Every two years, Oxford and Cambridge take on Harvard and Yale on the Prentice and Seabright Cups, with venue alternating between the two countries. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 Seabright and Prentice Cups in America were rescheduled to 2022. This year marks a historic win for both the Oxbridge Prentice and Seabright teams. Match report below, written by Emily Arburthnott, Michal Kaminski, and Jack Molloy.
Oxbridge Prentice Team: Esah Hayat, Michal Kaminski (C), Louis Manson, Ross Martin, Jack Molloy, Jack Wilson-Smith
Oxbridge Seabright Team: Emily Arburthnott (C), Anna Chesca, Mandi Furaji, Isabelle Marshall
The day brought the start of the eagerly anticipated matches. The Oxbridge team arrived on US soil with some of the strongest men’s and women’s teams in recent memory and to date had lived up to expectations; yet to lose a match on the tour (a feat owed in most part to the women for carrying the men in DC’s Orme Wilson cup). The first day would see each pair, both men and women, play one doubles match each, and the excitement was tangible as we enjoyed a brunch at the Rumson Country Club before the matches. After sufficiently fuelling up for the day, we toasted to a good-spirited competition and headed to the courts ready for battle.
Rain threatened play and the wind was up, but experience of the tumultuous British weather had prepared us well and we made a strong start across all women’s courts. After failing to convert a break in the first set, Anna and Mandi stormed back, vanquishing any nerves to secure a three-set victory against the top American pair, a vital upset that would keep our nose in front the following day. Emily and Izzy breezed through with a 61 63 win featuring some explosive returns and innovative net play to give the girls a 2-0 lead heading into day two.
Up first for the men were Jack WS and Esah, squaring up against the strong H&Y first pair, and Louis and Michal, taking on the H&Y second pair. Jack WS and Esah fought hard but were left to rue failing to back up a couple of service breaks as they lost in straight sets. Michal and Louis, however, had no such issues as their strong serving and solid net play on the big points secured a tight straight sets win. With the wind now in the Oxbridge sails, the onus was on Jack M and Ross to secure an all important opening day lead that would calm the British nerves and build some momentum for day two. Jack M and Ross rose to the challenge nicely, starting strongly and never letting off the gas. That ended a fantastic day for the Oxbridge teams; this was the first time that both Oxbridge teams had ever been ahead at the end of a day’s play.
We awoke the next day hopeful for a strong day of performances to maintain the momentum from Friday’s play. Reverse singles was on the cards for the girls while the boys had a busy day ahead with a singles and doubles match each.
With a lot of matches to get through, the first round of men’s matches, featuring Michal, Jack WS and Louis, started early. It was a mixed start for the men; while Louis continued to show the dominant serving he had displayed in his doubles the previous evening, Jack WS and Michal allowed their good opponents to build strong early leads. Michal succumbed to H&Y’s number 1 and Jack WS fell to H&Y’s number 3 (who had previously lost to Norrie 7-5 6-3 in the first round of an ATP event). With the score now at 3-2 in favour of the Americans, Louis pulled off a huge 6&4 win over H&Y’s number 5, who over the summer alone had picked up five ATP points. Particularly impressive was the manner in which Louis closed out the match; unaffected by the nearing finish line, he continued to back up his smart serving with assertive net play. Next up were Jack M, Ross and Esah, with the aim of reinstating a lead before the afternoon’s doubles round. All three first sets started promisingly, with Jack M and Esah going up early breaks and Ross on serve until five-all. While Jack M and Esah managed to close out their openers, Ross began to lose his grip of both racquet and match as the hot and humid weather took its toll and forearm cramp began to set in. Jack M closed out his match despite a slightly rugged second set showing, Ross lost his match, and Esah ground out a 7-5 second set victory in a tense baseline tussle. The Oxbridge men now held a crucial 5-4 lead with a round of our favoured doubles next.
The girls matches played out as seedings would predict, with Emily and Anna sealing comprehensive wins over the H&Y two and four, while Izzy and Mandi fell to their higher seeded opponents. Taking to the court first, Anna displayed her ‘classic Chesca’ craftiness, manipulating the ball around the court with different spins, rather bamboozling her opponent and drawing numerous errors from both sides to take a commanding win. Shortly after, H&Y scored their first point on the women’s side. Despite a valiant effort to stay competitive right until the final point, Izzy’s powerful opponent and Yale number 1 (who had recently beaten the top ranked collegiate player in the country) proved too strong and maintained the lead after a single break in both sets to notch a well fought win. In the following round Mandi appeared to be struggling with some nerves, which combined with the unpredictable surface, gave her Yale opponent an early lead, and Mandi fell in straight sets. The same could not be said for the top court where there was an evenly matched start as Emily and her Harvard opponent both comfortably held serve in the opening games, taking advantage of the low bouncing surface. With the score tied at 3 games a piece, Emily got into her stride with some well struck returns landing deep in the court, and she pulled away not losing another game for a 6-3 6-0 victory. The day ended with the Oxbridge ladies 4-2 ahead.
After the women’s matches, the men returned to the courts for some doubles action. Jack M and Ross couldn’t live up to their performance on day 1, failing to convert a few big chances at crucial moments of the second set to go down in straights to the H&Y first pair. With the Americans now starting to adapt to the low bouncing lawns, the H&Y second pair proved a handful for Jack WS and Esah, and would ultimately post a two-set win over the Cambridge pair after a close first set. With the score now set at 6-5 to the Americans, a win for Michal and Louis over the H&Y third pair was essential. After a slightly lethargic end to the second set, Louis and Michal, now very visibly struggling with illness, regrouped strongly in a U.S. college style atmosphere and were clinical in winning the decider 6-2. The duel was certainly living up to expectation at 6 matches a piece heading into the final day. Day 3 Before play began for the final day, we posed for the iconic picture in the cricket jumpers before taking to the court. Our tactics of drinking less than the Americans seemed to pay off for the women as Izzy and Mandi shot out to first set leads very quickly. Keeping the points short and moving up the court they showcased brilliant displays of net play to take early control. Mandi rebounded mentally from her Saturday loss, using the wind to cut slice serves into her left handed opponent’s backhand - practice with lefty Anna during the tour clearly coming in handy. On court 2, Izzy was following the teachings of SLTCC guru Pete Hurley with displays of the dirtiest grass court tennis of the weekend. Despite her opponent’s 5 inch height advantage, Izzy cut her slices so expertly that most of the balls were on the Harvard player’s laces. Both Oxford players sealed impressive victories, giving the girls a 6-2 lead, guaranteeing a shoot-out at the minimum, and landing them within a single match of victory. Also on court first were Jack M, Ross and Esah. Ross fell in straight sets to a barrage of clean ground strokes from the H&Y number 3 (and captain), Jack M varied the play and soaked up the power of H&Y’s number 1 to close out a commanding win, and Esah, having clawed back a 5-2 two break deficit to win the second set, was eventually outlasted in a long three-set duel with H&Y’s number 5.
Amid the topsy turvy drama of the Prentice match, Anna and Emily were on a mission to continue the Oxbridge women’s dominance, using excellent grass court play and adaptable defensive skills to outmanoeuvre their powerful opponents. Anna won first with a clinical performance to clinch the Seabright Cup for the Brits! Emily continued her dominance and improved the score to 8-2 shortly after, with some piercing serves, rapid movement and deft drop shots.
Back with the boys; despite a valiant effort from Michal, who had a set point in the first set, his severe illness proved too much of a hurdle against the tidy H&Y number 2. Now 9-7 down, and with Jack WS in a decider after squandering a set and 5-2 lead, the Americans appeared to have one hand on the trophy. In a display of supreme mental fortitude, Jack turned the tide with some incredible movement and trademark lightning backhand strikes to take the final set 6-4, having again let a 5-2 lead slide. Louis restored parity in the tie shortly thereafter in another three-set battle, utilising his vintage serve-and-volley skills to good effect in the closing stages. With a 9-9 score line heading into the final round, the stage was set for a Prentice Cup classic.
Attention turned back to the ladies’ courts for the final time, where despite the already determined result, all pairs competed in a sporting fashion, entertaining the spectators with two hotly contested three set doubles matches. After losing the first set on both courts, the Oxbridge duos recovered their merciless form with some effective kick serves and sharp volleys. Losing only three games combined in the final four sets, favour fell on the Oxbridge side once again and the final score came in as 10-2, rounding off an extremely successful weekend and the most convincing Oxbridge Seabright win since the Cup began in 2004.
The evening closed in quickly as the boys took to the court for the final doubles matches, aiming to take inspiration from the commanding ladies’ performances. A great display of tennis on all courts kept things close and fading light triggered a change in rules to a third set match tiebreak, only adding to the suspense. Jack WS and Esah eased through their first set, Jack M and Ross edged a tight first set, and Michal and Louis spurned numerous chances into losing a high quality first set. Advantage Oxbridge. However, now running into a few difficulties on serve, Jack WS and Esah struggled to stem the tide of their resurgent opponents, who, gaining in confidence, wrapped up the second set quickly. At around the same time, Louis and Michal made the decisive move in set two, breaking serve to lead 4-3. They would go on to serve out the set in convincing fashion while Jack M and Ross toiled for the elusive break in their second set.
No margin for error remained after Jack WS and Esah fell to their opponents in the third set tiebreak; Oxbridge now needed to win both remaining matches to win the Cup. Louis and Michael’s ten-point tiebreaker started as a cagey affair with both teams dominant on serve. It was at 7-5 down that the Oxbridge pair sprung into life; Mr Manson reading the out-wide serve and ripping a sensational forehand crosscourt winner. Confident, and with the adrenaline flowing freely, Louis landed two more first serves to eke out an 8-7 lead. That proved to be the pivotal moment in the overall tie as Ross produced a moment of magic at breakpoint on the adjacent court: a full stretch inside-out forehand first serve return winner.
At 8-7 up, and with H&Y serving, Michal punished a tentative volley from the opposing pair by unleashing one of the hardest forehands ever hit. The ball travelled in excess of 130 mph (not verifiable but you’ll have to trust me), cleared the net by about a centimetre and did not revolve once in the air. Another of Louis’ big returns later and the match belonged to Oxbridge. The equation was simple: Jack M and Ross just needed to hold serve to win the Cup.
Despite the obvious nerves, the Oxbridge pair navigated their way to 40-30 and match point. Jack M, however, had other ideas, instead seemingly wanting to extend the match and test the nerves of all British supporters by making a shanked double fault. With a good return on the next point, the H&Y team earned themselves a break point – their first in ages. Refusing to entertain the possibility of yet more drama, Jack M regained his composure to land a first serve and back it up with a Henman-esque backhand volley that practically rolled across the turf to erase the break point… deuce. A missed return this time handed the advantage back to Oxbridge and with that match point number 2. Another first serve and crisp first volley proved too hot to handle as the H&Y pair netted their groundstroke! Oxbridge had won the Cup by the barest of margins.
After the customary post-match handshakes, the teams lined up for the trophy presentation amidst the impending pitch-darkness. Lifting the trophy in front of family and Prentice alumni gave the Oxbridge players, as the women had earlier, a moment they will cherish forever. The Americans remained incredibly gracious, and should be commended for the manner with which they conducted themselves throughout the match.
2022 is now in the record books as the first year in which Oxbridge has ever won both Prentice and Seabright Cups. Such was the sheer quality of the ladies in dismantling the Harvard & Yale side that they were, to a certain extent, the victims of their own success; it was the tense finale of the men’s match that stole the limelight at the end of the day’s play.
After a quick turnaround, all players and committee members emerged at the closing dinner at the Rumson Country Club clad in black tie dress. George Billington in particular looked rather dapper in his marvellous union flag trousers (pants for the Yanks) - no surprise as to who he had been rooting for. As we arrived, the British boys took great pride in commenting how the neatness of their bow ties far exceeded that of their American counterparts. One final win clinched for the weekend.