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Schofield still the man

Monday, 19th December, 2011

DO THE MATHS: Robert Schofield has won a staggering number of consecutive tennis titles. DO THE MATHS: Robert Schofield has won a staggering number of consecutive tennis titles.

 By Darrin Manuel

 Who can stop Robert Schofield?

It’s a question that surely has tormented would-be Broken Hill champions since 1988, when Mr Schofield’s reign of dominance over the local competition began.

He moved to the city from Inverell at the age of 21 to take up a position as a mathematics teacher at BH High School, and quickly established himself in the local tennis ranks by defeating champion veteran Paul Kremmer in the 1988 open singles championship.

The victory heralded the beginning of a one-man domination unseen in any other sport in the city.

For the past 24 years Mr Schofield has won every open singles championship, and been a member of all but one winning doubles teams in the open doubles championship.

The 45 year-old continued the whitewash in the 2011 season, downing Colin King in the singles open before teaming with Peter Clarke to take out the doubles open.

It is another chapter in a remarkable record that he attributes to his careful and precise game-style.

“The truth be known, when it first started if you’d have said I’d still be winning at 45 when I started at 21, I’d have called you a liar,” he said.

“I don’t really know what to feel about it - it is what it is. I’ve played some good tennis, had some close shaves, but in the end it’s just been less unforced errors - both this year and over the journey.”

As his record would suggest, Mr Schofield boasts a remarkably complete game that blends great footwork and anticipation with accurate groundstrokes.

However he concedes that there are plenty of players - both past and present - who could have brought his run to an end if they hit form at the right time.

“There are people down there who have a better serve, better ground strokes, people who volley as well as I do ... it’s just a matter of them putting it all together at one time, and at this time that hasn’t happened yet.

“But certainly over the journey there’s been people with the tools, but either I’ve played really well on the day, or they haven’t played as well as they could on the day.

“There’s been lots of guys who have played well at different times and just not done it in the final. People like Dale Dodimead, Nick Richards, Gary Keedle, Grant Smith ... and you could add Peter Keenan to that list as well.

“Grant had a set against me a few years ago that was 5-5 in a tie-breaker that could have gone either way.

“You talk about the tools - Nick Richards’ serves and groundstokes were much heavier than mine, Brett Krutli had a forehand that was as good as anyone that’s ever played in Broken Hill - there’s been people within touching distance.”

Peter Keenan took over the club’s Presidency in the same year that Mr Schofield arrived, and has played with and against the little champion on countless occasions.

He said Mr Schofield’s positioning and ability to place the ball into space made him a tricky opponent.

“He waits until you move one way, and just hits it the other, and it might only be a metre wide of you - he’s that accurate.

“He has an excellent cross-court backhand, his serve is not strong but he places the ball to perfection all the time, and that’s the asset of his game.”

Mr Schofield’s run of his dominance hasn’t left him jaded or bored with the sport, and he described the recent doubles championship as particularly satisfying.

He and partner Peter Clarke fought back from a 2-5 deficit against Grant Smith and Steven Grillett in the semi-final on the night, and again had to scramble when they found themselves at 1-3 against Nathan Crabb and Lance Barron.

“When it comes to the championships, last night I got as much of a buzz as I have out of tennis for four or five years, it was great.

“There was pressure, you had to play well, and whenever that happens it’s a great game. And we were under serious pressure.

“Really, we were one point away from having a beer and watching the final and not playing in it.”

As for the future of the game, Mr Schofield said he would like to see more people come along and compete in the open championships.

The championships are held once a year with three divisions to cater for players of all skill levels.

“I’m convinced that everyone who played at the championship enjoyed themselves,” he said.

“And it’s a round robin, so it should get people down. They don’t lose one match and it’s finished.

“If you just come down and compete, there’s enjoyment in it.”

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