It’s just week eight of the season and already the tennis club is well on its way to completing the season’s goals.
The women’s Scottish 1A features both St Andrews’ first and second teams, and whilst the twos are understandably struggling against the first teams of Stirling, Edinburgh and Strathclyde, the first team look set for serious title contention.
Confident wins against Edinburgh’s firsts and a draw against Stirling’s firsts mean the Saints sit comfortably in second spot, with a match in hand on Stirling, the early frontrunners.
On the men’s side, survival is the goal. Every team has to deal with graduation and the turnover of players that this entails. Occasionally, as is the case with the men’s team, you get unlucky. The first and second teams, which last year continued to be extremely competitive, have had to go through a near complete overhaul. Only Craig Stevens takes the same place he did last year, as the first team’s number one. Most of the players that comprise this year’s top teams were rather lower in the pecking order last year. It was expected, therefore, that this season would be a tough one – teams would come and go, but the results would be painfully consistent.
This has not been the case. An opening day draw against Glasgow’s first team was followed by a close-fought victory against Aberdeen. A setback against Stirling’s thirds means that St Andrews sit joint third in the table. A win next week could see the Saints rise to second, since the team have played two fewer matches than Stirling (joint third – same points) and one fewer than Glasgow (second – one point clear).
The initial success in the leagues this season for both men’s and women’s firsts has been complemented, too, by the men’s team (featuring one member of last year’s team, Ross Gamblen, along with Stevens, Blair Robertson and Gavin Harkness) picking up a rather unexpected trophy, beating Edinburgh-based St Serfs in the final match of the AEGON Team Tennis Division 1 in Scotland. This sets up a quarter-final tie for the British title, potentially against Queen’s Club or reigning British champions Sutton.
Much of this sustained period of success at Saints tennis can be put down to Mike Aitken, Director of Tennis, below, who is responsible for everything from training to video analysis. “Mike deserves a lot of credit,” said Blair Robertson, Tennis captain and regular first team player. “He is a great motivator, an incredibly committed guy, and he’s also very good at tennis himself, which is always helpful in one-on- one coaching situations. He’s actually just won Tennis Scotland Coach of the Year. It’s pretty clear we’ve got a good thing going with him.”
“Craig [Stevens] also deserves all the plaudits that can come his way. Most of the guys he played with last year have moved on and there’s a lot of weight on his shoulders every week.”
“But he seems to just get better with the pressure. He has certainly established himself as one of the best players in the league, and probably one of the best young guys in Scotland.”
“With the players we’ve got in the women’s team, winning the league has to be the goal.”
“It will be tough for them, though. Stirling always put out a good team, so it should be an exciting season watching them slug it out. Hopefully the twos can battle back and stay in 1A too.”
“We’ve got a pretty good thing going at the club right now. Attendance is high, and everyone seems motivated to play and train week in week out. Hopefully that will continue and everyone will be celebrating come the end of the season.”
Saints tennis have mixed the perfect cocktail, combining the experience and knowledge of Aitken with the talent and determination of both men’s and women’s squads. If the right players continue to come to the University, there’s little doubt that this club will continue to shine brightly.