Northants’ teams are accustomed to performing the role of gallant minnows and the 9U mini-orange unit did it once more with distinction at the Corby Tennis Centre on Saturday.
Engaged in a ‘Festival Of Tennis’, which comprised seven other teams from six different counties, the home side managed a creditable third place thanks to a strong line-up of Max Graham, Sam Ball and Abigail Pearce in what is fast becoming one of the strongest events in the winter calendar.
The Northants side, coached by Kevin Hoey, were competing in an eight-team event, which comprised two apiece from Norfolk and Hertfordshire and one from Cambridgeshire, Nottinghamshire and Hereford & Worcestershire.
In total, 24 nine-year-olds contested a total of 60 matches, a satisfying exercise for centre manager and chief organiser Craig Haworth .
Northants started the morning in a group consisting of Norfolk A, Hertfordshire B and Nottinghamshire and although only Northampton girl Pearce was successful in the opening 2-1 loss by Notts, the county then went on to defeat Hertfordshire B 2-1 in a terrific contest.
This booked them a place in the semi-finals and a clash with top seeds Hertfordshire A.
The significance of this for Ball (pictured above) was a meeting with the number one girl in Great Britain for this age group, Indianna Spink, who was recently awarded a passport by the LTA which enables her to play in green competitions against the top 10-year-olds.
Spink has already reached her first national final in that age group and also recently represented Hertfordshire in the 12 Counties 10U age, winning all her matches without the loss of a game.
Ball played probably his best match of the day against Spink, taking the first set 7-6, but the Herts’ player’s greater experience shone through as she landed the second 7-5 and the decider 7-3.
Meanwhile, Graham beat the Hertfordshire number two 7-5 in the third set in his best match of the day, leaving Pearce playing for a place in the final.
Despite being full of cold, she played some excellent tennis but couldn’t find a way past her powerfully built opponent, suffering a 2-7, 6-7 defeat.
Northants were pitched into a third/fourth place play off with Nottinghamshire, who had lost to Cambridgeshire.
Tackling the same team who had beaten them in the group stage, Northants put in a superb performance to take it.
Ball reversed his previous defeat to beat Kieran O’Driscall-Pabla 7-6, 5-7, 7-3, although Graham was beaten.
Again, it all depended on Duston player Pearce who shrugged off her cold symptoms to win 7-4, 6-7 7-4.
Hoey, head of performance coaching at Corby, was the age group captain for Northants and did a sound job in advising players of tactics and composure, while the whole event was also assisted by CTC programme players such as Paige and Jack Haworth, Joe and Jamie Tyler, George Shields, Paul Hutchinson, Kieren Huxtable and Ross Mulligan.
LTA Performance Manager for Northants Justin Chacksfield and Corby assistant manager Stephen Comber cast an observant eye over the youthful talent on show.