The Universities Glasgow and Stirling came head-to-head in the first Scottish Conference match of the season at Garscube. Glasgow, with captain Tim Campbell, Brian Wasige, Marcus Pops and Andrew Smillie, were in a confident mood, but faced a tough task against a strong Stirling side. Being the National Tennis Centre, Stirling University has a history of producing top talent, so this provided the perfect opportunity for Glasgow to play some of the best players at this level.
The tie began with a doubles match, with Pops/Smillie facing a fascinating contest against a formidable Stirling pair. With double points on offer for a win, victory would be the perfect start for either side. In a first-to-eight-games match, both teams competed well and held serve, until the seventh game when Stirling managed to force a break. Despite Glasgow breaking back immediately, Stirling marched on and took the match 8-4. Elsewhere, the two captains battled out a pulsating singles match. Campbell played well and made it tough for his opponent, but his opposite managed to grind out the win that stretched Stirling’s lead to 3-0. Beside them, tension threatened to boil over in the match where Wasige was playing. His opponent didn’t look too pleased when Wasige accidently hit a smash shot at his body, but he ultimately managed to keep his cool and take the match 6-2 6-4, giving Stirling a commanding 4-0 lead from the opening round of matches.
The pressure was therefore on Andrew Smillie in the first match of the second round, as a loss would confine Glasgow to defeat with two matches remaining. In an intriguing match-up against Dave Horton, tie-breaks were needed to separate the two, with Smillie edging the contest 7-6 7-6. This gave Glasgow an opportunity to snatch a draw, rendering the doubles match of Campbell/Wasige crucial. Both teams performed strongly, with neither side prepared to give the opposition an opening. Despite appearing to match Stirling, Glasgow suffered heartbreak when they were broken in the sixteenth game, Ickringill/Saker winning 9-7. As a result, there was a slight tone of disappointment as Markus Pops and Sean Smith walked out to contest the most eagerly anticipated match of the day.
Smith, the former team captain of Stirling, faced the unknown quantity that was Markus Pops. Having moved here from Estonia, he arrived with a reputation as a very skilful player. He had already displayed these talents in the doubles match, where he showed a few nice touches at the net, some equally devastating ground-strokes from the back, as well as a solid serve. Smith squeezed through a tight first set 6-4, but Pops roared back and took the second set 6-1. Smith, however, managed to combine talent and experience to secure the win, taking the third set 6-2, and sealing a comprehensive 7-1 win for his side.
It seemed at times that the weather was providing tougher opposition than the player across the net. The elements were out in force, with the sun making it difficult to serve, and the wind at one point causing Horton to swing at fresh air as the ball was cruelly snatched away from him by a powerful gust. The rain seemed to cause the most problems however, turning the Astroturf courts into what Pops described as “an ice-rink”. The Estonian went on to say how strange it was to play on the surface, having grown up on the clay courts back home.
It was an ultimately disappointing day for the Glasgow A team. Both sides played very well, and this tight contest could have gone either way. In reality, the score line flattered the opposition. Stirling had that little bit of quality when it mattered in the crunch moments, and couldn’t have wished for a better start to their season.