Rye Lawn Tennis Club’s 91st Annual Invitation Tournament, from Friday July 27 to Monday July 30, kicks off 10 days of competitive tennis on the club’s immaculate grass courts on the banks of the River Rother. This year sees a strong American challenge in the form of 10 talented young players from Harvard and Yale, competing prior to their biennial Prentice Cup (men) and Seabright Cup (ladies) matches against Oxford and Cambridge on the grass courts of Wimbledon in August.
At Rye, they will find themselves up against some tough opposition. In the men’s singles line-up, last year’s winner Oscar Podlewski returns to defend his title along with Kent county player and 2017 runner-up Lewis Burton, one of the highest ranked players to compete in the tournament. They are joined by talented 16-year-old Junior Oscar Weightman and top Surrey county player Jamie Whiteford as well as New Zealander Mark Hadley, taking a tilt at a fourth Rye singles title, along with former world rackets champion Willie Boone and his son Ned, Polo Farm coach Ben Roger and former tennis professional Robin Drysdale.
The men’s doubles will also no doubt bring some hard-hitting and devious tactical play to the courts from defending champions Burton and Hadley as well as last year’s runners-up, Whiteford and his partner Rupert de Laszlo.
In the ladies’ draw, the four seeded Americans will come up against some experienced opposition from Bolivian Diana Kyllmann and Julia van Rosendael from Amsterdam, as well as Kent and Essex players Sarah Cantlay and Stephanie Cornish, Queen’s First Team member Annabel Watson and Rye LTC coach Frances Candy.
Last year’s ladies’ singles winner, Victoria Brook, is not defending her title but returns to Rye to compete in the mixed doubles with Nicolas Janssen, having been narrowly defeated by Sarah Cantlay and Oscar Podlewski in the 2017 final. Cantlay and Podlewski will be defending their title in a strong field which includes sports commentator John Inverdale and his daughter Josie, a semi-finalist in last year’s ladies’ singles, and Hurlingham coach Ben Nash partnering his mother Jane, who coaches at Eastbourne.
The ladies’ doubles draw also contains some powerful contenders, with previous winner Annabel Watson playing alongside Julia van Rosendael and Yorkshire-born Jennifer Ren, an ex-circuit player new to Rye, teaming up with Katie Purnell.
Among the younger locals taking up the challenge are Louis and Luc Duvoisin from Rye and Camber resident Martha Holt, the grand-daughter of Bimby Holt who as chairman of Rye LTC ran the tournament for many years. The club’s “oldest playing member”, Peter Woodroffe, will be taking part in his 64th tournament this year. The action is ongoing throughout the weekend, with the finals being contested on Monday afternoon, and members of the public are welcome to come and watch.
The Junior Tournament, which follows on from Wednesday to Friday, also sees a good number of local youngsters taking part as well as others coming to compete from further afield. The Club’s Closed Tournament and Invitation Mixed Doubles will be held through the weekend of August 4 and 5.
Rye LTC’s annual programme also includes tennis matches against other leading clubs in the UK and participation in the Sussex County and Wealden leagues. The Club is active in several other sports, including squash, table tennis and croquet. There is a rapidly growing junior tennis section and a regular programme of coaching for adults and juniors throughout the year. A number of junior players have competed this year in a Rye LTC Team Challenge, an LTA initiative which saw more than 20 children on several occasions taking part in 10-minute matches over a two-hour period, and the Club also fields an Under Sixteen boys team in the Sussex League. The Club recently bought the field adjoining the grass tennis courts as part of a long-term project to develop the facilities for members and to promote and improve community participation in tennis.
Photo: Rye News library