Ruben Harris among top performers at School Games National Finals
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Ruben Harris topped the wheelchair tennis medal tally at the School Games National Finals in Loughborough over the weekend after winning gold medals in the boys’ singles, boys’ doubles and mixed doubles.
Fifteen-year-old Harris’s triple triumph was just one of many highlights over the course of three days of fantastic wheelchair tennis at Loughborough Sport Tennis Centre as 14 of the 21 players selected to represent England North, England South, Scotland, Wales and Ulster earned their places on the medal podium in singles or doubles and each of the regions claimed at least one medal.
Harris and top seed Oliver Cox, who are both members of the LTA’s Wheelchair National Age Group Programme, eased through to the boys’ singles final after-back-to-back straight sets wins apiece, Harris starting Sunday’s third day of play with his singles semi-final to play before going on to the gold medal match.
However, having beaten Scotland’s Gregor Anderson 4-0, 4-0 Harris faced a much tougher proposition in the final, coming from 3-1 down against Cox and saving multiple set points in the opening set to claim the tie-break. A glorious passing shot earned Harris the first break of the second set and a 3-1 lead and he carried his confidence into his next service game, wrapping up his third gold medal of the School Games National Finals 4-3(1), 4-1 after one last ace down the centre of the court.
The Kent player’s first gold medal of the weekend and the first gold medal of the wheelchair tennis event came on Saturday’s second day of competition, which included the start and completion of the mixed doubles. After dropping just two games in two matches en route to the mixed doubles final, the England South pairing of Harris and Walker edged Wales duo Alex Wilson and Lily Folland 4-2, 2-4, (10-7) after the two partnerships were locked together at 6-6 at the second change of ends in the deciding match tie-break.
Victory in the mixed doubles provided 12-year-old Walker with a gold medal on her School Games National Finals debut, a little over 12 months since she first took up wheelchair tennis and progressed through the LTA Wheelchair Tennis Initiative to become a member of the LTA’s Wheelchair Tennis Performance Development Squad.
By comparison, the second gold medal of Harris’s collection was won in more comfortable fashion as he and Cox secured another victory for England South after defeating Cameron Hudd and Alex Wilson of Wales 4-1, 4-1 in the boys’ doubles decider.
There was better news for Wales in the girls’ singles final as Lily Folland, one of a number of returning School Games competitors this year, got the better of England North’s Alice Dyer 4-1, 4-1, while both players were among six athletes to finish the School Games National Finals with more than one wheelchair tennis medal. Dyer equalled Cox’s achievement in adding a doubles gold medal to her singles silver medal.
Silver medals for Folland in the girls’ doubles, alongside Lily Bignell, and mixed doubles, alongside Wilson, saw her leave Loughborough with three medals. Walker also won a trio of medals, adding bronze in the girls’ singles and in the girls’ doubles, partnering Ellen Tribley. Meanwhile, Wilson took the bronze medal in the boys’ singles behind Harris and Cox to add to his silver medal with Hudd in the boys’ doubles and another silver medal with Folland in the mixed doubles.
Gregor Anderson, Charlie Jago-Byrne and Brady Chambers all claimed doubles bronze medals to ensure that each of the regions were represented at the medal presentation at the conclusion of play, when the players received their medals from two-time Paralympian and School Games Athlete Mentor Antony Cotterill.
However, arguably the biggest cheers at the medal ceremony were reserved for Adam Craven and Imogen Ashwell-Rice, both members of the seven-strong team from Wales, who were announced as winners of the Best of Sport Award and the Fair Play Award for their team spirit and sportsmanship throughout the three days of competition.
Organised and delivered by the Youth Sport Trust, for talented young athletes across the UK. the School Games have provided a springboard for many of today’s biggest names in sport.
In summing up the weekend’s sport, LTA Wheelchair Talent Pathway Manager Matt Grover, the wheelchair tennis chef de mission for the School Games National Finals, said:
“For the first time in a few years, we had representation across all home nations, which shows the depth of wheelchair tennis and the positive direction our sport is taking, while the standard of tennis was excellent, and the team spirit displayed by all the players truly exemplary. It was fantastic to see so many new faces in Loughborough, as well as returning faces who have competed before and some who have won medals before and the weekend was a great celebration of out sport. I congratulate all of the players and all of the teams.”