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Herts Summer League - Berkhamsted 3 vs Melbourn 2, 11th July 2023

Melbourn lost 3-12

The seconds travelled to Berko hoping to end a run of two straight losses, a hope that took something of a knock when we arrived and the home skipper (who didn’t play due to a bug) admitted he had his strongest team of the season so far out to face us. Oh.

First to attempt to upset the apple cart was Will Brdashaw (3), fresh from his 14th birthday. Will was up against Mike Cowan, whose 14th birthday is also in the past… but rather less recently than with Will.
Game one saw Will’s fairly deep starting position causing himself problems as Mike’s height and swing had him moving backwards to stay safe. That gave Mike far too much room in the front court. A post-game discussion focused on getting in front both for tactical reasons and to feel safer, which Will managed to an extent as the game was much closer. That built confidence for Game Three when Will really got himself up the court and began to dictate play. Key to this were some excellent chips down the wall out of his deep backhand corner, Will turning rallies around to allow himself up to the ‘t’ where he could do damage. It all added up to a very slickly taken game. Hopes were high with his teammates when Will started game four well, moving 5-3 up, but a run of a few points and generally tiredness caught up with him as the run of points against continued and continued; 5-3 became 5-13. Oops. Some late resistance as Will went back to what had worked showed what might have been… but the deficit was too much to recover from, Will losing 5-15, 11-15, 15-9, 9-15.

Next on was Jan Brynjolffssen (1) against Mat McHugh. The first game saw Jan build an early lead as he fought and scrambled well… and also benefitted from some unforced drop shot errors from Mat. That saw Jan 12-7 up, only for Mat to dig in to level… and then Jan to respond in kind to take the game 15-12. This was good, the second was better as Jan kept things tight and deep and benefitted from more errors from Mat’s racquet. 15-6. 2-0. OK! A drop in intensity proved fatal in game three though, Jan ending up hoping for the errors instead of asking serious questions to encourage them. 7-15 against. Hmm. More shot pace meant a rapid start to game four and a 5-0 lead. Could Jan hold it together to close things out? All went well up to mid-game, but then Mat came roaring back and it was the home player who got to 14 first at 14-12. Now it was Jan’s turn to dig in saving game point after game point, to earn a match ball at 16-15. But this was well saved, and despite saving another game ball at 17-16 the game eventually escaped. 2-2.
Before the decider Jan told his teammates he still felt fresh. Two rallies and limited movement into the game he realised this wasn’t true! But if that was the case for him it probably was for Mat as well. It became a case of battling and fighting. Unfortunately for Jan Mat was doing that better, getting 13-7 up. That became 14-10. Five match balls. But even now Jan wouldn’t give up as one, two, three were saved by desperation running and hitting. Would things turn around again? Mat was looking nervous, but a deep shot that Jan could only just scramble back allowed him the front wall. One pump down the backhand got another scrap back, and with Jan still trying to recover a flicked drop onto the forehand side found a yawning gap to complete the Berko player’s win. Jan lost 15-12, 15-6, 7-15, 17-19, 12-15.

Which took us to Sean Hamilton (2) against Derek Brown. Though Sean didn’t realise it this was an extremely tough match up for him as Derek had previously only played this summer at top string, with good success, or for Berko 2nds! Anything Sean could get from the rubber was a bonus. The problems were evident immediately in game 1 – Derek is fast (very fast) and could run down any of Sean’s attempted drops and kills. As Sean game is all about killing the ball that was a bad combination. A one-sided first went to the home player. Post-game tactical advice for Sean was don’t drop shot, ever, he will get them. Don’t give him the front wall. Just rally and rally and rally and hope for an error. It may take a while to come. This worked… but was exhausting. Sean built a 12-7 lead on the back of it, but things turned with a really extended rally at that point that Derek won, and left Sean basically out on his feet. At this point he was desperate for exits from rallies so started attempting to kill the ball again… with the same effect as Derek won a string of points to turn the game on it’s head. That was basically all she wrote, Derek cruising through the third as Sean lost 5-15, 12-15, 7-15.

Jan commented after the game “Grant [the Berkhamsted skipper] said before the game it was the strongest line up they have put out this season. In the circumstances we did well to give ourselves chances to win some of the strings. It wasn’t to be, but everyone played well against opponents who they would be expected to lose to.”