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Double delight at Rapaura as twins take out both doubles titles

Sam and Simon Phillips won the 2019 Rapaura men's title. Photo: Peter Jones.

Spectators at the finals of the annual Wairau River Rapaura doubles tennis tournament could be excused if they came away suffering from double vision.

In a unique occurrence, both the men’s and women’s finals of the popular festive season event, staged on December 28-29, were this year won by twins.

Identical siblings Sam and Simon Phillips took out the men’s title, while the local combination of Jade and Kyla Otway came away with the women’s crown.

The Phillips, Sam based in Western Australia and Simon in Nelson, cut a swathe through the men’s draw, not dropping a set over the two days. In the final they defeated Gareth Robb and Tom Batt 6-2, 6-1, their big serves and crisp volleys proving too good for the Christchurch-based combination.

Jade and Kyla Otway claimed their second Rapaura doubles victory. Photo: Peter Jones.
Jade and Kyla Otway claimed their second Rapaura doubles victory. Photo: Peter Jones.

The height and extra reach of the lofty Phillips twins was also a decisive factor, making them a tough proposition to pass at the net or lob.

In the semifinals Robb and Batt downed local hopefuls Lee Harborne and Andrew Forgesson 6-1, 6-1, while the Phillips got the better of Hamish Morrow and Dave Sandford 6-3, 7-6 in a tighter contest.

The 16-year-old Otway twins also cemented victory without dropping a set. They met Eveline van der Linden and Renny Spruijtenburg in the final and prevailed 6-2, 6-2.

Earlier they beat sisters Loren Hickin and Felicity Sampson 6-1, 6-3 in the semis, while their final rivals downed Jane Bay and Donna Clark 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the other.

Although Kyla had not played any competitive tennis for the past two years, the former national age group champion teamed well with her sister, the newly-crowned national under-18 doubles champion, to get the job done.

Their last outing together was on the same grass courts, in 2017 when they claimed their first Rapaura title.

Kyla, a highly-promising college rower at Rangi Ruru, said the decision to team up once more was down to her.

“It’s just fun to get back to [tennis]. It is the best tournament, so nice and social. It’s great to see everyone again.”

She also noted that Jade was “the boss” on court, because “she’s actually good”, and said they had had no sibling arguments during their three games, apart from a couple of calls of “get your stuff together Kyla”.

They had praise for their final opponents, especially van der Linden, who had previously coached both girls.

With another Blenheim Christmas planned for 2020, the sisters confirmed that the tournament would again be on their festive season menu.

The Phillips twins also hoped to be back, although Perth-based doctor Sam said scheduling a trip home was not always easy.

The twins grew up in Christchurch, where they played top level-tennis until in their mid-twenties, before Sam headed to Australia nine years ago and Simon set up home in Nelson, where he is the province’s No 1.

They warmed up for Rapaura with an over-35 tournament in Perth in September, losing in the doubles final to Australia’s top over-35 combination.

“We used to play together all the time years ago,” said Sam, “but now we are lucky if we play together once or twice a year.”

Simon, also a doctor, was a beaten Rapaura finalist two years ago, losing to Robb on that occasion, so suggested getting revenge was one reason for entering the tournament, although the logistics of getting the brothers together in time were tight.

“It was based on when Sam could get over [from Perth]. As it turned out he flew over on Saturday and drove up … it was really nice of [the organisers] to let us play late afternoon back-to-back so we could take part.”

They relished the opportunity. “It was great fun,” said Sam, “there’s a really nice atmosphere, it’s well-organised and the competition is really good.”

Eighteen combinations contested the men’s draw, eight involved in the women’s.

On the Friday preceding the men’s and women’s doubles, the Rapaura mixed doubles tournament was held, with Jade Otway and Lee Harborne winning the final 9-3 over the father/daughter pairing of Lucia and James Gale.

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