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The International Lawn Tennis Club of Great Britain win the Potter Cup

By John Barrett

For the first time since 1983 Great Britain has won the Potter Cup, the International Clubs’ team competition for players aged 45-and-over, played annually during the last week of May at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona.

Led by Jeremy Bates and Nick Fulwood, who both remained unbeaten during a strenuous week, the British team, seeded second among the seven nations, inflicted a 4-3 defeat on the holders and No.1 seeds Spain in a hard-fought final. This was sweet revenge for a loss in the 2007 final.

Britain started the week well with a 6-0 win over Ireland but their 4-3 semi-final win over France was in doubt to the last. When the first three singles rubbers all went to France the prospect of victory was slight. Hope was revived when Bates beat Joseph Mateo 6-0 6-4. Then Fulwood survived a close first set to beat Arnaud Deleval 7-6(9) 6-0. With Britain hopeful of success in both doubles matches there seemed to be a slender chance of snatching a win. Yet Nick Brown had injured a calf muscle in losing to Christophe Bernelle 6-7(9) 0-6 and was reluctant to play.

As team manager Richard Stoakes explained “…without Nick we knew there was no chance so Jeremy and Nick (Fulwood) got into him during the break and persuaded him that if he could stand then he could play”.

Their powers of persuasion were amply rewarded. Brown teamed with Fulwood who nursed his partner to a 6-3 7-6(6) win over Jacques Hervet and Deleval. On the adjoining court Bates and Chris Hearn scored a 6-4 6-2 win over Mateo and Bernelle to clinch the victory.

Spain’s 4-3 semi-final win against Italy was not without its problems. In the deciding doubles Italy had a match point in the final set tie-break but failed to convert it.

Britain maintained their momentum in the final, despite losing two of the early singles matches. Following Hearn’s 6-4 6-2 success against Roberto Vizcaino, Bates won 6-1 3-6 6-4 against Eduardo Osta and Fulwood scored a 6-1 6-2 victory over Juan Avendano to give the visitors a 3-2 lead. A decisive 6-0 6-1 win by Bates and Fulwood over Osta and Miguel Puigdevall brought the final cup-winning point to give Britain their sixth win in the competition, 25 years after their last success.

Bates, the British Club’s Captain for 2008, who was playing his second year of Potter Cup competition, was understandably delighted. “It was a great team effort – all the guys played to their full potential when it mattered” he said. “Having Nick Fulwood coming into this age group for the first time made a huge difference. If we can keep this group together for the next few years we could do really well” he added          

Launched in 1973 by John Potter, an American Olympic fencer who won a bronze medal at the Berlin Games in 1936, the Potter Cup was held that first year in Biarritz between IC teams from Britain, France, Spain and the United States. Potter, himself a fine tennis player, had homes in Biarritz and Barcelona and, with the co-operation of the Royal Polo Club, brought the competition to Spain in 1980.

An official team competition on the ITF’s veterans’ calendar, with ranking points for the participants, the Potter Cup has grown in stature over the years. Twenty-one of the 34 nations who have created International Clubs since Wallis Myers founded the first in Great Britain in 1924 have taken part in the Potter Cup.

Former champions who have competed include Australians Frank Sedgman, the current President of the Council of International Clubs, and Bob Howe (who represented Great Britain), the Americans Budge Patty and Tom Brown, plus Gordon Forbes and Abe Segal of South Africa, as well as Jean Borotra of France whose teams have even included a former Prime Minister in Jacques Chaban Delmas.

Over the years the Potter Cup has been dominated by the nations whose native surface is clay, especially France and Spain who have the added advantage of always playing at home. Nevertheless Great Britain did have a golden spell in the 1980s winning the trophy three years in a row between 1981 and1983 and reaching the final three more times in the next four years, all under the captaincy of Geoff Ward. His winning teams during those amateur years, when all players paid their own expenses, included Ken Buswell, Bob Howe, Peter Moys, Ralph Oliver, Brian Storr and Ivor Warwick.