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TENNIS: Coventry so close to glory.

Byline: BySALLY JONES

THE UNDER-13 boys from top Coventry club Esporta Warwickshire finished as gallant runners-up in the national final of the prestigious National Junior Club League Championship - losing to favourites West Hants by a single rubber after winning their first two singles matches.

The boys - Thomas Edden, Cameron Malik and David O'Leary, all nationally ranked juniors - fought their way through to the finals at Redbridge Tennis Centre in Essex after taking first the Warwickshire county title then the Midlands and North regional championships without dropping a match.

They continued their winning ways in the national semi-final, thrashing Gerrards Cross 5-0, and took a 2-0 lead in the final when Thomas and Cameron each won their singles matches, also against nationally-ranked opponents.

Cameron played near-faultless tennis to beat the highly-fancied Jake Fleischer in straight sets while Thomas displayed his excellent big-match temperament when, after trailing 0-4 in the deciding 10-point tie-break against Chris Helliar, he produced a string of winners to take the next 10 points and the match.

David, the Esporta No.1 who has risen rapidly through the rankings after a giant-killing run, then faced highly-experienced Alastair Barnes, who is ranked in the British top four in his age-group. But despite snatching the first set 7-5 and leading 4-2 40-15 in the second, the Coventry youngster narrowly lost it 7-5 and was bitterly disappointed as his powerfully-built opponent powered through the deciding tie-break.

With the whole match now riding on the final doubles, the crack West Hants partnership of Alastair Barnes and James Whike started strongly against David and Cameron and although the Esporta pairing staged a brave recovery in the second set, West Hants hung on for a thrilling victory.

The tournament organisers agreed that this was the closest final ever as the Esporta side received their finalists' medals and a cheque for pounds 350.

"Of course we're disappointed to be runners-up after coming so close" admitted 13-year-old Cameron, "but it was the first time any Esporta team had ever reached the national finals and everyone played out of their skins.

"Tom and I had two really satisfying singles wins in the final and David, who was up against someone higher ranked and on amazing form, took a set and came within a few points of winning the top singles rubber."

"The boys have done brilliantly," agreed team manager Chris Cash, an Esporta Performance coach. "They travelled all over Britain, playing their hearts out, to get this far and the final was so close, it could have gone either way. This has given everyone a huge confidence boost - and the way they've played this season, we've got high hopes that they might even go one better when they move up into the Under 15s championship, next time around."

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GREAT EFFORT: Thomas Edden, Cameron Malik and David O'Leary
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 23, 2004
Words:472
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