Arctic sea ice begins to grow, the nights begin to lengthen and the late summer heat has well and truly left northern Europe, it is time to go on a search for some sun and warmth, thankfully Racketlon has the answer. Such is the excitement for the Malta Open, one player has over eagerly booked their flights earlier than their accommodation, but who can blame Jason? A fabulous venue where Racketlon can be played in warm sunny conditions and players can enjoy the opportunity to cool down between matches with a dip in the pool. After a fantastic debut in 2015, we return to the Marsa Sports Club for what is set to be a weekend of Racketlon to salivate over, with 76 players competing across 18 categories of singles and doubles. All the draws can be found on Tournament Software.
We shall start, as ever with the Men’s A and unsurprisingly it is a pair of Danes who head the 16 player draw as the top seed, Kresten Hougaard and Morten Jaksland are our top players in Malta. They are joined in the seedings by a brace of Brits, Dan Busby and Duncan Stahl, and all four will fancy their chances of the title. However, there is a floater (and my favourite for the title) they need to be aware off, Sweden’s Stefan Adamsson. Lurking in the bottom of the draw he poses an immediate threat to both Morten and Dan. Elsewhere, and assuming he arrives on the correct day and in the correct place, then Jason Granville sets up my personal tie of the first round with Luke Barnes, the badminton in particular could be an entertaining watch.
In the Ladies A it is an 8 draw event with the ever present Swede, Lillian Druve and Germany’s Amke Fischer as the top seeds. Amke will be seeding to defend her title and also maintain her unbeaten record on the island. Key threats to the seeds in the draw arise mainly from Germany (5 of the 8 ladies heading over from the land of well taken penalties). Normally, I would now make some bold prediction, however given recent lack of successes in the Ladies (my predicted champion crashing out at in the quarter-finals at the King of Rackets and Racket masters), I am keeping my mouth closed on this front. But, I do think we will see some surprises in this draw (backing you Katie!).
Natalie Paul & Nicole Eisler after the 2015 Semi-final
The Men’s B, a 16 draw see’s Austria’s Roland Pilcher and Britain’s Dave Ridout lead the line. Dave is coming back to Racketlon after a period of time finding himself away from the UK Racketlon WhatsApp group whilst trekking in the Rockies and teaching kids why it is a heinous crime to use pimples* in Africa. Dave faces a brutal opening tie with the shorter member of the De Bleeckere family, Belgium’s Pieter in what would normally be the tie of the round. However, this honour is stolen by top seed Roland, who has the far more intriguing opening match. It is no secret that 18 months ago, Dan Busby realised that he missed Racketlon and so wanted to play after a number years away. Similarly, the 2010 British Champion, Jon Foulds is also returning to the err fold, and he will start off against Roland. Elsewhere in the Men’s B we have the key question of what baked goods will Jon Spinks be bringing to the Malta Open after the debut of his millionaires shortbread at the Racket Masters? Although Johnny Bispham maybe more delighted at the sight of the newest member of the Racketlon medical team, “Racketlon Nurse” Magda Sarna as he still struggles with a lurgy. Overall, the Men’s B looks a very open draw and a number of players look very capable of winning the event (bar me of course), however I must admit I fully expect Jordan Dainty to make quite a splash** at some point.
In the Ladies B, it is an 8 draw event, with the top seeds, Brits Jo Shelley and Dianne Baker. Jo opens up with a match against Belgium’s Inge Omey, who has agreed to step into the Ladies B draw, shedding her camera (for a small while). Dianne opens up against local hero Rebecca Spiteri. However, my tip for this event, is Germany’s Anita Voelkel. The Men’s C is headed by the newly crowned King of German Racketlon, Frank Kleiber, who it appears has risen to the throne on a promise to remove squash and replace it with Beer Pong. Whilst this author heartily encourages the inclusion of Beer Pong, it should surely replace Table Tennis??? The Men’s C is a truly international affair with representatives of the USA, Libya and Kent as well as a trio of locals. A sign of the popularity of this tournament is the standard of even the Men’s C, several of these players could have stepped up to play in the Men’s B and this is great to see for our sport. The Men’s D will also occur as a two box leagues of three, one headed by Ulf Viktorsson and the other by Florien Dubendorfer. They face competition from a Brit and a Maltese in each box.
Tournament play with views like this, unique on the FIR Tour!
However, this just represents a fraction of the action, with Vets and doubles classes going on in an action packed weekend. Some highlights pop out, one match in the first round of the Men’s B doubles will be the most photographed of the weekend as Hans Van Daele (official photographer: Inge Omey) and James Pope (official photographer: Magda Pope) face each other. Their partners Kamil Kurek and James Langworthy respectively had best have their make up ready for their closeups….. There are (more seriously) some fascinating ties in the doubles. In the Mixed A Doubles the Fischer/Adamsson vs Druve/Busby match is sure to be a belter, the winners (most likely) going on to play Paul/Hougaard in the final (Sorry Katie & Luke). Meanwhile the Ladies Doubles, is an (always brutal) 5 pairing box league, where the Dutch/Swedish pairing of Kaptein/Druve will take on (what may well seem like) the whole of Germany as they face 4 all German pairs.
It is evidently going to be an amazing weekend and despite some cruel teasing towards Tournament Director Duncan Stahl from yours truly about Icelandic volcanoes and thunderstorms, the weather looks good and the volcano is quiet again. With a players BBQ, where no doubt Johnny Bispham will declare something outrageous (and incorrect) again, a players dinner, Sunday lunch and the Monday Boat Trip, the tournament comes fully loaded with bonus features, whilst the venue pool, bar and high quality playing conditions ensure that this event is quickly establishing itself as a highlight of the tour.
So, its time to pack the swim shorts and the sunglasses and make may way to Malta, see you all there!
* Dave may have actually been doing something more useful
** At least in the pool....