2 Mar 2014

AWE Huatoki were crowned 2013/14 Soffe Cup champions after defeating Sandfords Manaia in a closely fought 9-7 victory amid a large crowd that enjoyed some great tennis, in perfect conditions on Saturday.

Having been frustrated by losses in 2 finals over the last 5 years, victory was sweet for the players, co-captains/managers Chris Wilson and Jeremy Wichman, and club coach and player mentor, Rakeesh Rai. 

With the singles score shared at 4 all after the first round, the Manaia men dominating 3-1 and the Huatoki women evening the score 3-1, some outstanding comebacks in the doubles from both sides enabled Huatoki to surge ahead 7-5 going into the combines.  Manaia struck first 7-6 but with Huatoki taking the next 2 of the 3 remaining, Huatoki were able to secure the win.

Both teams were generally at full-strength.  Manaia, without Aleisha Warner, a last minute withdrawal and Huatoki, minus only Sophie Robertson, now overseas.

In the women's section, the No.1s, Huatoki's Alice Caskey versus Nicole Koch match served up a dazzling display of women's tennis.  Caskey took the first set 6-1 with surprising ease, her sweet backhand paving the way, however the fighter Koch re-grouped taking the second set 6-3, setting up a nail-biting final set.  Caskey the eventual winner 6-4 with a first time win over Koch.  Huatoki No.2 Chris Wilson had a harder time against Taranaki rep Maree Gopperth, going down 6-2 6-1; Gopperth showing more consistency and good foot speed around the court.  Huatoki's Hikaru Han at No.3 took on the in-form Trudy Vince, and it was thought this would be close.  Han took the first set relatively easily, however Vince, not one to give in easily, came back strong in the second set only to be edged out, Han winning  6-2 7-5.  Huatoki No. 4 Ellen O'Byrne had lacked consistency all year, but when it was needed, produced the goods on the day to out hit a nervous Brigid Annabell 6-3 6-0.

 On the men's side the battle of the men's No.1 and 2, saw the Rai brothers, Amrit and Ajeet up against Manaia royalty; No.1 Jordan Fleming and No. 2 Cameron Koch.  In an impressive match of stunning ball striking, Huatoki No.1 Amrit Rai went down in the first set 6-4, Jordan Fleming proving too steady and accurate.  Rai recovered to take the next set 7-6 in a pulsating tiebreak, with a third set hosting some enthralling rallies and breaks.  However the experienced Fleming was able to come through the big points, and take the win, 6-4

Newly named NZ Junior Davis Cup team member, 14 year old Ajeet Rai was full of confidence after a recent win over Manaia No. 2, Cameron Koch in the final of the Taranaki Open.  The slugfest progressed with Rai taking the first set 6-2 with some sublime touches and managed to out-hit a rushed Koch.  Koch, then powered his way out of trouble coming back from 1-4 down to take the second set 7-6.  Rai, regrouped and refocused and knuckled down to grind out a 6-4 third and a much need win.  In the men's No.3 match, Alistair Nairn & Manaia's Beauden Fleming had not played against each other before; however Flemings' recent good form had him selected for the Taranaki senior team.  In a close match, Fleming, particularly on the back hand, just had the edge and took the match 6-4 6-3.  Men's No. 4 match and enter old campaigner and kaumatua, Murray Keast, unbeaten all year, against the young Bull, Manaia's Jacob Gopperth.  Gopperth was all power and precision in the first set, either sending down bombs or firing un-returnable forehands at a shell-shocked Keast, to take the first set 7-6.  Gopperth lost concentration and allowed Keast, ever patient, to work his artistry, his slow slice game coming back, to convert the second set Huatoki's way 6-3. However, Gopperth returned to his forte, power, and edged out a tiring Keast, 6-4 

All even after the singes, Huatoki's top women's doubles of Caskey/Wilson, thought they had it in the bag, after taking the first set and up 4-1 in the second over Koch and Gopperth.  But Koch & Gopperth had other ideas, and in a remarkable turnaround took the next two sets 7-6 7-6 and a stunning win.  The bottom doubles team of Han/O'Byrne started nervously against a resurgent Vince/Annabell combo; Annabell particularly showing she could foot it at this level with some incredible returns.  However, in a seesaw battle, Han/O'Byrne were able to gel together better and convert a 3 set win, 6-7 6-1 7-6.

 In the No.1 men's doubles showdown, the Rai brothers took on Manaia's gun duo, Jordan Fleming and Koch and amid the groundstroke missiles and quick-fire net interplay, it  was the Rai's who were shot to pieces in the first set, down 6-1.  Fleming /Koch took the lead in the second set, and at 5-1 down, the Rai boys were gone for all money.  However, slowly the Huatoki siblings carved their way back into the match with some inventive play, and a loss in concentration from the Manaia pair.  The second set went the Rai's way, the Rai's then finishing off a sensational comeback, to take the 3rd set super tiebreak and the match.

In the No.2 doubles, Keast /Nairn took on their singles conquerors, Beauden Fleming/Gopperth.  The score was always close and ebbed and flowed with both teams finding ways of letting the other team back, after getting ahead.  However, the Huatoki pair were able to scratch out a 7-5 7-5 win, and take Huatoki to a 7-5 overall lead going into the combines.  

Manaia struck first in the combines, with No.4's, Gopperth/ Annabell taking an easy win over a tiring Keast/Han combo 9-2.  No.3's Nairn/ O'Byrne took one back for Huatoki, 9-2, over an injured Beauden Fleming with Vince, - Huatoki needing one more win.  The No.2's, Rai/ Wilson versus Koch/Gopperth started off even, with no quarter given both male players smashing the ball with venom.  However Rai started to dominate, and with Wilson footing it well with Koch's power, the Huatoki pair were  able to storm to a 9-5 win, amid the jubilant cries from the Huatoki supporters and players, signalling a Soffe Cup win for Huatoki, the last being in 2007.  The Manaia top pairing of Fleming /Koch were able to claw back a 9-8 win for Manaia, over a smiling pair of Rai/Caskey, but by then it was Party Time. 

The playing Squad for 2013/14 was

Men : Amrit Rai,  Ajeet Rai, Chris Popata, Alister Nairn, David Innes, Murray Keast, Stephen Gibbons, Jeremy Wichman, Chris Avery, Aaron Ritchie  

Women: Alice Caskey, Sophie Robertson, Chris Wilson, Hikaru Han, Ellen O'Byrne, Tracey Old








Mens Singles

Amrit Rai


Jordan Fleming

6-4 6-7 6-4


Ajeet Rai


Cameron Koch

6-2 6-7 6-4


Alastair Nairn


Beauden Fleming

6-3 6-2


Murray Keast


Jacob Gopperth

7-6 3-6 6-4


Mens Doubles



Fleming /Koch

1-6 7-5 7-6





7- 57-5


Womens Singles

Alice Caskey


Nicole Koch

6-1 3-6 6-4


Chris Wilson


Maree Gopperth

6-2 6-1


Hikaru Han


Trudy Vince

6-2 7-5


Ellen Obyrne


Brigid Anabell

6-3 6-0


Womens Doubles




2-6 7-6 7-6


Han /Obyrne


Vince /Annabell

6-7 6-1 7-6


















Keast /Han