Norfolk Ladies foiled in bid for tennis’ Winter County Cup promotion

Norfolk Ladies missed out on a Winter County Cup promotion at the weekend after losing to group-topping Surrey on the final day of Division 3B.

Wins over Nottinghamshire and the North of Scotland on Friday and Saturday set up a promotion showdown with Surrey but the team came up short in the singles on Sunday at Easton College.

Friday began well for Norfolk as youngsters Klara Moolman and Maria Andrews put the side 2-0 up at numbers 5 and 6 respectively; Andrews winning in three sets on her senior County Cup debut.

Sam Noble was beaten at number 4 but Olivia Nicholls battled through a three set epic to put the team 3-1 up.

The top two singles players for Nottinghamshire were extremely strong and Karen Highfield and Lucy Brooks both lost to leave the match level after the singles rubbers.

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Norfolk's skill on the doubles court came into effect as Highfield and Nicholls thumped their opposition 6-1, 6-1 before Moolman and Andrews produced a crucial victory in a championship tie-break at third pair to give the team the perfect start to the weekend.

North of Scotland, the weakest team in the group, were soundly beaten by a Norfolk team who welcomed Pippa Horn and Amy Partridge into the line-up at the top on day two.

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Horn, Brooks, Highfield, Nicholls and Andrews each won in straight sets and Partridge recovered well from dropping the second set of her match to win 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

The doubles were won comfortably by all three pairs and the 9-0 whitewash meant that if Norfolk beat Surrey on Sunday they would be promoted to Division 2.

Surrey were a very different proposition to Saturday's opponents but the Norfolk ladies showed great fighting spirit and, after Andrews had lost at 6, Nicholls overturned a set deficit to win at number 5 and it was all to play for at 1-1.

Captain Highfield led by a set but her opponent came back to win and when Brooks was forced to retire with an injury the team were really up against it.

Horn won 6-1, 6-0 at number 1 but Partridge was beaten at number 2 which made the score line 4-2 after singles.

Norfolk would require all three doubles rubbers to come back and win but with the injury to Brooks and no substitute available to replace her in the doubles line up, the match was conceded to secure promotion for Surrey.

Highfield found the positives despite the disappointment on Sunday: 'The injury to Lucy meant we couldn't quite do it on Sunday but everyone played well and fought hard towards the goal of promotion all weekend. It was great to have Pippa in our line-up for the first time and we will be stronger as a result going forward.'

The Norfolk Men's team competed in Division 1 of Winter County Cup for the first time in their history and finished third behind National Champions Hertfordshire and runners-up Surrey at the University of Bath Tennis Centre.

The team will however play in Division 2 for the 2013 competition as the third and fourth-placed teams in the top flight are relegated to be replaced by the champions of Divisions 2A and 2B. Norfolk knew that victory against Surrey on Friday was crucial to survival hopes but it was a slow start as debutant Harry Weeds, Dan Wynne and Nicky Crawley were all beaten to make the score 0-3. Veteran Tom Spinks provided a masterclass to put Norfolk on the board but Captain Barry Fulcher and number 1 Richard Bloomfield each lost in three sets to leave Norfolk on the wrong end of an unassailable 5-1 scoreline. Bloomfield and Crawley and Fulcher and Spinks added some respectability to the score in the doubles and Norfolk ended up losing 6-3 which meant that only victory against national champions Hertfordshire would see them avoid the drop.

It looked for a while as though Norfolk might catch Hertfordshire napping on Saturday as Spinks and Wynne both led by a set at 5 and 6, but both matches swung in the favour of the champions and suddenly Norfolk were 2-0 down. Crawley faced a huge task at number 4 and was beaten in straight sets before another Norfolk lead was overturned at third singles as Fulcher lost in three sets from a winning position.

James Auckland came into the line-up at number 2 and competed well with his opposite number but came up short in two close sets before Bloomfield was beaten in straight sets. Just one doubles rubber was played and Auckland and Wynne held match points before losing 12-10 in the final set tie-break and Norfolk were beaten 7-0 overall.

When Surrey's win over Yorkshire was complete, Norfolk and Yorkshire's fate was sealed and the two counties would play out a consolation match on the final day. Singles wins for Tom Lamming, Spinks, Fulcher and Auckland and a doubles victory for brothers Dan and Jonny Wynne gave Norfolk a 5-2 victory to salvage third place nationally and some pride from the weekend.

Nicky Crawley summed up the team's result: 'It's an odd one to finish third in the country, our highest finish ever, and still be disappointed because we have been relegated. It has been an incredible run in recent years and we are still in the top flight for Summer County Cup, which suits our squad much better.'

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