A vigorous return for the National League

Charlie Ellis reports on the Scottish National League matches which took place on Saturday (8th of October) at Bell’s Sports Centre in Perth. Photo courtesy of Chris Main.

Red leaves in Perth’s North Inch indicated the full throttle onset of Autumn and also the beginning of a new Scottish National League season. Players began arriving around 8.30, adjusting their eyes to the yellowly light of a building that the Twentieth Century Society believe should be listed. The main hall, hushed at 8.30, was, by 9.30 cacophonous, filled with lively chatter and urgent cross knocking. Familiar faces were all around, albeit several in unfamiliar garb, representing new clubs.

It was encouraging to see some returning players, including Keir Morton and Chris Wheeler who, for so long, dominated junior tournaments here and elsewhere. By 9.45, everything was ready to go, with the courts sorted, and the nets tightened and measured (apart from unlucky table 13-sorry guys!). The new barriers were all in place, their design helping to significantly reduce the number of lets during the day.

After Richard Yule’s introduction, the SNL’s main man Lindsay Muir took about five minutes to read out all of the fixtures; evidence of the size of the SNL these days. Watching some of the matches at the far in the hall (Tables 21 to 24), it was clear that there are good players and good matches in every division. ‘No easy matches’, many commented.

Big tussle

There was no doubt that the highlight of the opening set of matches was to be found in Division 2. Edinburgh University’s strong A side took on a much strengthened JK Carnbo A side featuring the Polish pair of Alicja Czarnomska and Krzysztof Borkowicz, a key figure for Murrayfield A last year. This excellent contest attracted eyes from around the hall, keen to catch some of the intense action. Pick of the matches was Yizhe Jing vs Krzysztof Borkowicz, a five set contest of quality and intensity with Ken Benjamin in the umpire’s chair. Borkowicz took an epic 3rd set 15-13 to lead 2-1. Some lightning play from the penholder Yizhe Jing gave him the early advantage in the 5th and the JK Carnbo A bench was quietened. An inside out forehand, played virtually on his knees, finished the match in fine style.

Drum return to the top flight

There are also some good contests in Division 1 where newly promoted side Drumchapel A had the tough task of taking on last year’s top two. Murrayfield A in the morning and then the kings of the SNL, North Ayrshire A, in the afternoon. Martin Perry came in at number two for  Drumchapel on the back of some excellent recent tournament results. It was Yaser Razouk who led the way for his team against Murrayfield A, with two wins. His match against Gordon Muir was a little bit disjointed, with Razouk taking time to find his true level. Razouk’s forehand eventually overcame Muir’s tricky spinny play. Razouk’ was a deserving winner, though did profit from a flukey edge to conclude the final set 11-5. Razouk was always on top against an out of sorts John Hannah, winning 3-1.

It was certainly a blast from the past to see Wheeler and Razouk playing alongside each other. Despite Murrayfield’s Borui Chen’s lovely fluent forehands, Wheeler’s touch play and flicks proved too much for the youngster. The match ended in a well-contested draw after Muir beat Wheeler in 5 sets. As well as denting Murrayfield A’s chances of being North Ayrshire A’s main challengers this season, the draw indicated that Drumchapel A will be highly competitive this season.

Another close contest saw Gerry Campbell’s two wins help his Scottish Vets A side against North Ayrshire B. Nathan Hogg impressed for North Ayrshire B with good victories over Brian Wright and Gordon Waddell. A draw seemed like a fair result.

Dumfries A were strengthened by the returning Keir Morton. In their match against Murrayfield B, a fired up Zihao Li pushed Morton all the way, until some passivity in his returns allowed Morton to take a stranglehold on the final set. From 6-6, Morton took control and came through 11-7. This was crucial in giving his side victory. Danny Bajwa picked up where he left off last season with two dominant wins.

On table 1, North Ayrshire one began their season with a convincing 6-0 victory over Glasgow South A. Though slightly one sided, the match featured some really entertaining games. New recruit David Hay played some fine stuff against Martin Johnson and Chris Main. Against Main, Hay was a bit unlucky to lose the first set to an edge but contributed to some lengthy rallies. Main finished the match off with an extravagant chop smash! 

Midday lull

As we drifted towards the lunch time break, the rhythm of the day slowed slightly in the rather warm hall. Bodies and minds started to tire. Closing your eyes you would hear smatterings of applause, the squeaking of rubber soles on the shiny surface, and some heavy footed stomping. There was a lull in proceedings at about 1 p.m, with players wondering if they had time to rest and have an energising bite to eat. Time to reflect on the morning matches (“How did it go”; “Don’t ask!”). Others readied themselves for afternoon games. As always, Gerry Campbell kept playing and playing…while most rested and ate.

In the afternoon, North Ayrshire A proved too strong for Drumchapel A. Martin Johnson continued the form he showed at the recent Crawley GP with two convincing wins. His attacking play was consistent and penetrating.  Borui Chen and John Hannah both registered two wins as Murrayfield A picked up a win versus the Vets A. Borui Chen doing well to defeat Gordon Waddell in a 5 setter.

Nathan Hogg again impressed as North Ayrshire B won a good contest with Murrayfield B which featured three 5-set matches. Zihao Li’s 12-10 in the 5th win versus Andy Macpherson was the highlight for the Edinburgh side.  Despite the expected two wins for Danny Bajwa, his Dumfries A side were beaten by Glasgow South A. Cammy Hussein was the key player with 5-set wins versus Harry Blackhall and Keir Morton.

This leaves North Ayrshire A (even without Colin Dalgleish)  in their customary position; at the top of Division 1, ahead of Murrayfield A & North Ayrshire B.

Uni top the league tables

Edinburgh University A are going to be tough to catch in Division 2, especially if Xiaoqi Wang and Yizhe Jing are available all season. Andrew Nimmo of Dundee A almost produced one of the results of the day, leading Yizhe Jing 8-6 in the final set but not being able to convert the advantage, losing out 10-12 in the final set. In the same match Robert Toth was edged out by Faye Leggett, 11-9 in the final set. Eventually, the Edinburgh University A side came through this tough encounter 4-2.

Aberdeen sit in 2nd place with top Vet Ross Martin winning his four matches. He was pushed all the way by fellow Vet David Simpson, winning the last two sets 14-12, 12-10. For their second match, Dariusz Szymczak came in to replace Yubo Rasmussen for JK Carnbo A as they took on Scottish Vets B in a long and absorbing match. Szymczak eventually got the better of the ever tricky Peter Aird; the Vets’ B players making two costly service return errors right at the end. Colin Green’s battling win over Szymczak gave the Vets their sole win. Green & Aird had earlier both picked up two wins in their impressive 5-1 win versus Murrayfield C.

Bellway West Lothian lead the way in Division 3. The addition of the wily Carsten Giebler has strengthened their side, helping them to wins over North Ayrshire C (5-1) and Edinburgh International A (4-2), despite 2 wins for the ever-steady Marek ‘the wall’ Domagala.

South Ayrshire A, Dundee B, Drumchapel B all sit one point behind West Lothian. Ian Denton led the way for South Ayrshire A, with his tricky serves and angles dumbfounding North Merchiston’s Geoff Hunter and his three other opponents.  Drum B’s Chris Scoufaridis was one of the more vociferous players in the hall. His two wins helped his side to a 4-2 win over Edinburgh International A.  The number of draws in this division suggest it’s going to be a tight league all the way through the season.

Division 4 is headed by two ELTTL sides, Edinburgh University B and Penicuik A.  Jakub Kara & Alasdair Crofton impressed for the Uni, both winning their 4 matches as their side started with two 6-0 wins. Hannah McDonell picked up a key win vs Ian Moran (playing his first SNL matches for about 8 years) as Penicuik A beat Murrayfield D 4-2. The Midlothian side also had a 4-2 win versus Nomads, with Greig McDonell’s 4 set win over Panagiotis Kanargias key to their victory.

Ritchie Logan was thoroughly delighted with the results of his Joe Wilson A side, who sit top of Division 5, ahead of Haddington A on ‘goal difference’. Central to Joe Wilson A’s success was four from four for Noah Fletcher. Dmytro Oleshko was Haddington’s key performer with four convincing wins on the day.

JK Carnbo B top Division 6, just ahead of Aberdeen C and Inverness. JK Carnbo’s international team (Polish, Russian & German) looked very strong and unsurprisingly completed two 6-0 wins, not even losing a set! The other teams look to be playing for a runners up spot already, though Aberdeen C also recorded two convincing wins. Inverness overcame the talented youngsters of Murrayfield G as Rae Jack had a successful day for the Highlanders.

Thanks to Billy Gibbs, Ken Ben and Roy Claxton for their help on the day, and the Bell’’s staff for their efforts in setting up the hall and assembling the new barriers. Above all, thanks to all the players and supporters for their efforts in travelling to Bell’s and producing a competitive but sporting atmosphere in the hall.

The second set of fixtures for the SNL take place on Saturday 5th November, with 3 matches for each team. It will be a long day, with matches kicking off at 9:30.


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