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european u17s a recap

 

European U17's

Words: Dan Font

 

Slovenia would be my first major tournament as a coach. Having been to many as a player, the opportunity to go away as the coach was a great honour for me.

For obvious reasons the planning that went into just this one trip was phenomenal. Rules and regulations, testing protocols, fit to fly tests, etc. however it all went quite smoothly and everyone tested negative.

Having arrived safely late on the Monday evening it was nice to have a little wonder around. The hotel was situated on a complex which comprised of a few hotels and apartments which players were staying in. For the first 3 days we had been allocated the early slot for breakfast. A 6:15 slot to be precise! This was to ensure teams kept isolated from each other as much as possible until all players and coaches had returned negative tests after arriving. The hall could be seen from the hotel and was just a short walk down the road.

The first few days consisted of getting used to the hall, practice sessions and getting into competition mode. These extra days preparation were extremely useful after 18 months of lockdown. Everyone was keen to get back on court and the team showed a great attitude.

Our first match was on Friday morning and Wales were the first team called from all the European teams to do their team chant. Let’s just say the nerves got the better of them but it did improve throughout the week.

Finland

I didn’t realise how nervous I would be when Harper stepped onto court! I think it’s worse being on the side lines than playing. Harper calmed me down pretty quickly though as he came out with a win in 2 straight games and the first win was on the board for Wales. Not only did it calm me down but it helped calm the team down and gave them confidence that we can win on this big stage. Saffron would be next up and she would take the win in her singles in straight sets also.

Our doubles pairs consisted of Maisie and Aarthy and Matthew and Amay who were looking to get their championships up and running with a win but unfortunately Finland would peg us back to 2-2 in the doubles. It was all down to the mixed and we lost a close 3 setter which could have gone either way. Even though it was a loss I think it gave our players the belief that they can compete at this level and they took this belief into the next match against Portugal. The team really stepped up and performed.

Portugal

Against Portugal it went down to the final mixed game, again. The singles had gone our way once again and the doubles had gone the way of Portugal but not without a great fight from our doubles players who were growing in confidence and put in a much improved display fighting right until the end. Thankfully we won the mixed in straight games and took the win 3-2. Everyone was extremely happy and the confidence throughout the team had massively increased! It was good for me to get the first win under my belt as a coach and hopefully it’s the start of many more to come!

Turkey

Turkey was to be our final and would be the toughest match. I had spoken to the players about trying to go out there and enjoy the experience while challenging for every point. Turkey had players who were seeded throughout the individual so would be a good test to see what level our players were at. Turkey came away with a 5-0 victory but the score line doesn’t show how close we were to them and I was really proud of the challenge all the players put up.

We now had a day of rest and the players could recharge their batteries. It also gave me an opportunity to scout out the players that we had to face in the individuals and get some notes ready for our players. We had a light session on court on the Monday to keep the players ticking over until the following day when the individual event would commence.

Individual Event

The individual was upon us and it started off with a tough match for Maisie against the German number 1. Maisie started strongly and was putting up a great fight in the 1st set. The 2nd set got away from her, but she should be proud of how she played as this was a huge step up in opponent compared to the level she has normally played against.

The last 2 games of the day were the mixed. Matt and Aarthy had a tough game against the 7th seeds from France. The French came out the winners in straight games but the Welsh pair gave it their all and played well. Harper and Saffron were also not able to get the win against a tricky Finnish pair (not the same pair they played in the team event). When we got back the mood was down a little and confidence had been a bit shot. We had a little talk all together to try and start again and re-focus for the next day which was going to bring more tough matches for the players.

Saffron had the 2nd seed Bulgarian first round and was first match on for the Welsh players. She battled all the way and was very close to pulling of the victory just falling short in 2 very close games. The Bulgarian went on to win the event which just shows how close Saffron is to the very best in Europe and that should boost her confidence to have another crack at it in 2 years time.

Harper was next and came up against a tall Lithuanian and progressed in 2 straight games to the next round and a match up with the Spanish 3rd seed.  Amay was up next against another Spanish player who was the 14th seed. Even at a young age Amay played really well and put a lot of pressure on to his opponent. The rallies were long and competitive with Amay in the end falling to a straight set defeat but he put up a valiant performance.

In the late afternoon it was the turn of the doubles pairs. Maisie and Aarthy and Matt and Amay. The girls had a competitive game against an Austrian pair, a little bit more consistency would have seen them really close and challenging for the win. In the rallies they were holding their own comfortably. The boys had a really tough match up against a very strong Ukraine pair. The boys gave it their all but lost in straight games to the experienced pair. Even though the doubles pairs lost I think they will take this experience and strive on to better things and if the opportunity came up for them in the future they would be better equipped for the challenges that would face them.

The next day saw Harper take on the 3rd seed a very tall Spanish player. The Spanish player was aggressive from the start and applied a lot of pressure on to Harper. Harper did well to stay in the rallies and create chances for himself. The high pace the Spanish player was playing at proved a little too much and he went on to take the win. Harper was not far away though and should take a lot of positives knowing that he can compete at the highest level in Europe.

So that was the end of competition for us all and I couldn’t have been prouder of how the players dealt with the pressure and the excitement of this major event. They were a pleasure to coach and made mine and Rachel’s life as easy as it could have been. The final antigen tests were done and came back negative so we were able to fly home with some positive memories of this top level event.