BATS AGM, Hampshire Court Hotel, 13-15 March 2020

By Janice North.

While several of our members arrived on Friday, I chose to arrive as I always do on Saturday morning, in good time for the start of the AGM itself. Our total number of attendees this year was somewhat depleted at just seventeen, a significant reduction on last year when we had been celebrating in quite different circumstances. Additionally of course, this year our meeting was held amid the unsettling emergence of Coronavirus, a completely unprecedented state of affairs.

It’s fair to say that on top of this, we were confronted by a few little challenges almost immediately. Upon arrival to the conference room, our first source of dismay was the initial absence of coffee, milk and our usual relished individually wrapped cookies, which had been disappointingly replaced by a few loose biscuits in a basket, not exactly reassuringly hygienic in the current climate. 

However, after this minor hiccup we continued gamely into our meeting, only to then encounter “Ant-gate”, a completely new phenomenon whereby a plethora of ants were present in little bowls of sweets on the tables! Not something we’d paid for and so was duly reported to the hotel, with photographic evidence of said ants recorded from various angles by several members!

After the meeting, we duly dispersed for a quick snack lunch before heading off to the tennis courts for our annual tennis tournament, something I have come to enjoy very much! There were ten of us playing this time and at the conclusion of each set, we acknowledged our congratulations to each other with the completely new method of communication, now known as The Elbow Bump.

As a result of some extremely spirited competition and very close sets, it was nearly three and a half hours later that the winners were decided. Congratulations to Joanna Hobson and Denzil Chapman!

By 6pm, my poor old body felt ready for a lie down if I’m perfectly honest, but the lure of catching up with good friends and considerable hunger pangs spurred me into my black dress and heels for drinks and dinner.

We met in the bar for our customary aperitifs and then migrated back to our meeting room in anticipation of a delicious meal. However, once again we sadly felt a little neglected due to there being a wedding party in full swing at the hotel, resulting in many of us enduring a lengthy wait for our food, by which time the corners of the tablecloth were starting to appear most appetising!

That said, the food was delicious when it finally arrived and our members enjoyed a thoroughly enjoyable little soirée together, catching up on recent events and of course Coronavirus, the hot topic of the day.

The next morning we of course met for breakfast and languished over multiple coffees to continue our chats about the previous evening and journeys home etc. 

I think it’s fair to say that after the party atmosphere of the previous year, this year’s AGM felt a little flat, what with all the concerns about Coronavirus swamping the collective conscience and the lack of the usual good service at the hotel. However the sheer heartiness of our members and determination to have a lovely time all together regardless, in spite of the challenges we face, purely served to reinforce to me how proud I am to be a member of such a fantastic association and how fond I am of people I have come to get to know as friends. We can all hope that next year will find us unencumbered by either the threat of hideous viruses or by the infiltration of the Basingstoke ants brigade. I for one will look forward to it immensely.

Janice North

Our Visit to the Magnificent Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney for the Inaugural ATP Cup

By Rod McIntosh. 

Our cunning plan, not for the first time, was hatched after several glasses of the red stuff with our great friend, Jane, when she was visiting Anita and myself over in Javea. Like ourselves, Jane will have done her own mini Grand Slam, when we arrive in Melbourne next Monday. Currently, we are holed up in Adelaide, having had another great day’s tennis at the international tournament here, where we were fortunate enough to see the likes of Danny Evans, and the home favourite, Ash Barty, and a young Canadian, who I tip to go very far in this great game of ours, Felix Auger Aliassime.

We aimed to spend a week in Sydney, followed by 4 days in Adelaide, and then on to Melbourne for the Open. We experienced one of those magical serendipity moments, as, when we were planning our itinerary, Anita suggested that we spend one day only at the ATP Cup. By complete chance, the day we booked tickets for months ago, happened to feature our GB boys take on the mighty Aussies right in their own backyard in the quarter finals. We were so excited, as we caught a taxi to the complex from our apartment in Darling Harbour. The stadium was a 45 minute journey to the Olympic Park, on the outskirts of the city. A few days later, we were out there again to see Sir Elton John in concert in the Qudos Stadium, where he performed like the consummate professional we all know him to be.

The first match on court was to provide a very tough challenge for Cameron Norrie, in the form of his Aussie counterpart, the irascible, mercurial, and richly talented Nick Kyrgios. Somewhat predictably, the task proved beyond the plucky Brit, and the occasionally, controversial Aussie won comfortably in two sets, meaning that Britain’s numero uno, the highly competitive Danny Evans, would have to beat Alex de Minaur, if we were to stand any chance of progressing to the semi-final. Danny proceeded to produce a typically combative and doughty performance to beat his opponent in a highly entertaining 3 set match, which he clinched in a tense third set tie break, finishing in a flourish, with panache and some style!

So, as we have often experienced over the past few years in traveling around, cheering on the lads in the Davis Cup, in places like Glasgow, Serbia, Rouen, Ottawa, and Naples, everything would be decided by the result in the doubles. Not surprisingly, Leyton Hewitt decided to stick with the Kyrgios/ Minaur combination, while Tim Henman plumped for the dependable Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury, who we were seeing for the first time. There then followed a fantastic doubles encounter, played with so much passion, endeavour, intensity, enthusiasm, with no mean skill, amidst a fantastic atmosphere, with the Aussies roared on by a partisan home crowd. The British pair, however, stuck doggedly to their task, winning the first set reasonably comfortably. Predictably, the Aussie duo came storming back, winning the second set, with some aggressive and very entertaining tennis.

The Championship tie-break to decide the tie was one of the most closely-contested, exciting, and totally compelling, we have ever witnessed in many years of watching tennis. The impetus kept switching from side to side, with no pair ever getting more than two points ahead of their opponents, and before we knew it, GB had held no fewer that 4 match points to gain a place in the semis. Both Jamie and Joe stuck doggedly to their task superbly, despite not converting three match points. Crucially, and agonisingly, the ball sat up nicely for Jamie to put away a simple volley, which is, arguably, the strongest part of his game. In the event, he inexplicably hit the ball beyond the baseline. This remarkable escape seem to fire up the Aussies, and they produced some of their best tennis over the remaining points to squeeze through by the tightest of margins -18-16 -so close, yet so far for the Brits.

The match was played in a great spirit, and, although the home support was extremely vocal, which was to be expected, they often appreciated and applauded the great winning shots flying off the racquets of the two British lads, and they all received a standing ovation at the end of an epic, gladiatorial contest, with everything being left out there on the court by the marvelous participants. We were thrilled to have been present at such a fantastic contest and also to witness the first year of this new completion in one of our favourite sporting countries. It also happened to be the inaugural year of the Adelaide International Tennis Tournament, so we felt doubly blessed! We were very fortunate to avoid all the horrendous bush fires which have ravaged the country, but our hearts go out to everyone affected.

Davis Cup Finals: Caja Magica, Madrid – 19-24 November 2019

By Janice North

This was the inaugural event for the new format Davis Cup Finals, anticipated and regarded by many with a significant dose of scepticism. For years, there had been a consensus that the 119-year competition needed to change. However, the actual changing of a tradition which had existed in its previous format since 1981 was not welcomed by many tennis die-hards, even though the main aim for change was to encourage participation by the top players in a way which would not exacerbate further burnout on the already punishing ATP tour.

There were around 80 of us BATS members who travelled to Madrid and It’s fair to say that as we started our Spanish adventure on the Tuesday evening at the James Joyce Irish pub, we were all a little unsure of what the new format would hold for the fans, as many had presaged it as a devaluation of the Davis Cup. However, the emotions and heart and soul bared both on and off the court at the Caja Magica trounced this particular concern completely.

The presence and complete engagement of so many key players in Madrid has been seen as one of the successes of this change, as has also the willingness by fans to embrace it in our usual wholehearted manner.

The players all displayed an obsessive determination to win and this was equally matched by the emotional patriotism of the fans, screaming their support for their teams at every match we attended.

While some teams were well backed, notably GB by ourselves and Spain, the home nation in full voice, there were others that were less well supported, resulting in the sad sight of half empty arenas, notably in our quarterfinal match against Germany, where it’s fair to say we had our pick of where to sit.

Part of what made the old format so hugely successful for the fans was the partisan, tribal atmosphere at every match, so we were fortunate that our round robin matches against Holland and Kazakhstan were all of this ilk, and naturally even more so with our subsequent semifinal against Spain, when the atmosphere in the stadium resembled more of a bullfight than an actual tennis match!

Further support for Team GB was generously provided by the LTA in the form of free tickets to the semi final, at a cost of around £60,000 and which spawned an overwhelming response. Andy Murray had also instructed British fans to make “plenty of noise” in the 12,500-capacity arena, an endeavour always richly embraced by our wonderful BATS members.

There is no doubt that the new format presented some teething problems, particularly with scheduling issues, most ostensibly on our first round robin day, which took just under 9 hours to play out, resulting in a much delayed evening session. A combination of late night / early morning finishes for several teams contributed to some fatigue and yet in spite of this, the sheer passion and commitment was incredible to behold.

Team GB fought and played out of their skins to reach the semi finals and moving forward they can be immensely proud of their achievement in reaching the last four of the finals. The star player in my mind was Kyle Edmund, who won all three of his singles rubbers in straight sets.

As staunch British tennis fans, no one however could fail to be rendered open-mouthed with awe at Rafa Nadal’s sheer dominance and determination that Spain would win on home soil, nor fail to be moved by the subsequent presence and raw emotion of Roberto Bautista Agut in the aftermath of his father’s death.

I know I speak for many BATS fans when I say that while this event clearly had issues that needed tweaking, it still bore all the hallmarks of excitement and tribal hysteria that we all love about Davis Cup and I for one am already looking forward to the next finals, which as semi finalists this year, Team GB have already qualified for in 2020. Bring it on, I say!

Janice North – November 2019

ITF Changes to Wheelchair Tennis Classification Rules

On August 2nd the ITF made some changes to the way Wheelchair players are classified. Classification is a detailed process by which a player’s physical disability is assessed, and the players are required to show medical evidence of their condition.

The “bottom line” of this is that some players have been “de-classified” and therefore can no longer compete in certain events including the Paralympics.

De-classification is like a disqualification, which suggests it is with immediate effect.

However, although the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) has sanctioned the changes, the ITF has decided that the changes will not take effect until 2022, so AFTER Tokyo.

This means that players who are no longer eligible to compete are still allowed to play in Tokyo.

Needless to say, there is much anger and disbelief among the “legitimate” players who are now in their build-up to Tokyo 2020.

You can read full details about the changes on the ITF website by clicking here.

Putting Wheelchair Tennis in the Spotlight

By Daniel Flower.

Although I’ve watched wheelchair tennis many times on television and enjoyed following stars like Gordon Reid and Jordanne Whiley compete in the Paralympics and at Wimbledon, last weekend’s British Open in Nottingham marked the first time I had actually attended a live wheelchair tennis tournament.

At the end of a fantastic day watching some of the world’s top players, I definitely came away from the Nottingham Tennis Centre wondering why I hadn’t attended in previous years or indeed followed the sport more closely in general.

Despite a disappointing loss for Andy Lapthorne in the Men’s Quad Singles final, I very much enjoyed watching three closely fought contests and often found myself marvelling at the high quality of tennis on display. The bad weather meant that all matches were played indoors, but in some ways that added to the experience because it meant that you were much closer to the action than would otherwise be possible. There’s also something about indoor tennis that enhances the atmosphere and excitement.

Later in the day I met up with Jo Vince, a fellow BATS member and regular volunteer at the tournament. Jo has followed wheelchair tennis closely over the years and has a real passion for promoting the sport to a bigger audience.

Jo’s involvement meant that we were lucky enough to have an opportunity to meet and sit down with two-time Grand Slam singles champion and Paralympic Gold medallist Gordon Reid.

During our chat, we asked Gordon about his thoughts on whether he believed there had been a noticeable difference to the sport since the LTA took over the wheelchair game. Although this change happened relatively recently, he seemed quite positive about it and said he believed promoting wheelchair tennis under the LTA banner is a good thing for the sport.

My overriding impression after visiting the tournament is that wheelchair tennis has fantastic potential to grow and gain in popularity beyond the level it is at today. With the LTA’s involvement and tournaments like Wimbledon placing a greater emphasis on the wheelchair event, more people will get to experience the excitement of playing and watching this compelling sport.

Despite this, promoting wheelchair tennis is still very much a work in progress. From a BATS perspective, it is also our belief that we need to be more visible at the wheelchair events. If you get the opportunity, I would really encourage you to visit the tournament next year and experience it for yourself. Together we can do our bit to promote the sport and put wheelchair tennis more firmly in the spotlight.

Fed Cup: Great Britain vs Kazakhstan, Copper Box Arena – By Janice North

Contribution by Janice North, a BATS member – April 2019.

I joined my fellow BATS supporters on Day 2 of the Fed Cup play-off between Great Britain and Kazakhstan, and what a thrilling day of play we were all treated to.

This play-off would be the fifth in eight years whereby Great Britain had sought promotion to the World Group and with the score from the previous day standing at 1-1, both teams still had everything to play for.

First up on Day 2 was the battle of the respective team number 1’s, Johanna Konta and Yulia Putintseva. The gutsy Kazakh took the first set 6-4, prompting an immediate and defiant response from Konta in the second set. She systematically muted the noisy Kazakh band’s drums and trumpet throughout by breaking Putintseva twice, winning 68% of the total points to take the second set 6-2 and level the match.

With momentum now clearly with our Brit, a slightly reserved optimism was in the British crowd, as we were all too mindful of Putintseva’s ability to come from behind to win.

However, it was Konta who prevailed, demonstrating dogged determination to fight back from a 1-4 deficit. A time violation which had preceded a double break against her, fuelled a spectacular and steely comeback. Konta went on to win 16 of the last 19 points to secure her 11th successive Fed Cup singles victory, leaving the door well and truly open for her team mate Katie Boulter.

With the score now at 2-1 to Great Britain and just the one win required to secure promotion to the world group, the stage was set for the No2 showdown between Katie Boulter and Zarina Diyas.

Having just watched Konta’s fight back, Boulter knew she had everything to play for. However, a very close first set which culminated in a tiebreak, resulted in a flattening 1-7 loss of the set. Furthermore this was swiftly followed by Boulter going down a break in the second set too and for a time it seemed that Boulter was losing her grip on the match, just as Diyas appeared to be enjoying an apparent ascendancy. However the fortuitous sounding of a car alarm going off heralded a double-faulting which allowed Boulter back into the match to level at 2-2.

By this time, some drums had been acquired from seemingly nowhere by some of the British spectators which helped to match the resurgent cacophony of the Kazakh band. At this point, the atmosphere in the Copper Box Arena began to reach fever pitch, propelling Boulter onwards to break again and take the second set 6-4.

The third and final set produced nothing short of a spectacular whirlwind of determination from Boulter who romped through the gears to a 5-1 lead, with one game left to play, to serve out for victory. She held firm, taking the match on her third match point with a thumping ace, to the delirious joy of the crowd and her fellow team mates.

The whole Great Britain team, Jo Konta, Heather Watson, Katie Swan, Harriet Dart, together with their coach Anne Keothavong, all of whom had been like a coiled spring courtside, raced onto the court to embrace Boulter in her moment of glory and proceeded to celebrate together with a joyful dance of thoroughly deserved triumph, which was wonderful to behold.

This victory for Great Britain has ended a 26 year wait for Fed Cup promotion and while Britain will no doubt face stiff competition against the world’s elite, at the very least, Britain’s victorious Fed Cup team will finally start next year in the higher echelon.  We await news whether this will be in World Group II or in the revamped World Group with a fighting chance to lift the Fed Cup trophy.

Our heartfelt and proud congratulations to you all on your achievement.

Janice North

Davis Cup 2018: GB v Uzbekistan – By Janice North, a BATS Member

I am thrilled to have been invited to write this article on our latest Davis Cup tie. Sadly this was the last tie in the old and much loved format, but still the tie which would uniquely determine if we would be seeded or not in the new format coming into effect next year.

This home tie saw a return in venue to the Emirates Arena in Glasgow and along with a few others, I flew up on the Thursday evening, just in time to join other BATS members for a little soirée at the Society Room, a Wetherspoons pub in the city centre. This was the perfect opportunity to collect tickets, greet fellow members and get kitted out in BATS attire in readiness for a weekend of very vocal, rousing support for our team!

Both Terry and I had chosen to stay at the Sandyford Hotel in the West End of Glasgow, which subsequently turned out to be ideally located within  a stone’s throw of a couple of excellent restaurants we discovered for dinner at the weekend – a most opportune discovery, for as we know only too well, all this cheering & flag-waving to Back Our Brits is hungry work!

Day 1 was to provide us with an epic seven and a half hours of tennis, comprising two thrilling 5-set matches. First up was Dan Evans of GB in his return to the Davis Cup team vs Denis Istomin, Uzbekistan’s No1 ranked player.

Evans took the first set on a tiebreak, with Istomin levelling the match with a second set win. It was then that things went a little awry for Evans, with Istomin bageling him in the third. However, this ignited a defiant and determined fight back from Evans, taking it to a fifth & final set in which he overcame a stunned Istomin.

Next up was Cameron Norrie vs Djurabeck Karimov, a hitherto relatively unknown quantity before the match, who to expected form lost the first two sets to Norrie, but then just as we were anticipating a fairly predictable straight sets win, then proceeded to inexorably turn the match around, starting with an unexpected tiebreak win in the third and going from strength to strength to secure the win in the fifth set, thus notching up a 1-1 tie at the end of play.

Day 2 of course was the doubles with our long-established team of Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot vs Denis Istomin and Sanjay Fayziev. With some wonderful shot-making from both teams, it was Team GB who prevailed with a straight sets win, bagelling the Uzbeks in the third and giving us a 2-1 lead in the tie going into Day 3.

On arriving at the stadium on Sunday, the published first match was of course expected to be the reverse singles, with Cameron Norrie due to play Denis Istomin. However, it was announced that unfortunately due to an ankle injury, Istomin would be replaced by his previous day’s doubles partner, Sanjay Fayziev.

We had been agog with speculation on how Cameron Norrie would rise to the challenge after his tough defeat on the first day, a defeat which was almost the mirror image in reverse of his 5-set victory over Bautista Agut in the Davis Cup tie in Spain earlier in the year. We were not to be disappointed though. A clearly determined and resolute Norrie systematically dismantled the talented Fayziev’s game in less than two hours, to produce an impressive straight sets win, with another bagel in the 3rd to take Team GB to a 3-1 victory over Uzbekistan.

It was then with some dismay that we learnt there would be no further play that day! Now, bearing in mind we’d barely passed 2pm, we had hoped at the very least to be treated to a single set exhibition match. Sadly, this was not to be and in spite of our win, there were many of us who felt rather subdued and flat as we left the stadium.

For me personally, I took the opportunity to work off my disappointment with a brisk run that afternoon, taking in the sights of the botanic garden, the university and the art gallery before meeting for another sumptuous banquet in the evening!

As I write this, we are still awaiting the draw to announce who our opponents will be in February and in so doing, find out whether we will be home or away. Leon Smith has already stated his fervent hope that the ITF grant us one of the two available wildcards and in so doing sidestep February and join the four semi finalists from this year’s tournament, France, Spain, Croatia and the United States advancing straight through to the finals in either Madrid or Lille in November.

Wildcard or no wildcard, home or away, I for one will be there Backing Our Brits again. Thank you BATS for another wonderful & memorable Davis Cup weekend. Roll on February!

Janice North

Fed Cup in Talinn, Estonia – By Lynne, a BATS Member

I must confess at the outset that I have a preference for men’s tennis, which of course is somewhat unsisterly of me, but so it is. However, the Fed Cup has rather altered my view over time, given the range of teams on offer, and a quite different experience. The dates of this tournament did not really sit too well for those of us who travelled to Marbella for the Davis Cup – some people travelled back to the UK then back out again for Tallinn. Others, like my group, headed off via Stockholm from Malaga to Tallinn. All in a day’s work you may say. We felt the travel experience was of interest.

For people not too sure how all this works in relation to the women’s team game, please do not refer to this article as a definitive analysis. Both the Fed Cup and the Davis Cup are remarkable in their complexity of zones, probably something to do with large numbers of teams. I once read a book about it all but I remain non the wiser really. What I can discuss is the most recent Tallinn experience where 14 teams were involved – quite an array of tennis spread over 4 days.

The format is round robin and with 14 teams, there were two pools of 3 teams and two pools of 4 teams. The first three days then, were spent on matches within pools as it were and the play off matches were played on the final Saturday. The prize for two of the teams was to advance to the World Group II play-offs later this month in Japan.

Serbia triumphed in their pool comprising Bulgaria and Georgia and GB were in the other pool of three. We distinguished ourselves by winning all our rubbers against Estonia and Portugal. Jo Konta and Heather Watson did well enough, and Katie Boulter and Anna Smith complemented one another as a new doubles pairing.

Hungary won their pool, needing to play 3 matches against Croatia, Slovenia and Sweden while Latvia won their group against Poland, Turkey and Austria. Jelena Ostapenko caused something of a stir as the Lativian more highly ranked star.

Our GB play off was against Hungary and we won without too much energy expended. It felt as if we should be the champions of the whole event, but the strange feature of the Fed Cup is that on this occasion, we won the right to try again for promotion out of the Euro-Africa zone 1 where we have been languishing for some time.

If you want to see the most highly ranked tennis players live, you are best avoiding the Fed Cup. The outcomes are most certainly dependent upon the extent to which the “celebrities” are prepared to turn out.   Poland may have fared differently for example, had Radwanska participated. On the other hand, the Davis Cup is likely to suffer from the same thing and, at least at the Fed Cup, there are lots of opportunities to talk to tennis players and collect autographs if that is what you like. Seating is often very close to the action and the atmosphere is much more intimate. The main court had tiered seating and, of course when Estonia were playing, the home crowd was in and noisy. Otherwise, the event is a relatively quiet affair.

When GB was not playing, there was the opportunity to negotiate the snowy landscape and sight see, or venture to the Old Town or take a ride in the warm shelter of the tour bus. Thankfully not open top. We did all of those things (some of us had done the Fed Cup before in Tallinn so fond reminders were available). We also chose to attach ourselves to the Turkish team for a session, becoming very involved in the fabulous efforts of Cagla (Chaala) to overcome opponents more highly ranked than herself, of Latvian origin. So supportive were we in all the excitement that the whole Turkish team presented us with a pennant, signed by each of them. We even wondered about appearing on the Turkish Tennis Federation website!!

And so our work was done – GB overcame and moved on through. L’Ermitage Hotel in Tallinn is every bit as good as the Von Stackelbertg, although the mulled wine is not quite as some of us remember it. Nothing stays the same, this we know.

So, while Japan may be a step too far for some of us, may I recommend the Fed Cup as a feast of women’s tennis well worthwhile the effort. A return to Budapest would be most welcome for some of us.

Lynne Moran

April 2018