Men’s 1st’s 2nd’s & 3rd’s - A mixed bag
With victory number one in the bag against the snow and ice, the Cambridge Badminton Club (CUBaC) arrived in Oxford on Friday 2nd March to contest the most hyped-up match of the season against age-old foes Oxford. Unbeaten since 2011, Oxford were undoubtedly confident but Cambridge brought an ex-Singapore international to the show as one of the four new faces in the men’s first team as well as the traditionally great depth in their squad, and were ready to take the fight to the dark blues.
With the showdown of the Men’s 1sts not to be played until Saturday, the 2nd’s and 3rd’s singles matches dominated Friday’s schedule.
Kicking off proceedings it was Ryan Ng and Matthew Daggitt who claimed the first wins of the day for M2 and M3 respectively, both taking comfortable two-set victories and giving the light blues some extra confidence. In M2 this theme continued as Ben Wharton won in straight sets, but Oxford mounted a fightback in M3 as Oliver Nelson-Dummett lost his very tight first set 26-24. Despite winning the second set 21-11 Oliver had given it all he could and lost the third and deciding end, but not without a valiant effort. Both Cambridge teams struggled in their third matches of the day, with Rory Xiao and Ayngaran Thavanesan unfortunately losing out to their opponents in close matches, for M2 and M3 respectively. For M2 it was plain sailing from there on in, with Andrew Sheet, Neel Doshi and Tom Wade clinching the final 3 wins, including the former winning the first set of his grueling match 30-29 as the whole crowd held their breath throughout the sudden-death point. M3 found things more difficult; Sahil Mali conquered his opponent, but Jaakko Heiskanen and Pheng Chew Tan were beaten in grudge matches by an ex-Cambridge traitor and Neel’s brother respectively.
In the two Friday doubles matches, M2’s Ben & Rory took a confidence-inspiring win in straight sets, and Pheng Chew & Kevin Teo (in his first game of the weekend having not played the singles) won theirs 21-15 in the third and deciding set.
This meant that overnight the men’s overall score was 9-5 in the light blues’ favour, but Cambridge knew that the Saturday’s matches would be tough, especially after being fed pizza and made to sleep on airbeds by the tactical Oxford team.
It was an early start on Saturday, and the M1 singles matches stole the attention of the crowd. Sadly this wasn’t a particularly pretty sight for the Cambridge supporters, as one by one they watched their players fall by the wayside. Syaun-Jyan Sun was very unlucky to lose his match 22-20 in the third set; it doesn’t get much closer than that. The next four light blues were all sadly beaten in two sets; Jonny Scott, Thomas Sheat (albeit with an impressive improvement from 21-6 to 21-18 from sets one to two), Ben Roberts and Ritish Desai - all formidable players were beaten by Oxford’s strong first team. It was then time for the big one - the top men’s singles players at each university facing off against one another. It was an all-singaporean affair, with Cambridge’s Marcus Liang intimidating his opponent from the very beginning with a tactical post-warmup shirt change gaining whistles and applause from onlookers. It was a tense affair, but Marcus struggled to keep up with the speed and amazing shot-making of his opponent and unfortunately lost 21-15, 21-18.
Although this put Oxford ahead, all hope was not lost as there were still lots of doubles games to go for all the men’s teams. In M1 the dark blue domination continued, but with third sets being lost 24-22 and 21-17, 18 & 19 it was frustratingly a case of so close yet so far for the light blues. The only victory in M1’s 14-1 defeat came when Thomas and Ben played very well against the 3rd Oxford pair, taking the win 21-11, 21-17 and thankfully avoiding the ‘donut’ for the team.
In M2 it was a more positive story, with the success from the previous day continuing. Cambridge won 5 of the 8 remaining doubles matches, and Oxford had to fight hard to earn their 3, with Cambridge claiming a set in each. Ben and Rory held their nerve and their serve as they took an impressive 26-24 win in the third set of a nail-biting match. Andrew & Ryan won all three of their doubles games, whilst Neel & Tom won one of theirs, marred by a critical mistake by Tom in the closing stages of the final set in one of their losses. Despite this M2 took the overall win, 11-4.
M3’s results were a mixed bag in the doubles, as Sahil & Ayngaran and Pheng Chew & Kevin both lost out to Oxford’s top M3 pair, but Oliver and Matthew Daggitt managed to beat them 21-12, 21-18. Sahil & Ayngaran went on to win one of their two remaining matches, including a very close three-setter in which they just clinched the first 25-23. Pheng Chew & Kevin also one further match, but could only took one set in their final game of the day. Oliver and Matthew finished the day having won two and only lost one of their doubles matches, but nevertheless Oxford took the M3 win 9-6.
Oxford had one M1 and M3 but M2 had gone the way of the light blues, with the dark blues taking the overall win on the men’s side of the competition 27-18.
Women’s 1sts - Closer than the Scoreline
The “party bus” arrived in snowy Oxford ready for the best weekend of the year. Oxford have a notoriously strong women's’ first team, but as we arrived in the hall it looked as though they’d spent more on branded court barriers than badminton this year, so hopes were high for W1.
In the first singles of the day, Becky Donaldson’s new and improved serve was not enough to get the win from Oxford. Next followed newcomer Briony Whitfield who put in a great performance against their 4th seed taking it to three ends but again not quite managing to get over the winning line. Neha Madhotra and Sarah Collins put in strong performances against the 3rd and 2nd seeds respectively but unfortunately the Oxford girls were just too strong.
Returning from a year out due to injury, Steph Potten put in a valiant effort to face their top seed and ex-England international Ira Banerjee. Potten’s deceptive returns were great to see, with the whole Cambridge side celebrating at every point won. Katie Clark fought hard against a girl with more ankle support than ankles and took it to three ends. In an extremely
close 2nd end, Ankles just took the win but it was a fabulous improvement against an old rival so Cambridge remained optimistic about the next day.
After a rather cocky Facebook post from Oxford (angery reacts only), W1 took to court on Saturday with a newfound determination. The Oxford team were extremely strong, but we were determined not to lose in a whitewash. All pairs played well, but with 2 games left to go, a win was looking unachievable.
That is until Madhotra and Collins went on court for what would be Collins’ last Varsity game for CUBaC. They had a fantastic game, and moved well with Madhotra’s racket speed putting Oxford on the defensive and Collins’ skill getting back everything that Oxford could possibly throw at them. It was a tense game as everyone was well aware that this was our best chance to save our dignity. Thankfully, they came through, as they have done so many times throughout the season, making the score 8-1 to Oxford.
The score was perhaps not what we had hoped for, but the team came off court proud at all we’ve achieved this year (including many gains from strength and conditioning) and safe in the knowledge that we would win the race to get intoxicated that evening.
Women’s 2nd’s Varsity - Light Blues Success
Given the customary strength and depth of the Cambridge squad it is no surprise that the Women’s seconds had more success than the first’s. Maria Chukanova, able to throw all her energy at her singles game, took a convincing victory 21-7, 21-8 to kick off proceedings, although this feat could unfortunately not be copied by Felicity Coan against a tough opponent. An exciting victory in the deciding set by Chantelle Foster got nerves jangling in the crowd, whose spirits were only slightly dampened by unfortunate but hard-fought losses for Catherine Yong and Jean Yang. In the final W2 singles match, Kimberly Chan put on a strong performance to comfortably level the scores at 3-3 - still all to play for.
Onto the doubles matches, and Coan & Prachi Vaid were unlucky not to clinch 3 out of 3, narrowly losing out 21-16 in the final set against Oxford’s number 1 pairing. Yong & Yang played very well, managing to win 1 game in straight sets, but regrettably couldn’t quite handle the pace of the other 2 Oxford pairings in hotly contested games. Chan & Foster played out of their skin to win all three of their doubles matches, 2 of which in setting in the deciding set, making Foster unbeaten on the day, an impressive feat. With this, Cambridge were victorious by a scoreline of 9-6 - not quite reversing the defeat felt in W1, but an emphatic victory to be proud of nonetheless.
All the women would like to extend their thanks to Captains Jean Yang and Kim Chan along with President Catherine Yong for all they’ve done to improve the club this year. Yong’s negotiation skills especially (Ryan, I’m looking at you) will be sorely missed.