Tue, Jan 2, 2024 10:40 AM
Two new names were added to the Rapaura Tennis Club’s lengthy honours board when the club’s annual Wairau River Wines New Year tournament concluded at the iconic grass court complex yesterday afternoon.
In a hard-hitting finale to the two-day men’s and women’s doubles competitions, Nelson’s Harry Pugh teamed with former Rapaura member Lee Harborne to down previous winners Gareth Robb and Hamish Morrow 6-4, 7-5 in the men’s decider.
It was a first title for Lee, now based in Christchurch, while 17-year-old Harry defended his title after teaming with big-hitting Remi Feneon to claim the title last year.
The decider was a closely-fought affair, just one break of serve in each set deciding the issue.
Top seeds Harry and Lee made a swift start, breaking Gareth in the opening game, then held their nerve and their serve to take the first set out.
Left-handed Harry’s powerful top-spun ground strokes, coupled with Lee’s silky touches at the net, kept Gareth and Hamish at bay, the more experienced second seeds unable to force break points on their rivals’ serve.
The second set went the way of the server and seemed bound for a tiebreaker until Gareth was broken at 5-5, Harry then stepping up to serve out the match in style.
For Lee, his first Rapaura doubles title has been a long time coming after. The 25-year-old reckons he has been showing up for around 12 years. He recalls earning entry into the main draw, when he was “about 13”, by winning the pre-event junior tournament and, more recently, recollects tasting defeat in the 2022 final, also playing alongside Harry.
“We almost took it out that year … then last year I had Covid, so it was good to finally get the win this time around,” said Lee.
Harry was initially unsure of making the event, despite a series of texts from Lee, as he is hoping to get a start in the Australian Junior Open.
“I wasn’t going to come because I was getting ready for Aussie, but then I decided to play some matches … it figured it would be good to play with Lee again, it’s always fun and we played really well together.
“Actually, I think it is my favourite tournament of the year, it is awesome.
“How they run it is unreal, it’s old school and has such a great social atmosphere,” he added.
In the semifinals Harry and Lee downed Connor Brosnahan and Liam Howes 6-2, 6-2, while Gareth and Hamish beat Dene Wilson and Ant Walkenhorst 6-4, 6-2.
The women’s final was a youthful affair, featuring arguably the youngest quartet in the event’s history.
Top seeds Ella Sowman, a year 13 student at Marlborough Girls’ College, and Lucia Gale, a year 11 student at St Margaret’s College, took on Lucia’s younger sister Emme Gale (12) and Nelson player Sabia Longman (14), seeded third.
Although the younger duo played with skill and power, making their rivals earn every point, top seeds Ella and Lucia utilised their courtcraft and wider experience to prevail comfortably, 6-2, 6-2.
It was a first Rapaura title for Lucia, one of the country’s most promising juniors and a national age group representative.
This was her first foray in the main draw after previously playing in the mixed event, and provided a good chance to test her skills on the Rapaura grass before tackling a couple of ITF events during January.
She relished claiming her maiden Rapaura title and thoroughly enjoyed the occasion, although suggesting it was a bit tough mentally playing against her sibling.
“It makes a bit more nervous … you never want to lose to your little sister you know,” Lucia added with a chuckle.
She and Ella recently played against each other in the doubles at the under-18 national champs, then decided to join forces for a shot at a title closer to home.
“The courts played reasonably well,” said Rapaura club member Ella, who previously won the title alongside Jade Otway in 2021, “and we had fun out there together.”
The women’s semis saw Lucia and Ella beat Felicity Sampson and Loren Hickin 6-1, 6-0, while Emme and Sabia downed Amber Lyons and Donna Clark 6-4, 6-2.
The finals were a fitting climax to an event played under sunny skies, with strong winds to contend with on Sunday.
The doubles tournament has become a fixture on the local calendar, drawing players from near and far for the past 45 years. This year the men’s competition attracted 26 entries, the women’s title contested by 16 pairings.
Two days of men’s and women’s doubles action was preceded by the mixed doubles competition on Saturday.
Played over a single day the event was contested by 24 pairings, with keen competition throughout.
Taking top honours was the local pairing of Ella Sowman and Dan Clarke, two of the province’s leading junior players.
They accounted for former Marlborough player and coach Dene Wilson and his partner Taylor Keen in one semifinal, prevailing 9-5. Their opponents in the decider were Lee Harborne and Christine Schnarre who downed Stu Campbell and Donna Clark 9-3.
The final was a closely-fought affair, despite the 9-4 scoreline, Ella and Dan’s consistency and all court games eventually getting them home.