial clay courts of Amherst between the home team and visitors Crowborough. The latter’s top pair, a hard-hitting Pole Ania Messenger and athletic Brazilian Lila Dixon, had not dropped a set in any previous league matches this autumn, but were almost toppled by Amherst pair, Jane Garrett and Jo Charter, who lost a contest of almost two hours only in a third set tie-break. Nikki Crowhurst and Debi Ani, Amherst’s second pair, were later comprehensively beaten by Ania and Lila. But each Hastings pairing won in two straight sets against the second-string visiting pair, to tie the match 2-2.

It’s a familiar story for Amherst these days. At this level the opposition often includes professional coaches, fringe county players or other high-rated individuals – but not usually four of them together. The Amherst team, by contrast, has no stars among its six or seven regular players, but a strong team ethic and a mix of playing styles, which enables them to compete overall at this level. They practise together on a regular weekly basis, and captain Jane puts pairings together that will complement their strengths.

Jo has a flat, swinging forehand that can dominate rallies from the back of the court; Nikki hits ground strokes, both forehand and backhand, with enviable power; Debi has superbly aggressive volleying skills; Jane’s  full array of strokes is mixed with a degree of cunning, she rarely plays the same shot twice in a rally; Pearl Hare, not in action last Saturday but featuring in the two previous matches this autumn, also has an excellent all-round game – “steady”, as she likes to call it.

As well as a high standard of play, the general level of sportsmanship and chivalry between players is quite remarkable. Of course it is normal in club tennis to play a highly competitive game without an umpire or line judges, and to trust your opponents’ line calls without demur. But compliments to an opponent for a winning shot or commiserations on a narrow miss are also the norm. Winning or losing, the contestants are enjoying themselves. Would that every sport could be played like that!

Read our interview with the team here

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