The Sevenoaks League’s Junior Development programme got under way on 11th November with a new club, Cleeve Park, making their first appearance.   The level of interest now is such that the programme has been extended to a second division which commences its activities later this month.

Division 1 therefore comprises teams from Amherst School, Cleeve Park, Darenth, entering again after a break of three years, South Croydon and two teams from Tandridge.   It immediately became apparent that the standard was going to be higher than last year and spectators were treated to some quality play.   There was a 50/50 split between debutants and the “old hands” from last season.

Round 1

Cleeve Park A’s Callum Ho and Devan Vadukal were scheduled to play Amherst A where Stein Russell-Jones partnered Oscar Owen.   All four were on debut.   The opening set between Owen and Ho was typical of the day’s play, keenly and sportingly fought out to a high standard.   Owen’s long range counter hits caused Ho a lot of problems in games 1 and 3 to go 2-1 up but he missed a vital one here and there in the fourth and fifth games, enough to let Ho off the hook.   There were two very nervous players in the next set where Vadukal managed to get past Russell-Jones in 11-9 in the third when under heavy pressure.   Cleeve Park took the doubles to make it 3-0 but Owen defeated Vadukal by the narrowest of margins over four games to open Amherst’s account.   Russell-Jones got a flyer in the first game against Ho, getting a lot of good stuff back but Ho changed tactics and it paid off in four to make it a 4-1 victory for Cleeve Park.

The only new boy in the Darenth A and South Croydon A match was Henry Morrell where he teamed up with Ben Forrester, formerly with Amherst, against South Croydon’s B team of last year, Nicolas Ito-Aramendia and Dominic Faulkner.   What a cracking match this turned out to be.   It began with a five game thriller with the left hander Morrell taking the first two games from Ito-Aramendia and coming so close to winning in straight games, just losing the third 11-13.   Ito-Aramendia ran off with the next one but Morrell built a slight lead in the fifth only to find the diminutive Ito-Aramendia nipping past him 12-10.   The next set was no less keenly fought out – a lengthy five game affair between Forrester and Faulkner.   Faulkner went 2-0 up, just taking the second 14-12, but Forrester beavered away, recouped the deficit and got home 11-7 in the fifth to level the match.   It isn’t often two left-right pairs contest the doubles so it was interesting to see how well it worked out.   Darenth took the first two games but something went wrong in the communication department in the third and South Croydon A turned it around to win in five.   Faulkner, who wasn’t feeling 100%, had no answer to Morrell’s heavy topspin and succumbed in straight games so it was down to Ito-Aramendia and Forrester to decide the outcome.   It went in four games to Ito-Aramendia for a 3-2 victory.

There were two new players in the Tandridge A and B domestic derby – Jack Coyne and Ryan Bailey who partnered Matthew Woodgate and Izaac Duncan-King respectively.   Every set required a fourth game which gives some idea of the enthusiasm.   The opening sets were shared with Bailey producing some excellent chop returns to beat Woodgate in four while Coyne replied for the A beating Duncan-King.   The A won the doubles after being pulled back to a game all 14-16 in the second by the B but recovered to win 11-8, 12-10.   This put the A 2-1 up.   The A won both the reverse singles but Woodgate dropped a game 14-16 to Duncan-King and Coyne also had to go to four against Bailey after losing the first game.   It was therefore 4-1 and bragging rights to the A.

Round 2

The closest match of this round was that between Amherst A (Owen/Russell-Jones) and Darenth A where Konrad Johnson joined Morrell.   Johnson was off like a rocket in the first game against Owen whizzing away with it 11-4.   However, Owen put a bit of thought into what he was doing and it paid off 13-11, 11-8, 11-8.   It was a nice start for Amherst.   Russell-Jones though found, as do many, that a left handed topspinner can be a problem and Russell-Jones couldn’t find the answers to Morrell’s attack.   One of the best sets of the day was that between Owen and Morrell.   Owen might well have won this in four as he dropped the first 11-13, lost his way in the second and then came back to take the third 12-10 and the fourth 11-8.   The fifth was anybody’s to win or lose and it went to Morrell 13-11.   Johnson roared out of the blocks against Russell-Jones but dropped the second game, lit the afterburners in the third before finally getting home in the fourth 12-10.   All credit to Russell-Jones who got a lot of good stuff back but it was 4-1 to Darenth A.

Tandridge B (Bailey/Duncan-King) had their work cut out against Cleeve Park A (Vadukal/Ho) and were stretched to the limit.   There were lots of high scoring games here – the opening set between Vadukal and Bailey typifies that, 11-7, 12-10, 11-9 to Bailey gives an indication.   Ho was given a hard time by Duncan-King, losing 8-11, 12-14, 8-11 is no disgrace at all.   Cleeve Park got on the board in the doubles where they held on to win 12-10 in the fourth.   Tandridge won both the reverse singles but Duncan-King was stretched to a fourth game by Vadukal.   Bailey’s greater reach was problematic for Ho who found it hard to get the ball away from him so it finished as a 4-1 success for Tandridge B.

South Croydon’s mighty midgets Ito-Aramendia and Faulkner fought hard with Tandridge A (Woodgate/Coyne) but they were up against bigger and more powerful players which made life difficult for them.   However, they didn’t give up and took a game in the doubles.

After two rounds Tandridge A are in pole position on nine points with Darenth A in second place on six.  Cleeve Park A and Tandridge B have five points apiece with South Croydon A on three and Amherst A on two.

It was all in all a very successful first meeting.   Everybody tried hard and never gave up.   They were well behaved and a credit to their clubs, it’s nice to see teams wearing matching kit too.   The next meeting will be eagerly anticipated.

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