COVENTRY tennis stars Natasha Hillyer, 28, from Binley, and Soumeya Anane, 23, from Earlsdon, have turned in fine performances for Warwickshire women’s side in the elite Group 1 of the Aegon County Cup at Eastbourne.
They have played doubles together in ITF tournaments across Europe, but captain Katie Shaw decided to split the seasoned partnership, pairing Hillyer with rising star Summer Yardley, 17, from Solihull, while Anane first teamed up with 18-year-old Katie Malazonia during day one’s impressive 6-3 victory over Middlesex.
She was then paired with the talented Manisha Foster who made a last-minute dash from an ITF tournament in Dublin to boost Warwickshire’s hopes and they performed well despite a 6-3 defeat overall at the hands of reigning champions Surrey.
Hillyer and Yardley, who had won three rubbers out of three against Middlesex, battled hard but, after a fine win over the youngest Surrey partnership, were just edged out by their top two pairs.
It was a rapid learning curve for the teenager but Hillyer’s canny tactics and teamwork kept her on track. Anane and Foster at first pair lost a cliff-hanger to aggressive Surrey seconds Lily Miyazaki and Laura Slater, as did Warwickshire thirds Leyla Ogan and Luisa Cowper.
However, Surrey’s top partnership Candida Reid and Jasmine Ashgar – bizarrely nominated as their third pair despite winning 15 out of 15 last year – looked invincible and, despite some hugely competitive tennis, the only rubbers Warwickshire clinched were against the least experienced Surrey pair.
Despite the defeat, however, Shaw praised all her girls for their fighting spirit and was impressed by how well new pairing Foster and Anane combined, staying bubbly and determined in the tightest of situations.
“The girls tried their hearts out,” she said “and all showed terrific teamwork despite being up against the favourites”.
“Manisha looked a class act and she and Soumeya never gave up against experienced, big-hitting opposition. Our youngster Summer Yardley, who’s only 17, kept going for her shots and she’s forming a really effective partnership with Natasha Hillyer, while Luisa and Leyla battled bravely and won their final rubber of the day against a strong young pair by cleverly varying their tactics.
“After beating Middlesex on day one, there’s still all to play for. Herts and Kent are also looking very strong and it’s probably the highest standard County Week ever. All the same, I’m convinced we can stay up and finish high in group one 1.”
Stratford coach Cameron Malik came in for the last rubber of the day in the county men’s side, bidding to win promotion in group five at Felixstowe, partnering 19-year-old newcomer Oliver Nolan.
They lost narrowly, however, and could not prevent a frustrating 6-3 defeat by West of Scotland in a rain-affected match, in which any rubber that went to a set all was decided by the unpredictable ‘shoot-out’ of a championship tie-break.
With the first day’s play entirely wiped out by rain, the teams were asked to play two rubbers of their second match after finishing the first.
Captain Nathan Rooney and highly-rated Luke Hammond, 19, won two out of three and were only edged out by the top Scottish pair in a close tie-break.
However, the rest of the inexperienced side could only glean one more rubber, thanks to second pair Richard Partridge and Simon Ferguson, both from Coventry who produced the win of the day against the top pairing, but then lost to the other two pairs in straight sets.
At the time of going to press, they led Nottinghamshire 4-2 overnight so need just one more rubber in the final round to record an overall win.
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