Owen Saunders writes:

In the inaugural RTC Men versus Women match the ladies, led by Nicola Doble, triumphed over RTC’s men by a convincing 4 1/2 to 1 1/2 points margin.

Billed as the Battle of the Sexes, the men chivalrously let the women secure a healthy victory, as anything else would clearly have been caddish behaviour. On a balmy afternoon and evening in late May, competitors also engaged in a range of subsidiary competitions to decide overall athletic supremacy. The negotiations for what these competitions should be included suggestions from men’s captain Owen Saunders of hunting/gathering, arm wrestling and reading a car atlas, and suggestions from Nicola of home baking, soaking in a long hot bubble bath with a Marian Keyes book, and giving partners the silent treatment. Eventually they settled on a boules tournament, a coconut shy and a mini golf style putting contest throughout the club room.

By general consent it was agreed that none of the couples should be pitted against each other.

In the main event Glyn Saunders led off the men against double varsity Charlotte Barker, with steely determined Charlotte’s giraffe serve and piercing ground strokes proving too much for Glyn who went down 10/6. Next up was experienced Alec Miller and newby Elwyn Hughes against steely determined Helen-Frances Pilkington and steely determined Kate Lawrence. The ladies got off to a great start, but somehow the men got to 7/5 up… before losing the next seven games in a row to lose 12/7. Things didn’t look much better for the men with Simon Edmond 4/0 down against world number two Karen Hird in the first singles match. However, Simon persevered with accurate width and well judged forcing and used his handicap to maximum advantage, eventually bringing mistakes from the steely determined Karen and winning 8/6, although Karen had her chances at 6/6.

In the next doubles Owen Saunders and George Sleightholme took on the world’s top two left handed women, the steely determined Sue Haswell and the steely determined Nicola Doble. The boys had their dander up and race out into a 4/0 lead, but were eventually pegged back in an entertaining game with some frantic rests. The ladies clung on to level the match at 8/8 with the last hit of the match.

Karen Prottey fought hard to hold of Saverio Campione in a very tense battle that could have gone either way, especially when Saverio’s railroad started firing, but with steely determined Karen’s 10/8 victory came an unassailable lead for the women. In the final rubber, Dick Cowling and Dorian Drew looked all at sea as Sue Haswell and Elvira Campione, both playing with steely determination, volleyed their way to a 10/7 win.

Most Valuable Player awards, decided by the opposing captains, went to Helen-Frances and to Simon, with Elvira and Dick taking the champagne for the subsidiary events. The glorious trophy now adorns the trophy cabinet, to spur men on throughout the year to trying harder.

It was great to see such a range of handicaps play – 21, 24, 27, 31, 34, 35, 36, 37, 42, 43, 45, 49, 50, 56, 57, 62, 64 – showing that everyone can join in these sorts of events.

The men have now decided that this match forms the first leg of a three match challenge. No more Mr Nice Guys: the next challenge will be full contact 15-a-side rugby in the club garden.

It’s Summer 2010 and thirty-two sporting competitors are battling through a group stage, then knockout rounds, to win one of sport’s most sought after prizes … not the football World Cup, but the 2010 King’s Goblet Summer Doubles.

Where the football World Cup had controversy and talking points, we had one player accidentally passing through to the Hazard side before the incoming servers had passed through (unbelievable, I know!).

Where the football World Cup had a Group of Death with Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast battling against each other, we had regular playing partners Tim Church, Nicola Doble, Simon Edmond and Owen Saunders pitted together.

Where the football World Cup had former champions France never get into their stride and then descend into a nightmare of recrimination and soul searching, we had … Nick and Tom Carew Hunt.

One key difference was that the English won this one, as Kate Lawrence and John Priestland defied the summer heat to emerge triumphant, making full use in the final of the handicap allowance against David Blizzard and Peter Mather to win 10/6.

Group Stage

Received wisdom is that the key factors in doubles are a) experience in doubles b) an evenly matched pairing and c) an appreciation that a terrible shot over the net is better than a brilliant one that goes into the net.

On this basis the pre-tournament favourites were generally agreed to be Oliver Buckley and John East, Nick and Tom Carew Hunt, and Nicola Doble and Simon Mansfield.

Oliver and John set the early pace on day one, blowing away the competition by winning 36 games and conceding only 11, generating a ‘goal difference’ of +25 games. This was remarkable given that the next best goal difference in the group stages was +12.

The highlight of Group 1 was Oliver and John taking on Richard East and Adam Lawrence, as brother fought against brother in a no holds barred contest. The result was a resounding 11/5 victory to Oliver and John, a result that will surely be brought up at key moments in East family get-togethers for many months to come.

The crucial game in Group 1 turned out to be Victoria Carew Hunt and Terry Marsh against Richard and Adam, with Victoria and Terry victorious as Terry used his ‘crouching tiger’ serve to great effect. This secured them a place in the knockout stages.

Group 2 turned out to be the tightest of the groups, with doubles expert Keith Smith pairing up with Dan Callaghan and pulling out his chopped drag serve at crucial points to bring victory and top place in the Group.

In Group 3, Peter Mather excelled throughout, taking a fearless position up at the galleries and letting very little get past him. His high standard of play was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he played most of the time with his shorts nearer his ankles than his waist, his fetching turquoise briefs on full display – which I am reliably informed is à la mode nowadays. With Peter playing up, David Blizzard ran the back and gave another of his masterclasses in accurate volleying.

The Carew Hunts never got into their stride, with frustration eventually getting the better of them as they seemed to target the stronger opponents rather than the weaker ones and repeatedly overhit. It was a strangely lacklustre performance from the experienced pairing, but rest assured they will come back stronger.

John Priestland and Kate Lawrence grew in confidence. John showed good tactical nous and targeted the weaker opponent and the right areas of the court. Kate was tenacious and confident in the volley.

In the Group of Death, the sting was taken out by the withdrawal through injury of Owen Saunders in the first match, which meant walkovers were given to all their opponents. This was especially unlucky for Owen’s partner Mike Shattock, who looked to be playing considerably better than his handicap. Despite walkovers being given, Nick Wood generously filled in for the third match which Mike and Nick lost 13/2 to Simon Mansfield and Nicola Doble – the biggest loss of all the games played in the tournament!

Knockout Stages

The pick of the quarter-finals was Tim Church and Peter Flood overcoming Oliver and John 8/5. Despite their pre-tournament billing as potential winners, Buckley buckled and East’s game went South when confronted by inspired opponents and a large handicap difference.

In the semi-finals David Blizzard had dominated the match against Church and Flood with Peter Mather popping up at the net with some crucial volleys on the way to an 8/4 lead when the bell sounded for the end of the time.

Kate and John had a tighter semi-final against Simon Edmond and Clive Dacre, but a couple of crucial 40-all games turned the match in their favour and at the bell they had opened up a 7/5 lead.

The final was the second meeting of the two pairs over the weekend, with Kate and John having won the close match in the group stage. Despite David’s eager efforts charging around the court volleying expertly (and despite a new pair of fetching black and red briefs for Peter), the handicap of receive ½ 30/owe 30 proved too much as both Kate and John retrieved well and took their chances when they came along.

Thanks to Nick and Stef for sterling work in the dedans over the three days (no need for any video replays here) and for such an enjoyable competition, and well done to Kate and John for a thoroughly deserved victory.