HRH The Earl of Wessex marked an historic occasion for Leamington Real Tennis Club when he attended the finals of the first Women’s World Real Tennis Championships ever staged in the Midlands.
Prince Edward, himself a keen player and knowledgeable ambassador for the game, watched as reigning champion Claire Fahey, 23, from Essex battled to defeat her elder sister Sarah Vigrass in an unexpectedly close encounter 6-3, 6-1.
Fahey, the greatest-ever female player and head professional at the Holyport Club, where the prince is a member, had dropped just one game in her previous matches.
Sister Sarah had other ideas, however, and despite her underdog status held points for a 3-0 lead in the first set before Claire’s explosive power and experience began to tell.
To the delight of the packed gallery, the pair staged arguably the highest standard women’s match ever witnessed and then combined to take the doubles title 6-0, 6-0 with an entertaining display against six-times world champion Penny Lumley and her daughter Tara, the world’s top under-21.
The prince, accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire Timothy Cox, made the presentations after meeting the players and members of the real tennis fraternity including Guy Stanton, chairman of Leamington Real Tennis Club.
Local players also shone in the earlier rounds and the handicap events.
Felicity Sargent, 17, from Combrook, won four matches to reach the quarter-finals of the handicap doubles championship partnering Eve Shenkman of Manchester before losing narrowly to the eventual winners Lucy Hutchinson and Isabel Candy.
Sargent and partner Linda Sheraton-Davis lost a hard-fought battle in the Open doubles to former world champion Sally Jones from Newbold Pacey and Hatfield’s Louise Mercier.
Jones and Mercier then bowed out to second seeds Penny and Tara Lumley in the last eight.
The event, played on the galleried indoor courts at Leamington and Moreton Morrell attracted a record entry from the UK, France, Holland, the US and Australia.
Saskia Bollerman, 20, a biology student at Leiden University in Holland and a National League lawn tennis player made history when she won the plate event, becoming the first Dutch player to take a world title.
Bollerman trains and competes with the Dutch squad a few times a year on the court at Radley College, Oxfordshire, since there are no real tennis courts in Holland.
“It was a fantastic tournament,” said LRTA chairman Alex Garside.
“It was really encouraging, too, to see so many talented young players coming through.
“The viewing galleries were packed, all the matches were streamed live on YouTube and we had generous sponsorship and corporate hospitality throughout the week so it’s given scores of people the chance to watch the women’s game for the first time - and played to the very highest levels.
“We’re also hoping lots more women will be inspired to take it up as it’s a really strategic game with a good handicap system that means women can play it on equal terms with men.”