Cambridge undergraduate Karen Hird, 20, went into the record books as the youngest ever winner of a world Real Tennis title when she and singles champion Charlotte Cornwallis, 35, outhit Australian number 1 Amy Hayball and Britain’s Juliette Lambert to take the doubles crown at the Women’s World Real Tennis Championship at Newport, Rhode Island. Earlier, Charlotte had retained her world singles title, defeating Karen, 6-1 6-5, in a hard-fought final and keeping her nerve when the youngster who also became the youngest ever singles finalist, threatened to take the match into a third set.
Charlotte, a former hockey international, has always found the US a happy hunting ground. In 2001 she took her first world singles crown at Washington DC, near where her distinguished ancestor General Charles Cornwallis lost the battle of Yorktown and with it the rebellious colony of America.
Karen, a former junior badminton international from High Wycombe, now reading Economics at St Catherine’s College , is one of multi-talented triplets, all studying at Oxbridge colleges. She underlined her recent improvement, beating the hard-hitting American number 1 Freddy Adam in two tense sets in the semi-final and dominating the doubles final with superb volleying from the galleries which kept their opponents on the defensive for the bulk of the match.
Charlotte meanwhile was celebrating her third set of world singles and doubles titles in a row, further proof of her current dominance of the women’s game. Last month she won the British Open singles and doubles to snatch a double Grand Slam, beating Karen in the singles final. The youngster, who had upset her great rival, world junior champion Claire Vigrass, the second seed, in the British Open semi-final, was philosophical about her recent defeats, however, well aware that she is getting closer to the champion. In a highly tactical sport, akin to three-dimensional chess, where most of the stars are in their 30s, she acknowledges that, having started playing at an unusually young age, she has plenty of time to hone her unorthodox but effective game which depends on superb retrieving and subtle changes of pace and spin, rather than raw power.
“I was thrilled to take the doubles title with Charlotte” she said “and I felt I was an equal partner in our win as my volleying was going well while Charlotte was her usual, athletic, explosive self at the back of the court. You learn a lot playing with someone who’s so dominant and experienced and I also felt that I pushed her all the way in the singles final particularly in the second set.”
Karen, who is coached by the Hampton Court head professional Nick Wood, is rapidly making a name for herself as one of the outstanding racket sport all-rounders of her generation. She has already won Cambridge blues in squash, Real Tennis and Eton fives, and following her fine run at the world and British championships, she should now rise to number 2 in the world Real Tennis rankings. She recently became the first woman for 3 years to take a set from Cornwallis in the French Open final and believes she is within striking distance of registering her first victory over the champion.
Results: Newport, Rhode Island. Women’s World Real Tennis Championship
(Names British unless stated)
C.Cornwallis bt A.Hayball (Australia) 6-1 6-0
K.Hird bt F.Adam (US) 6-4 6-5
Final: C.Cornwallis bt K.Hird 6-1 6-5
C.Cornwallis / K.Hird bt F.Adam (US)/ A.Radeljevic (US) 6-0 6-0
A.Hayball (Australia)/ J.Lambert bt J.Lippincott (US) / P.Nardolillo (US) bt 6-3 6-3
Final: C.Cornwallis / K.Hird bt A.Hayball (Australia)/ J.Lambert 6-0 6-3
photos Janos Schmidt