WARWICKSHIRE men agonisingly missed out on a second successive promotion at the Winter Inter-County Tennis Championship.
The county had to settle for second place behind a strong Hertfordshire side in Group 2B with only head-to-head record separating the two teams in the standings.
Both counties won two matches, triumphing in 16 of their rubbers while losing the other 11, as the Bears 6-3 defeat to Hertfordshire ultimately proved decisive.
Men’s captain Gavin Henderson, from Warwick Boat Club, said: “The boys played superbly.
“We came into the Championship knowing we’d have to fight to stay up, so to come so close to winning promotion was amazing, though it’s frustrating that it should all have come down to our head-to-head record against Hertfordshire.
“I’m lucky to have a great mix of seasoned experienced players and some very talented younger ones and they all played their hearts out.
“The team spirit was brilliant. We won our second promotion in a row at Summer County Week in July, so we’ll be in Group 2 next year – and this performance has shown us that we are capable of reaching Group 1 of the Winter Championships too.”
Henderson’s side began the Championship at Edgbaston Priory Club with an impressive 7-2 win against much-fancied opponents Buckinghamshire.
Warwickshire’s top singles player, Luke Simkiss, aged 24, who trains at David Lloyd in Coventry, survived a three-and-a-half hour marathon to beat Michael Shaw in three tight sets.
And he combined well with Solihull’s Mason Recci in a tie-break decider before Coventry’s county champion Richard Partridge claimed a convincing win in his rubber.
Former national junior champions Harry Lazell from Warwick and Luca Pow then won their singles matches before beating Gavin and Calum Mckinlay as doubles partners, losing just four games in the process.
However, several tight games went against Warwickshire in their clash with Hertfordshire the following day.
Simkiss lost his tie despite leading 4-1 in games in the final set of his match with Charles Broom with the latter ranked around 500 places above the former in the world rankings.
The Bears trailed 4-2 after the singles matches with only Recci and Warwick’s 16-year-old rising star Ferran Redza recording wins with the latter producing a superb final set fightback.
Lazell and Recci scored the only doubles victory, though Simon Ferguson (Four Oaks) and Alex Griffiths came close with the pair edged out in a championship tie-break.
And despite Warwickshire’s final day heroics to thrash previously unbeaten North of Scotland 6-3, the county just missed out on promotion.
Simkiss, Lazell, Recci and Redza all won their singles matches with Recci winning six rubbers from six over the course of the Championship.
Recci also partnered Lazell to another fine doubles win while Stratford-upon-Avon’s Cameron Malik and Simkiss saw off North of Scotland’s first doubles pairing with a stylish win.
However, the county’s inexperienced and young women’s side, severely depleted by injury and other tournament commitments, suffered relegation from Group 3B at Grantham.
A narrow 5-4 defeat to West of Scotland on the final day sealed Warwickshire’s fate although Lois Porter, Lucie Butler, Shennai Chehal and Marina Beckinsale provided hope for the future with a series of battling performances.
Women’s captain Katie Shaw, a former British international player and coach at Edgbaston Priory Club, is set to retire after 25 years as county skipper.
Her string of Group 1 Championships victories during her tenure makes Shaw Warwickshire’s most successful captain of the modern era.
The LTA’s competition manager, Rory McCutcheon, presented Shaw with the prestigious Paul Hutchins Award for her services to tennis.