European Championships - (unofficial) Preview
An official (short) preview can be found on Racketlon.net, here however is James Pope is his usual err style to preview the 1st European Team Championships. The full tournament details, fixtures and results can be found on FIR Tournament Software.
Without doubt, Jesper Ratzer is a force of nature within Racketlon as he marches on towards Magnus Eliasson’s total number of tour singles wins with as much chance as being stopped as the late Jonah Lomu in his pomp. However, there are a few Racketlon titles that elude the great Dane, he is yet to win the UK County Championships, he has never won a “1 Point Racketlon Extravaganza” and he is yet to bring home a team title for Denmark, with a 13 point defeat to Sweden in the World Teams final in Wroclaw, 2014, an agonisingly close result (if you are Danish). However, team Racketlon is an unusual beast, far removed from any other team racket sports competition. In tennis, the Davis or Fed Cups can be won by two top 10 players (or maybe for TeamGB just one top 10 player and a strong doubles foil). Similarly, whilst squash requires teams to field 3 unique players, it is individual rubbers rather than the individual match scores are relevant. Team Racketlon intensifies the core principle of Racketlon that “every point counts”, and amplifies it, so that it isn’t just a point within a set of a sport within your own private match, but potentially the difference between a whole team winning or losing. At the World Teams in 2014, England I lost by a solitary point to Switzerland across 4 matches and 16 sets of sport. The pressure, can be immense, as anyone who has seen a weak(ish) tennis player facing the task of winning a handful of points to secure team victory playing the Men’s Singles 2 rubber (personal experience resulting in my most unnecessarily over the top celebration ever…).
With the team scene set, it is time to delve into the draws and determine who has a shot of the various titles. However, before taking the plunge into the world of prediction/iffy guesswork, let us view the tournament as a whole. The European Championships, is the European (shockingly) component of the various Continental Championships that have been played this year. These events are biennial alternating with the World Championship years. The Euro’s will feature a team competition and a singles competition following on from the team events. The focus of this preview is the team competition, largely because the individual competition has some exceptionally large draws and I have written a PhD Thesis once in my life, I don’t need to do another….. So, despite this already further ado, with no further, further ado, it is on to the 1st European Team Championships preveiw.
The largest country in Racketlon, with the biggest domestic tour, the most vocal social media presence and a wit that makes each article posted on their website a joy to read, TeamGB are going to Prague in force. In all fairness this might be because the beer is known to be cheap in the Czech Republic and the British have developed something of a (deservedly) poor reputation for alcohol consumption on the continent. Their squad is the largest, with 28 men and 6 ladies boarding various flights to converge on Prague. TeamGB will field teams in every category and are very much the shining light in participation. The other powerhouses of the sport are well represented, but it is great to see teams fielding the teams were they can. All in all, 11 nations are represented fielding 42 teams and involving 211 players. Across the Elite and age group draws a strong representation of top ranked players are making the trip, putting work and studies on hold to fight for national glory in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (should any of us see the outside of the STEP Hotel and Sports Centre....).
10 teams make up the Elite draw at Euro 2015, round 1 will see home nation the Czech Republic take on the Netherlands whilst Switzerland face up to neighbours Germany. The victors will join 6 other nations in the quarter-finals. Top seeds Austria face the winners of the Germany-Switzerland match whilst they are joined in the top half of the draw by 4th seeds Great Britain who take on Finland. The lower half of the draw pits third seeds Sweden against Poland whilst second seeds Denmark will play the winners of the Czechs and the Netherlands. A host of tasty squads will compete in this draw, with the 13 of the top 20 men featuring in these squads. The Danes field an ever impressive squad, as you would expect when you can call on the world numbers 1 and 2, however Austria field a solid squad of top 20 men whilst having the luxury of two ladies with SWT titles this season in Christine Seehofer and Martina Miebl. Great Britain is fielding one its strongest teams however the late loss of Ray Jordan is a massive blow, Ray would have brought a huge amount to the team, however with Duncan Stahl (WR11) and Jermaine Manners (WR12) as well as Dan Busby a revelation in his comeback season (a recent victory in France his season highlight). With the make up of the squads, I can’t see Sweden repeating their 2014 victory over the Danes, whilst Austria will likely dominate the top of the draw. I suspect the final will be a tight affair, but my money is on the Austrians, by a narrow margin! I have hopes that Team GB will secure the bronze medal!
A category filled players who are anything but amateurs (well an exception being made for this author). Squads have been named which include a number of players who have won World Tour titles in B and also A grades. 8 nations, 9 teams and so three groups will decide who plays off for which positions in the Amateur competition. Group A, features Sweden II, Switzerland II and Czech Republic II. . In Group B it is Austria II, Finland II and Great Britain III and Group C pitches Great Britain II against Denmark II and Netherlands II. The opening matches will see GB II and GB III play in parallel, so a raucous atmosphere is guaranteed! The opening match, Austria II vs GB III could be tough on outgoing FIR President Marcel Weigl as he is forced to play against non-elite players in the GB III team, (some of them play in the Men’s C.....) Let's hope Marcel can cope, but as far as GB III are concerned, “if there is hope it lies in the proles”. Gentle early sledgubg aside, the Austria II squad looks strong and will fancy themselves for both winning Group B and the Amateur title, as well as Marcel this squad can also call on the second Seehofer, with Elizabeth in their squad. She is not alone as high ranking ladies featuring on the Amateur competition, with Anna-Klara Alhmer (WR8), Therese Malmberg (WR21), as well as Elizabeth (WR14) but it is Kirsten “My” (I.) Kaptein (WR9) who tops the tree in this respect. It is a shame that such talented female players cannot be accommodated in the Elite grouping, just because their country has a strong core of women. Maybe future team events will include a mixed doubles rubber as well? (I write this as a bona-fide mixed doubles specialist!). As is required by sporting journalism rules of group competition, one group must be declared the official “Group of Death” and looking at the draw, this looks like being Group C featuring GB II, Denmark II and Netherlands II. But we will see. The variation between squads increases through this division, but the format of team Racketlon ensures that a lot of matches are open all the way to the death. I have high hopes for my team mates in GB II to make it out of the “G-oh-D” and face off against my pre-tournament favourites Austria II and Sweden II who I expect to lead the way from Group A.
A regulation 8 team monrad draw makes for the smallest headache for the organisers! Sweden the top seeds open up with a tough match against the Germans, featuring Frank "the bandanna" Klieber and Thomas Knaack amongst other solid names. Elsewhere, the Czechs face Switzerland, Great Britain take on Austria and the Netherlands face second seeds Hungary. The second seeds are also going to offer a stern test to their opponents, led by the world number 1 & 2 Vets, Levante "Cheeky" Nandori and Peter Sakovics. Keeping some focus and independence I am also quietly confident that TeamGB can also perform strongly, and whilst they are on course for a meeting with the Hungarians in the semi-finals, they have the weapons i.e. Richard Middleton (the Racketlon fine wine, getting better with age) and Barbara Capper (lovely yet deadly at all times) to beat any opposition. I'll go out on a limb and suggest whoever wins the GB/Hungary semi-final will win the O45s title.
Two groups of 3 split this 6 nation draw up with Finland, Denmark and Hungary in Group A and Great Britain, Czech Republic and Sweden in Group B. I have high hopes of TeamGB making it out as top of this group and facing (probably) Hungary in the final. However, holding Hungary back could be a reliance on Peter Sakovics to play both O45s and O55s, can he muster the energy for both events? Denmark and Finland will be hoping he struggles, because he certainly poses a huge threat to them both, even within the team format. TeamGB can rely on a 6 man squad, with newcomers Julian Clapp and Kevin Neville who perform well on the UK domestic tour against guys half their age. They will be confident that alongside some of the old guard of the GB O55s, they will be a tour de force in Prague.
A five team round robin featuring Austria, Finland, Great Britain, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. Five teams, makes for a round robin event which is going to keep the pressure on, with numerous combinations of results. With these squads also most at risk of providing fillers to senior squads that suffer injury concerns. Again TeamGB will be confident, although the Austrians too will be looking for glory in this event. I strongly suspect drama and head scratching calculations will be being made on the fly, so maybe maths skills will be become more important in the end. I doubt any nation will be undefeated, so in an additional way, maybe every point will count even more than usual. Will these young heads cope with that pressure? Maybe temperament will be the crucial 5th sport. It’s well known that Racketlon is mainly in the head, which countries youngsters will show the most bottle when the time comes? I hope it will be TeamGB.
Four teams will play in a round robin format, with Finland, Great Britain, Austria and Switzerland vying for glory. I suspect that a new fairytale will leave Prague, with the Brothers Grim replaced by the Brothers Griffiths, a pair of smiling (Racketlon) assassins. Young, cheeky and grinning from ear to ear their opponent nations will fall under their sword. Ably backed up by Arif Wadud this trio I suspect are TeamGBs best hope of gold (no pressure lads), but where-ever they end up, expect a grin and expect them back next year, they are all young as well as exceptionally talented.
Obviously we will endeavour to keep everyone up to date with the progress of #TeamGB with #GB1 #GB2 #GB3 #GB16 #GB21 #GB45 and #GB55 throughout the event as well as the@KeithRacketlon account itself. This way you can keep up to date with your favourite team as well as the most entertaining team (#GB3) throughout the tournament. Hopefully we will bring you news of glorious victory and heroic sacrifice, whatever happens there will be humour!
The first European Championships will no doubt be a great event, however it is hard not to feel that it isn’t quite at its full potential. There are fewer teams entered than in Poland last season, including no representation from national hosts on the world tour. Belgium, France, Estonia and others host world tour events of some form, yet there is no representation of these teams in this event. What are the barriers to them competing? The team competition rules were changed in 2015 to only allow first teams in the elite competition, but maybe that isn’t the way forward. Perhaps we should be encouraging as many entries from as many nations as possible and devise draws from that, as we would with any world tour event. In addition, a midweek team event isn’t great timing for many, work constraints in the pre-Christmas period no doubt hinder or prevent some entries. Particularly affected are the junior entries with parents as well as the kids needing to find the time off. It is a crying shame to see only 4 nations entering a team in both junior categories, and only 9 teams in all. The juniors are our future and international team honours are a great way to get them fully hooked, as well as being useful for them for filling their young CVs. Had the FIR opted for this event to be in a more expensive location to visit, it is feasible that entries would have been lower. Team events are a great way to play Racketlon, and clearly are popular with the players, the standard of the entries for each nation highlight that players are willing to turn out for the event, but there is still more that could be done.
As for the event, well I foresee an Austrian domination of the open titles with TeamGB favourites in the junior categories and Hungary the force to be reckoned with in the vets categories, although I have hopes of British medalling here too. I suspect it will be a fruitless trip for the Danes until the singles event takes place, as there I only see one winner of the men’s event. Overall, I hope TeamGB will return with 4 medals and I think that 2 of these could be gold.
So that is it, I excitedly look forward to donning my TeamGB kit on Tuesday and flying to Prague, it will bring the curtain down on the 2015 season, a season where at least off the court I have confirmed myself as the greatest weather forecaster/controller/God that Racketlon has ever seen, even if I am still rather inept on the court. Good luck to everyone playing the Euros, have a great event, unless you are playing a Brit of course.... ;)