As Michaelmas Term 2023 kicked off in Oxford, the European Universities Clay Court Challenge began at the Monte Carlo Country Club, Monaco, and 7 lucky Blues players got the opportunity to compete on the famed red clay overlooking the Mediterranean.
The trip started early on Friday morning, with Izzy and Lou leaving home at 1am on the Friday to fly from Gatwick whilst Sama, John, Jack, Brendan and Sam slept in to the luxurious hour of 3am and flew from Luton. Several hours later, the crew was reunited in the glorious sunshine of the Monte Carlo Country Club and nursed a couple of coffees and diet cokes to get woken up, ready for that afternoon’s matches. Our first match of the competition had us facing Italian university Bocconi. Izzy and Brendan played in their respective singles matches, whilst Jack and Sama teamed up to play the mixed doubles. Izzy started the team off with a convincing straight sets win whilst Brendan was a set down in his match, facing a very mentally-challenging strategy from his ‘classic clay-court baseliner’ opponent. Making great use of his powerful serve and forehand, Brendan overcame his opponent in the third-set match tiebreak. This captured the tie for the Oxford team. Meanwhile, Jack and Sama were facing a very vocal Italian pair and, after a couple unfortunately-timed net-cords, lost in the 3rd set match tiebreak. This win for the team meant that our matches were rounded up for Friday and we had the rest of the evening off. This only meant one thing- beach! We joined up with our friends from Cambridge and walked down to the gorgeous rocky beach, floating in the water on our backs to look up at the incredible scale of the city carved into the rock face. Later that evening, we rejoined the teams at the country club for a fantastic buffet-style dinner and got to thank the very generous Jean-Luc who, being the link between MCCC and HEC Paris, was our official host for the tournament. Eventually, the early morning and matches of the day began to catch-up with us and we headed desperately to bed as we knew we were playing in the first round of matches the following day.
Saturday morning kicked off with an 8:30am rendezvous at the tennis club following a breakfast at the hotel. We faced the Spanish team, ESADE, keeping Brendan and Izzy in for the singles whilst Sam came in to team up with Sama in the mixed doubles. Izzy dominated her opponent in straight sets, as did Sam and Sama, despite a couple of loose balls hit at each other. Brendan found himself, once again, up against a very classic European clay-court baseliner, and patiently tempered his aggression effectively to take the win in the second-set tiebreak. Oxford win 3-0 and win the group, securing themselves through to the semi-final. An unexpected but welcomed encounter with tennis hero Matteo Berretini capped off an amazing morning!
After another fantastic lunch in the sunshine, we began our semi-final vs host-team HEC Paris. After scouting the team, and some useful information from Trinity and Cambridge, we decided to switch-up our line-up and put in Brendan for the mixed doubles, teaming up with Sama. Jack, knowing he was facing a highly-experienced player, played in the mens singles, and Izzy continued in the womens’ singles position. Brendan and Sama used their strong serves to take the doubles convincingly, whilst Jack put up a valiant fight ultimately to be ousted by the frenchman. 1-1 in the tie. Despite some controversial line-calls from the opponent and one call for the referee, Izzy eventually got the job done 6-1 6-1 to take the match for Oxford and send us through to the final.
After watching the end of the other semi-final, celebrating our success with a very scenic refreshment, we knew that we were going to be facing old rivals, Cambridge, in Sunday’s final. Saturday night’s gala dinner was once again, a fantastic spread put on by the MCCC. Some teammates got to try oysters for the first time and, the rest of the teams got to hear a very unexpected and improvised speech from John. At the end of the dinner, we took a few team photos in our finery and then decided to head out to visit a Monte Carlo landmark… the casino! Whilst none of us had the funds to compete on any of the tables, browsing the stunning building and the extravagance of the place was an unforgettable experience. After a walk through the city and some attempted persuasion from the other teams to go out to a bar, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.
Sunday morning came and, since the final was scheduled for the afternoon, we had the morning to our leisure and took our time fuelling up at breakfast. Sunday was, by far, the hottest day of the tournament and we made sure to hydrate plentifully before the match. The match started off with a point on the board for Oxford, as Sam and Sama won the mixed doubles in straight sets. After taking the first set comfortably, Izzy was now 5-2 down in the second. Despite a hustle to get back to 5-4, a painful bounce-smash miss on top of the net gave the set to Cambridge and the match was to be decided in a match-tiebreak. Meanwhile, Brendan was fighting back in his singles, despite losing the first set. Izzy held her nerve in the 10-point breaker, finishing with a serve and volley, to claim the title for Oxford. The rest of the team refreshed themselves at the bar and sat in the sunshine to watch Brendan determinedly fight back to take his singles to a third-set breaker too. After a tenacious battle and calmly maintained aggression, Brendan took the win in the match tiebreak and brought the overall score to 3-0 Oxford. The presentation followed swiftly and was gratefully accompanied by some delicious refreshments. The organisers at HEC Paris put on a fantastic weekend of tennis and the hospitality from the Monte Carlo Country Club was second-to-none. We had a fantastic weekend and look forward to returning next year to defend our title!