HARTFORD Tennis Club have just finished what they rate as their best season in the South and Mid Cheshire League.

But the men’s teams at Chester Road are planning already how they can get better.

Half of the sides in the top-flight next summer will be from there, with two more at the level below.

“That’s never happened before,” said captain Dave Glenn.

“We’ve started to get other clubs asking how we’ve done it, which is the best compliment you can ask for.

“The exciting bit of us is we think we can make small improvements to become even stronger.”

Hartford A, led by Mark Gleave, missed out on the Division One title by a single point from Nantwich A.

A 5-3 defeat to their rivals in the campaign’s second week was an early setback, although Hartford B almost propelled their clubmates to first place in dramatic circumstances when they pushed the champions all the way in the final round.

Hartford C also survived unexpectedly.

Glenn said: “There are small margins that cost the first team in the end; in one or two games, a set here or there would have made all the difference.”

Hartford D finished as runners-up to Congleton B in Division Two, securing their place in the top tier only after a 5½-2½ victory away to the champions in their last game.

Any other outcome would have seen Alsager promoted instead.

Hartford F cruised to the Division Three title, winning all but one of their matches.

Glenn said: “They expected to go up, but they did so convincingly and in style.”

He told the Guardian that the playing standard at Hartford higher than ever.

That is in large part due to members practicing together during the winter, when doubles combinations are changed regularly to give lower-ranked players a chance to test themselves against the top seeds.

Captains are swapped often, and a careful ranking of every player – voted on by his peers – helps to decide who lines up in each team.

Glenn said: “Everything is still geared towards giving the first team the best possible chance of winning the league.

“It’s a club-first philosophy, one which simply wouldn’t work if people didn’t believe that it could.

“Getting them to understand they’re part of a larger men’s section, and not just the pairing they play in, is the secret to its success.

“That can be easier said than done.”

The system has been adopted by the ladies’ section with similarly encouraging results.

Two teams survived comfortably in Division One, although a third drops down after a single season in the top-flight.

Hartford D and Hartford E both retained their places at the level below, meaning five sides will represent the club in the top two divisions next summer.

As with the men, it’s a number no rival can match.