The nights draw in, excessively early mentions of Christmas occur and don’t start me on “Black Friday” in November. As a tonic to all these ills, the UK Racketlon review of the 2017 Racketlon season is here to sooth your ills. From the launching of the Super Series, iPro London’s Champion’s League victory, a first Elite team medal in 13 years and all our junior super stars, it has been another cracking year within the UK Racketlon community whether here in the UK or heading out across Europe and beyond on the World Tour. Therefore, as there is plenty to review, let us dive straight in!
2017 Roll of Honour
There were 13 UK Tour events in 2017 in addition to the Super World Tour English Open, in a season which also saw us launch the Super Series, as a new concept within the UK Tour. Outside of the UK, the Champion’s League was revamped into a new, more inclusive format and Racketlon Federation Austria took on the Herculean challenge of hosting the singles, doubles and team events for the European Championships in a single 10 day event!
Busby Stalking Stahl, but Griffiths’ Start to Stir
In the Men’s A, the spoils were shared amongst the regular players. Leon Griffiths dominated the season, he took home victory in the London Open, Welsh Open, Kent Open and a maiden Men’s A National Title at the British Championships. Dan Busby sealed three further titles as he finished the season strongly, with three victories in three consecutive weekends, winning the Hertfordshire Open, Antwerp Open and Robin Hood Classic, to add to his victory at the Staffordshire Open back in June. There were also titles for regular winners Luke Barnes (East Midlands Open & North West Open), Duncan Stahl (Essex Open) and Ray Jordan (Richard Lawrence Open). There were two debutant UK Tour Men’s A winners in 2017, Stephen Thompson who won the South Eastern Open and Hannah Boden who took the Shropshire Open title.
Across the Men’s B, C and D categories a number of players had very consistent seasons, most pleasing of all is the number of junior players who have focussed on the open categories during the season. Ross Wilson (English Open Men’s D & British Championships Men’s C), Luke Griffiths (London Open & Kent Open Men’s B), Will Gregson (Shropshire Open Men’s B), Daniel Ryan (British Championships Men’s D) and Oscar Gordon-Reid (Kent Open Men’s C) all securing titles. Two of our ladies also secured Men’s titles, Hannah Boden adding the Staffordshire Open Men’s B to her Shropshire Men’s A title, while Jo Bennett claimed the Men’s D at the Kent Open. Not a junior, but also worthy of a mention is James Langworthy who claimed two Men’s B titles at the North West and Welsh Open’s, having his best season on the UK Tour.
At the end of the season, Duncan’s solitary 2017 UK Tour title has allowed Dan to continue to close the gap in the all time list. Duncan has claimed 19 Men’s A titles in the UK, while Dan now sits on 14, with a firm aim to displace Duncan in 2018.
Our New British Championships Elite Trophies from Lasers Are Us
Boden takes top spot, as new names join the list
There were only two players who won multiple Ladies A titles in 2017, both regulars to the UK Tour in the shape of Jo Shelley and Hannah Boden. Jo picked up the Welsh Open and Robin Hood Classic titles, putting her equal 5th on the all time list. For Hannah, there were titles at the North West Open and more momentously at the British Championships. This victory, her third in consecutive years makes her the first elite player to win a hat-trick of national titles, in 2018 she will have the chance to achieve a Racketlon first of four consecutive national titles, which has never been achieved at any grade in the UK. These two titles also propelled her to a total of 10 UK Racketlon victories, and therefore replacing Barbara Capper at the head of the all time list. Elsewhere, Dianne Baker claimed her first title for 3 years when she claimed victory at the London Open, while Lauren Whiteman (East Midlands Open) was another tour regular to claim a title in 2017. There were four first time winners in the Ladies A in 2017, with Cheryl Evans (Shropshire Open), Sarah Ball (South Eastern Open), Siobhan Robertson (Richard Lawrence Open) and Alison Cooke (Hertfordshire Open), all first time winners, while Matilda Parslow and Amy Ainsworth were also first time winners in Ladies B events (Dianne Baker, Sarah Ball and Maureen Thompson, also winning Ladies B titles during the course of the season).
Super Series Goes Down to the Wire
2017 saw us launch the Super Series, a new set of prizes which rewarded players for their consistency across four pre-selected tournaments, the London Open, British Championships, North West Open and the Welsh Open. Chosen for the geographical location and popularity, these events saw players compete in five Super Series categories, Men’s Open, Ladies Open, Men’s Challengers (open to players outside the UK Top 30 in March 2017), Futures (Under 16) and Masters (Over 45s). Players received points based on their finishing position within their grade, with the cumulative number of points across the four events determining the winner. Going into the final event in Cardiff, three of the categories could be won by a number of players! In the end, our champions were:
- Leon Griffiths: Men’s Super Series
- Jo Shelley: Ladies Super Series
- James Langworthy: Challenger Super Series
- Mark Steeden: Masters Super Series
- Angus Howard: Futures Super Series
The Super Series will return in 2018, keep an eye out for the Super Series events if you fancy a shot at the 2018 titles.
Global Round Up and Ohhhhh Vienna!
Once again British players covered the length and breadth of the World Tour, from Riga to Redbridge, Malta to Malmo, there were British players flying the flag. There were victories, such as Calum Reid at the English Open and the North American Open, as Calum popped up to remind everyone just how good he is at Racketlon. Dan Busby ended the year with victory at the Antwerp Open, defeating Peter Duyck in a gripping final, while elsewhere Brits featured in the final World Tour Race standings in the Men’s Singles (Dan Busby 4th, Duncan Stahl 7th, Piers Boden 10th), Men’s Doubles (Stahl 6th, Busby 7th), Ladies Singles (Hannah Boden 8th), Women’s Doubles (Boden 8th), Mixed Doubles (Busby 6th, H. Boden 9th) and Men’s Seniors Singles (Richard Middleton 6th). However, earning herself a hefty lump of metal for her trophy cabinet, Dianne Baker finished 3rd in the Ladies Seniors world tour race with Karen King in 9th. Such was the volume of excellent UK players performances across the World Tour it just isn’t possible to document all their successes!
iPro London: 2017 Champions League Winners!
2017 also saw the relaunch of the Champions League, following the masterplan of Duncan Stahl. Duncan believed that changing the format would engage the wider Racketlon community and ensure that the tournament was open to players who didn’t have a natural Racketlon club. Using a draft system similar to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, 8 franchises selected their teams and then competed with each other at 2 regular tournaments. After 7 matches, the iPro London franchise, captained by Duncan himself came home victorious closely followed by the King of Rackets franchise. In 2018, the Champions League will return with a second division, extending its reach and entry into the draft is now open here, and it is truly open to all Racketlon players!
Our dominating U16s! (left to right) Will, Ross, Luke and David
Finally, there was the European Championships, held across 10 days in Austria, the teams, singles and doubles events for the open, junior and vets categories were held in one swoop. Much has been written on the Junior and Senior Teams, Open Teams and the Open Singles & Doubles event, plus a UK specific review of the event, but such was our success it is necessary to produce a summary. TeamGB topped the medal table for the whole event, built on our dominance across the junior and vets events. Gold’s were secured in the O55s and U21s team events with a silver in the O45s team event. There were also singles and doubles golds for Barbara Capper (Ladies O45s singles, Ladies O40s doubles and O45s Mixed Doubles), Richard Middleton (Men’s O50s), Julian Clapp (Men’s O60s Men’s Doubles), Leon Griffiths (Boys U21s) and Hannah Boden (Girls U21s singles and doubles), plus a host of silver and bronze medals. Into the open classes weekend, there was a first GB Elite medal for 13 years as the GB 1s claimed bronze after a heart-breaking defeat to Denmark in an incredible semi-final, while the GB 2’s confirmed their status as the premier second team, coming second in Division 2 to Belgium 1, with GB 3 coming a very impressive fourth in that division. The highlight of the second weekend was Leon Griffiths run to the final of the Men’s A, before succumbing to Poland’s Rav Rykowski in an enthralling final, to take home silver. However, probably the highlight of the whole event was the dominance of the U16s boys. Gold and silver in the team event, with GB 1 (David Bennett and Luke Griffiths) defeating GB 2 (Will Gregson and Ross Wilson). The same pairings finished in the same order in the U16s doubles while Luke defeated David in the final of the U16s singles, meaning GB secured 6 of a possible 7 medals in the U16s category, including all the gold and silver medals available, quite simply domination.
The final European Championships Medal Table (half medal awarded for split nationality doubles pairings)
2017 UK Racketlon Awards
The first few of these awards have been determined by popular vote, through the UK Racketlon WhatsApp group and the UK Racketlon Facebook Page. In 2017 the available awards are: UK Lady of the Year, UK Man of the Year, International Lady of the Year, International Man of the Year, UK Tournament of the Year, International Tournament of the Year, UK Racketlon Personality of the Year, Favourite Racketlon Moment of the Year and then a sequence of (supposedly) humourous awards which are determined by your humble scribe in categories such as "Omission of the Year", "Lazerus Award" and the always popular "Photograph of the Year".
UK Lady of the Year
Given what our UK Man of the Year (see below) has achieved, you could argue that our UK Lady of the Year might be in his shadow, and while strictly true with relation to height and the angle of a bright light (see photo below), our 2017 UK Lady of the Year, stands also out on her own. She became the first British player to win a hat-trick of elite level National Titles, was runner up in a thrilling English Open Ladies A event, debuted in the Bundesliga (with a standout win over Amke Fischer) and claimed 2 Ladies A titles (plus a Men’s A and a Men’s B title) in a season that saw her replace Barbara Capper at the head of the UK Racketlon all time winners list and become UK Number 1 for the first time. On top of that, Hannah Boden, also anchored the GB1 team as their lady as they secured a first medal in 13 years as well as picking up U21 team, U21 Girls singles and U21 Girls doubles gold medals at the European Championships. A phenomenal year from the youngster, who has found even more room for personal improvement, which has shown in her results, making Hannah a worthy winner of our title UK Lady of the Year.
UK Man of the Year
I could write (and already have written) many a paragraph on the winner of the UK Man of the Year 2017, in fact in summarising his 2017 achievements, it is hard to know where to begin, 4 UK Tour titles to his name, including a first National singles title, runner up at the English Open, U21s European team gold, U21s European singles gold, European Elite Teams bronze and European Men’s A silver, Leon Griffiths has had quite the season. In Vienna, he competed on 9 out of 10 days, giving seemingly his last ounce of energy before, to the bewilderment of his mum, digging out some more and giving that too (however, it did take him an almost comical number of hours to provide a doping sample… – Ed). His achievements on the court were incredible, whether it was taking a 0-21 squash defeat to world number 1 and home favourite Lukas Windischberger on the chin before producing sensational controlled tennis to win their epic European Championships quarter-final or his run to the English Open final, were only Calum Reid could stop him (and only just!). In the British Championships, he was unstoppable, winning a maiden National Title with aplomb. Given his age, it is hard not to see him dominating Racketlon for as long as he wishes too (or younger brother Luke lets him…).
Such is the high esteem that both Leon and Hannah are held in the UK Racketlon fraternity and the exceptional seasons that they have both had, only two other ladies (Jo Shelley and Dianne Baker) and one man (Martyn Langston) were nominated for these two awards.
Leon Griffiths (centre) and Hannah Boden (right), our 2017 UK Man and Lady of the Year
International Lady of the Year
While a couple of voters championed Natalie Paul for International Lady of the Year after her run to the Ladies A final at the European Championships, she has had to settle for second place again. For a number of years, the talk in Racketlon was of the unbeaten run of Jesper Ratzer. However, our International Lady of the Year 2017 has been, quietly, constructing her own unbeaten record, having not lost a singles match since the 16th April 2016. In 2017, she had a perfect singles record of played 19, won 19, including the Ladies A European title to add to her 2016 World title, while in Ladies doubles it was 12 from 12, in fact her only blemish being a mixed doubles defeat in the final of the European Championships against Amke Fischer & Kasper Jonsson. Therefore, congratulations to, the literal poster girl for the European Championships and our International Lady of the Year, Christine Seehofer on another fantastic season, no doubt this Austrian will be everyone’s target in 2018, but would you bet against her absorbing the pressure with ease?
International Man of the Year
Probably the most keenly contested award in the 2017 list, with three contenders emerging from our voters choices. First up we have Morten Jaksland, this fearsome competitor, deadly on a tennis court, has been knocking on the door for a while, but in 2017 he had his breakthrough as he picked up his first IWT title at the Lanzarote Open and established himself as the top Dane on the world tour, finishing the season ranked third in the world. He was also a key member of the Denmark team which secured a silver medal at the European Championships in Vienna. Of concern for his rivals was the tone of his personal end of season review on Facebook, where he clearly indicated that he wants more than what he achieved in 2017. Our second nominee is world number 1, Lukas Windischberger. The Austrian had an excellent season, playing 32 singles matches, he suffered just 3 defeats, once to Calum Reid in the North American Open final, the then twice to Leon Griffiths, firstly at the English Open, before losing a sensational match against Leon in the quarter-finals of the European Championships. He has been the man to beat in 2017 and time and time again he just wasn’t beatable, with 6 titles during the season. Although he missed out on the European title in his home nation, it was still an impressive season for the young Austrian. Finally, we have Poland’s Rav Rykowski, who defeated Leon Griffiths in the European Championships final to claim his first international Racketlon title! Rav only played two events on the World Tour in 2017, the Czech Open where he lost in the final to an inspired Lukas before arriving in Vienna and thoroughly dominating the Men’s A, to walk away as European Champion.
The votes were tallied, and with three times the votes of both his rivals, our International Man of the Year is… Rav Rykowski.
The International Lady (Christine Seehofer) and Man (Rav Rykowski) of the Year (photo from racketlon.net)
UK Tournament of the Year
The UK Tour has a number of very different events, from the small and cosy two channel events such as the South Eastern Open or Hertfordshire Open, through to the large-scale events such as the British Championships or the always popular and keenly contested County Championships. However, in 2017 there was one, very narrow, winner. It was a newbie event for the tour, and also where we launched the 2017 Super Series, by one vote ahead of the British Championships, our 2017 UK Tournament of the Year is the London Open. It was held at the Parklangley Club, a venue in a quiet suburb of London. The venue impressed from the very start, with excellent indoor facilities, before a mint condition outside clay tennis courts. Such was the reaction to the venue, that there were soon after considerations of running a World Tour event at the venue, and while that won’t happen in 2018, we will be back at the Parklangley Club for more Racketlon early in the new season.
International Tournament of the Year
The World Tour offers a great opportunity to play some additional Racketlon but also to visit a few different cities around Europe, with some events (i.e. Lanzarote and Malta) designed around players having a holiday as well as some Racketlon. I would heartily recommend any player who is able to, to take the chance to play Racketlon abroad, and if you are tempted, the 2018 World Tour has now been finalised. Returning to the 2017 awards, there were votes for popular events such as Malta (previous winner of this award), King of Rackets, and Latvia. However, as with the UK Tournament of the Year, the winner is a debut event for 2017 and therefore the International Tournament of the Year is… the Lanzarote Open. Played out of the Club La Santa resort on the beautiful Canary Island of Lanzarote, the resort is designed around a sport based relaxation holiday. In addition to the Racketlon event itself, players had access to the resort facilities including Padel courts, water sports and mini-golf. The brain child of FIR President Kresten Hougaard, this new venue wowed all competitors and is likely to become a firm favourite on the tour, it will be back running from the 3rd to 5th March.
There were more lying down opportunities for Kresten at the Lanzarote Open, thanks also to Natalie Paul for eventually using this image on racketlon.net
UK Racketlon Personality of the Year
This award is presented to the player or supporter whom, those voting, consider to be the man or woman who has made the largest impact on the UK Racketlon community during the season both here in the UK and abroad. There were nominations for Jo Bennett & Lee Gregson for their support roles at the European Championships, the smiling assassin, Luke Griffiths for his cheekiness, and Harry Courtney, a real gem of the Nottingham fraternity. However, the winner in 2017 represents a player who personifies all that is good about Racketlon while maintaining the status of being one of the nicest people in the sport. On court, they throw their heart and soul into every point, fully committed to winning. Off court, alongside a committed plan of foam rolling, they do their bit for the development of the sport, informally through their friendly rapport with all players and more formally as a member of the FIR Council. Our worthy winner of UK Racketlon Personality of the Year 2017 is none other than Richard Middleton. Many congratulations Richard.
Richard Middleton (r) our UK Racketlon Personality of the Year 2017
Favourite Racketlon Moment of the Year
There were as ever a wide range of nominations for this award. Some opted for a pizza delivery, others for the chance of playing Jurgen Melzer & Christof Krenn at the European Championships. However, in the end there were two front runners, evenly split between two moments, both of which put fans and players alike through the ringer:
1) The run of Leon Griffiths to the Men’s A final at the European Championships
2) The U16s second team gumi-arm victory over Hungary in an effective semi-final at the European Championships.
After a couple of straightforward wins over a brace of Swedes, Leon then had to overcome two gruelling encounters. Firstly against home favourite Lukas Windischberger in the quarter-finals before finding the energy (from some unknown depths of reserves) to defeat Janez Makovic in the semi-finals. Both matches had drama, centred largely around the squash and tennis courts. Against Lukas, Leon held a comfortable lead onto the squash court, 13 points ahead and a clear favourite for the match. Lukas however, delivered a squash masterclass, a 21-0 victory spinning the match on its head, before Leon found the class to control the tennis court and his emotions to seal an incredible 4 point victory. Against Janez it was a different form of drama. Once again Leon led into squash, however Janez has represented Slovenia at tennis in the Davis Cup. Leon was therefore under pressure to ensure that he had as small a target as possible on the tennis court. An exhausting (for the fans) but also thrilling (for the fans) 25-23 squash victory to Leon, left him needing just 7 points for victory on the tennis court which he achieved with “relative” ease.
It was drama of a different kind for the GB U16s second team of Will Gregson and Ross Wilson. Having both defeated Austria 2 in the group stages, Hungary and GB2 faced an effective semi-final in their final group match, the winner progressing to face GB 1 in the final, the loser playing for third against Austria 1. Hungary, featuring a pair of talented youngsters, have real pedigree in this event, perhaps in recent years unfortunate to run into GB teams at this stage and therefore not able to reach the final. However, as they dominated the opening sports, winning the first seven sets (3 x TT, 3 x badminton, 1 x squash), it looked like a place in the final would be theirs. However, in the squash the tide started to turn and the GB boys struck back, and as this continued into the tennis, the match ultimately came down to the final doubles tennis set, Hungary needing 9 for their win. I’ll leave you with the words of the Tournament Report to give you a sense of the breathlessness that followed
“The Brits started well, an early lead 2-0 remained at the halfway stage, 6-4 at the turn. On the clay, in sun, the Hungarian’s struck back 7-7, they needed 9 for the win. 8-8, match points for Hungary, the British hopes, kept alive for so long, were surely now fading. 8-8 became 10-8, still match point Hungary, but now gumi-arm point GB, who would emerge from this tussle victorious? 11-8, the boys had clawed back from the precipice, saving 3 match points, forcing a gumi-arm. FIR head delegate (Richard Middleton) and Tournament Director (Christoph Krenn) confirmed the rules and away we went. In team Racketlon, the gumi-arm point is played by the final match on court, so in the U16s, this is the doubles. GB won the spin, Hungary to serve, Ross to receive and as a video tells a thousand words, I’ll leave you in the hands of Shirley Barre (stick to the end for the real highlight!).”
With the votes tied, I normally have the casting vote, however on this occasion, I can’t choose a winner. Both moments put me (and everyone else) through the ringer whether in person or following on WhatsApp and Facebook. In both, some of our youngest players managed to hold their nerves in the most incredible of settings and therefore, the GB U16s 2s (Will and Ross) and Leon are joint winners!
From this point, these awards are solely determined at the digression of your humble scribe! Please direct all your ire towards him!
Photograph of the Year
There can only be one contender for this award, and it is for 2017 a duel media award as it originates from the video of the year. Lee Gregson’s dancing delight was captured on film by Shirley Barre as she recorded his son Will, with teammate Ross Wilson, defeated the Hungary U16s on a gumi-arm (see above). The video was quickly shared on WhatsApp and Facebook. Swift as a flash, Ray Jordan screen grabbed the image of Lee (below) and an iconic photo was born. We hope Lee will wear his involvement in the Photograph of the Year award with more pride than some previous winning photos stars.
Dancing Lee Gregson - Credits Shirley Barre and Ray Jordan
Bone Crusher of the Year
Another firm favourite returns to the 2017 Awards, with the Bone Crusher award which was inspired by an incident at the 2015 Racket Masters, where Jo Shelley’s hand was broken by an opponent. Jo was also on the receiving end of a tennis serve in 2016, also at the Racket Masters, with her opponent on that day receiving the Bone Crusher award in 2016. Thankfully for Jo, she was not the victim in 2017, instead it was last season’s winner, your humble scribe, James Pope. James was squatting down at the tennis net awaiting his partner, Jon Spinks’ first serve. James and Jon, playing doubles in the GB4 side, needed just 2 more points to defeat Switzerland 3 in their team match, with Switzerland just 4 points from victory themselves. The pressure was on, Jon tossed the ball high in the air, and made good contact, only for the direction to be off and the ball to sail straight into his partners rear end. Hilarity ensured for the Switzerland 3, GB4 and other national teams players who witnessed this moment, less so for James. Therefore Jon Spinks is crowned our 2017 Bone Crusher of the Year.
Lazarus of the Year
Racketlon requires a certain belligerence to play. You are signing up to play an opponent in 4 different racket sports, with the expectation that you will probably be outclassed in one of them during each match you play. Additionally, there is the mental pressure that comes from knowing that every point counts, the pleasure that nicking points in your weakest sports and the frustration when you drop points in your stronger sports. Therefore, mental toughness and the desire to keep fighting are inherent to the Racketlon regular’s psyche, hence two regular awards, the "Hard as Nails award" and the "Lazarus award" deal with people who go those extra miles to play Racketlon. In 2017, there is one nominee for both these titles, Matilda Parslow. During the squash in the final of the Hertfordshire Open, fighting hard to claw back on the lead Alison Cooke had earned in the opening sports, Matilda jarred her squash racket into the side wall and her ankle simultaneously. Despite being in obvious discomfort, she played on and won the squash set 21-10, however she retired from the match when faced with needing to win the tennis to 6 or better for victory, and her ankle starting to swell significantly and a car drive home to consider as well!
Matilda Parslow grimacing on court
However, despite a fracture of some sort to her left leg (I am reliably informed), Matilda rocked up in Nottingham, two weeks later for the Robin Hood Classic. She fought hard, she fought bravely and came away with third place in the Ladies A round robin event (all the more taxing because it requires all matches to be played to completion), coming within 1 point of defeating eventual winner Jo Shelley in a gruelling match. Therefore, despite it seeming like her 2017 season had ended in Letchworth, our 2017 Lazarus returned to competition just two weeks later, Matilda Parslow is our worthy winner this year.
However, the judges had deemed that she is ineligible for the "Hard as Nails award", because she withdrew from the tennis at Letchworth. As a result that award will be left unclaimed in 2017.
Omission of the Year
This is an easy one to award, in 2017, the Omission of the Year can only go to one group of people, Racketlon Federation Austria. As they detailed the results from the European Junior Team Championships, the RFA reporters swiftly covered the performances of Austria U16s 3s (6th), Austria U16s 2s (5th) and Austria U16s 1s (4th), with by requirement, a brief mention to Hungary U16s (3rd), and that was, as they say, that. Their report missed out on reporting on the teams who came, err, first and second in the European U16s Team event. They were of course, GB U16s 1s (David Bennett & Luke Griffiths) and GB U16s 2s (Will Gregson & Ross Wilson). One positive did arrive from this omission however, someone far better looking and more humorous wrote the Racketlon.net reports on the Junior and Senior Teams, Open Teams and the Open Singles & Doubles events.
Most Extreme Racketlon Tennis of the Year
A return for this old favourite from the 2015 Awards, an award that “rewards” players who have excelled in the use of Racketlon tennis. In fact, one key factor for being eligible for this award, is that the act of Racketlon tennis results in players discussing previous nominees for this award, because rallies are lasting that long. In 2017 there was a stand out candidate and worthy winner of this award as Fabien Mauroy and Duncan Marlow contested their semi-final in the Men’s B at the Hertfordshire Open. As the points dragged on the ball got floatier and floatier and no end was seemingly in sight. Conversation turned to Jake Tetley at King of Rackets and Ramon Miles in Malta, all during a single point estimated to have lasted in excess of 100 shots of nervy tennis. Eventually the match did end (the second semi-final having ended and both players enjoyed lunch during the Mauroy/Marlow tennis) and both players walked off court, perhaps unware that they would both end up as “winners” from their encounter. Congratulations (of sorts) Fab and Duncan.
Match of the Year
A good Racketlon match comes in all shapes and sizes, and in 2017 there were many, but primarily they will have the common theme of a tight finish. However, our clear 2017 winner, was the match between world number 1 Lukas Windischberger and Leon Griffiths at the European Championships. Lukas, home favourite for the title, had only defeated twice all season and in the form of his life. With the added benefits of home comforts and having had a week of practise on the very match courts to be used in their match, Lukas rightly was confident. Leon, however was not to be prematurely written off. He was on the crest of a wave, yet to lose a match in Vienna across 8 days of Junior and Elite competition, including gold medals in the U21s Team and U21 Boys singles. To the match itself, and Leon made all the early moves, his TT was very solid a 21-10 victory and he opened up an 11 point lead as they headed to Leon’s specialist sport of badminton. Lukas, aware that it was probably the badminton that had cost him against Leon at the English Open, put in a huge shift. He kept snatching a small lead, forcing the young Brit to claw back the points and making it hard for Leon to stamp his authority on proceedings. Although Leon would steal it in the end, 21-19, it was probably not the win he was hoping for, certainly not one to heap pressure on his opponent. However, the Brit did lead by 13 into the squash, only marginally down on his position at the English Open.
Heading to squash and a good victory for Lukas was expected, leaving the match level into the tennis. What actually happened on that squash court in the next 15 minutes, left everyone in the young Brits camp reeling. Lukas began well, a clear intent to not make it easy for his opponent, sticking to the basics of squash, Lukas worked a good length, playing to the corners and moving his opponent around. He also played to the key principle of Racketlon, he was literally flawless. Leon, ran his heart out, he chased balls, attempted to put the Austrian under pressure, but no matter what he tried, he just couldn’t find away through a fifth wall on that court. Lukas produced a masterclass in Racketlon squash, a chanceless performance, 21-0 to the Austrian. It stunned the vocal British crowd into silence, allowing the small Austrian support to make their voices heard for once. As they walked over to the tennis court, all Lukas needed to keep home hopes alive was 14 points, Leon looked physically exhausted.
However, it seems that Leon is beset by both an immense reserve of energy and a calmness many could only dream off, on court. He sucked up the squash score line, swigged on his drink and nonchalantly headed to the tennis court. In London, Lukas had played a defensive game against Leon, using his fitness and control to keep the ball alive, and from the outset it appeared that he was going for the same plan in this match in Vienna. Crucially however, the court in Vienna was a fraction quicker than the court in Redbridge, and that small margin played into the Britons hand. Leon raced out into an early lead, displaying the same levels of calmness and control his opponent had just executed on the squash court. Lukas however was not having the season of his life by being inflexible, he changed tack and started taking the match to Leon. With two loyal crowds cheering on their respective player, the match quality continued to rise, however as the points became more open, it drifted in the favour of Leon. Lukas however struck back again and he got within 4 points of an excellent victory, only to see his opponent slam the door closed in his face. Leon won, 21-10, 21-19, 0-21, 21-9, Lukas was defeated, but in no way the loser. He was rightly applauded by the British fans, who went over to shake his hand, he had come second in a match that in this scribes eyes, defines what Racketlon is all about, two players, giving their all, under the pressure of the scoreboard, the fans and the opportunity that lay ahead. Despite many other great matches in 2017, this one was easily the Match of 2017, all we can hope for as fans is many future repeats!
Leon was shattered, brother Luke was delighted!
“He played that long without winning anything” Persistence in Racketlon Award
A special one-off entry for the 2017 awards, but one worth mentioning. Having started out playing Racketlon in September 2007, this player took until February 2013 to reach a first Racketlon final. Over the next 4 years this player was defeated in 7 out of 7 finals, before finally, 9 years and 9 months after his first Racketlon match, he claimed (with partner Michelle Hall), the Mixed B Doubles title at the British Championships. Therefore, the award for Persistence in Racketlon, goes to James Pope (Yes, we know, he has given himself an award again! - Ed). Should anyone ever exceed this record of regularly playing and not winning, then this award will be passed on, along with a bottle of champagne, somehow, I don’t think I’ll ever be doing that!
Well, that ends it for 2017. From everyone at UK Racketlon, a massive thank you for your participation and engagement in the 2017 season. Whether as a player, supporter, volunteer or parent taxi-driver, the UK Racketlon community is a special one. We look forward to seeing you all again in 2018, we will be releasing details of the 2018 UK Tour in the coming days with events in Nottingham and Parklangley confirmed along with a date for the County Championships.