The world is gripped by Olympic fever and every story in the world of Olympic sport is played out at every Racketlon tournament. This weekend at the Surrey Sports Park, UK Racketlon host the Racket Masters. We have the athletes who dominate with Jesper Ratzer our sports answer to Anita Wlodarczyk (world and Olympic champion, top 10 hammer throws of all time), Lillian Druve as our sports Kathrine Grainger, showing the longevity, desire and commitment to stay at the top. Meanwhile, the likes of James Pope thrash around in the Men's C like our version of Eric the Eel. With 99 players and 166 entries covering 24 draws from U13s to O60s and an athletes village the 2016 Racket Masters looks sure to be our fitting tribute to Rio 2016. All the draws can be found here on Tournament Software or delved into below.
We start with the Men's A, featuring a brace of Danes (Ratzer & K. Hougaard) and Austrians (Dickert & Barbunopulos) and Belgium's Mr Lean, Peter Duyck. They are joined by 11 Brits (well 10.5 Brits) led by messrs Jordan, Stahl, Busby and rising star Leon Griffiths. Ratzer is the favourite, he is undefeated at the SSP, his 2014 World Title and 2015 Racket Masters wins already bagged. It is hard to see the man being stopped, but who knows it has to happen, doesn't it? First in his way is the "Ever Present" Alex Du Noyer, ADN looking forward no doubt to his specialist sport of badminton, a chance to show the world number 1 how to play that sport. Ah.... Never mind Alex.... Elsewhere the first round is stuffed full of tasty draws with Barnes vs Griffiths, Jordan vs Hougaard and Stahl vs Barbunopulos looking very interesting. My wonky prediction skills suggest a Ratzer vs Dickert final with Busby/Griffiths fighting for third.
I'm A Racket Master! Who Will Jump on Sunday?
In the Ladies A, defending champion "bonecrusher" Meißl is back and hoping to not cause quite the impact (on Jo Shelley) as in 2015. She is seeded second with top seed the Swedish legend, Lillian Druve. There is tough competition around with Lieselot de Bleeckere (hoping to diagnose a path to victory) and home favourite Lauren Whiteman also seeded. Tie of the first round sees two of the best British ladies drawn together as Hannah Boden takes on Barbara Capper. Both know what they need to do to win against the other so it is pure Racketlon and a test of nerves! As for the title I am plumping my money on de Bleckere to go one further than in 2015 and claim the Racket Masters title, Druve in second with Whiteman stealing third from Meißl.
Around the other draws, the Men's B looks like a barnstorming event. A mainly British affair the event is headed by Richard Middleton as top seed, his pedigree one that puts the likes of Jason Kenny to shame. He is joined by a host of British talent (the Men's B a bit like Olympic Cycling really) with our favourite Frenchman, Fabien Mauroy and Swede Sami Sidia in the draw along with Aussie Leigh Sands. Leigh will be hoping to enjoy a quieter Racket Masters this year, as while Australia are losing (again) in cricket it is to Sri Lanka not England. Middleton the man to beat in this event but don't write off "sicknote" Harris or the Pride of Shebbear, Alistair Prades.
The Ladies B with 6 ladies in 2 box leagues is headed by seeds Dianne Baker and Katie Barclay but floating around is East Anglian champion Michelle Hall, hoping to join fellow multi-sporting Yorkshire talent Alistair Brownlee (Triathlon) in tasting success this week. The Men's C features Racketlon stalwarts van Daele (Belgium) and Pope as top seeds, but it is the young talent from GB that stands out. Luke Griffiths, David Bennett and Joshua Ben, the World Champion GB U16s squad all feature in this draw. Personally I make James Langworthy the favourite for the event.
The Men's D is an all UK affair with George Roberts hoping to achieve victory although it is believed he is not sleeping near Paul Mathieson this year in a bid to focus on his title bid. His main competition is in the form of both the Gregson and Ryan familes as father & son pairings face up to "the Caveman". A quick flick around the juniors sees that defending champion Luke Griffiths chases a second title, smiling his way throughout he may be UK Racketlon's version of Usain Bolt if he can grin to victory. In the U16s, David Bennett chases glory to add to his recent U16s world team and doubles titles. His main rival is Kieran Shelley. Ross Ewan and Daniel Ryan the seeds in this event which we expect to be keenly contested.
Appearing chilled on semi-finals night
The older generation are also well represented with 3 mens and 1 ladies vets class in action. The Ladies Vets may be the event of the weekend, UK hopes rest on Barbara Capper and Jo Shelley but this stellar draw could go in any direction as they are joined by Heike Voigt (Ger), Esther Dubendorfer (Swi) and top seed Lillian Druve (Swe). This is an 8 draw event that is too close to call!
For the Men's O45s it is an equally tough field. Jason Granville leads the pack but faces competition from primarily second seed Richard Middleton but neither man has an easy path to the final, some steeplechase eske hurdles to clear for both players. The O55s is a 6 man event with 2 boxes headed by seeds Duncan Marlow (now winning team TT points) and Julian Clapp. Box league Racketlon is always physically tiring so this event may be a survival of the fittest! A glutton for punishment, Julian Clapp also goes for glory in the Men's O60s, a four player round robin meaning 6 full matches for Julian, channelling his inner Daley Thompson to survive.
There are also a host of doubles categories, some belting ties floating around, and plenty of elite player experience for upcoming players such as Hannah Boden and Leon Griffiths. Doubles gets us underway on Friday with singles completing on Sunday. Weatherwise the SSP may be breaking its duck, rain seems inevitable at a venue that has so far been blessed with great weather (for the UK). Weather guru Pope having delivered the prophacy of doom is now tasked to make it go away in what may be the greatest test of his "powers" to date.... Regardless the Racket Masters will doubtless be a sensational event and will once again showcase the best Racketlon has to offer without our court surfaces strangely turning green.....
See you all Friday!