Flourishing 2015 Start Capped By Brilliant British Championships
Hannah Boden and Duncan Stahl put the icing on their last 9 months UK tour performances to claim their maiden British Champion titles, the beaten 2014 finalists defeating their tormentors of 12 months previous, Barbara Capper & Ray Jordan respectively. However, the real triumph of the tournament was the performance of our junior players in the banded singles. The performances of Luke Griffiths (5th - Men’s C), Leon Griffiths (3rd - Men’s A), Katie Birt (3rd – Ladies A), Will Gregson (Men’s C) and Piers Boden (Men’s A) indicate that that is a healthy future for UK Racketlon both domestically and internationally. When you factor in a couple of unavailable players and some of the junior performances on the Saturday, there is a healthy foundation for UK Racketlon to grow on.
Luke Woodliffe leaps like a salmon during the singles
On top of this foundation was the largest British Championships we have ever seen, with the range of draws including: Men’s A, B & C singles, Ladies A & B singles, U13’s, U16s, O45’s, O55’s age category singles, Mixed A & B Doubles, Men’s Lottery Doubles and Women’s Doubles. With 127 entries from 90 players, it was a massive National Championships, the biggest and best ever the UK has seen. Guided by the experienced Duncan Stahl, Ray Jordan and Keith Lesser, George Roberts organised his second event, dealing with large draws, variable weather conditions and ensured the event ran to time, whilst giving a real energy with his effervescent presence. George was also ably supported by control desk volunteer supremo Neil Byrnes, his Saturday assistant Helen Ford and the ever willing Malcolm Boden.
Overall, this tournament was (in the eyes of this scribe) one of the best for the sense of community and the spirit of play. No quarter was given on the court, every point fiercely contested by young and old alike. However, there were no arguments, honest line calls made and players, their friends and family and volunteers united to generate a feel good spirit that flowed through the event. The poor weather on Sunday, could easily have scuppered a tournament, but the players and organisers pulled together to ensure that it was success required. But, by now, you may be wondering what sport actually happened!
Saturday – Double, Double, Toil and (no) Trouble
Saturday saw the doubles and age group categories played with victories for Keith Lesser & Joel Durston (Men’s Lottery Doubles), Duncan Stahl & Barbara Capper (Mixed A Doubles), Hannah Boden & Lauren Whiteman (Women’s Doubles), Dianne Baker & James Watkins (Mixed B Doubles), James Gibbons (U13’s), Arif Wadud (U16’s), Ed Harvey (O45’s) and Duncan Marlow (O55’s).
We’ll start with the youngest of the lot, and an encouragingly large 11 player U13’s field. The semi-finals saw Rafal Wilowski (the Wilowski’s popping down from Aberdeen for the weekend...) start strongly against Islay Thornicroft, only to see a healthy lead whittled back during the squash, however the young Scot had the tennis skills to see himself through to the final. Squash was of large importance to James Gibbons, as he saw off Luke Griffiths in the second semi-final. Badminton and Squash were to be important to James again as he defeated Rafal, particularly dominating the squash game and Luke defeated Islay to seal third place. Fingers crossed we’ll see many of these U13’s entries back in August for the Racket Masters at the Surrey Sports Park, pitting themselves against the youth of Europe. In the U16’s, Arif Wadud was undefeated in the box league, winning the 4 sports in both of his matches. Arif is a contemporary of Leon Griffiths, and has plans to begin competing in the banded singles in the very near future. David Bennett edged out Kazio Wilowski in a tight encounter to secure 2nd place in the U16’s, Kazio dominating the table tennis and badminton, before David came roaring back, his squash win (21-4) proving the vital difference between two very evenly matched players. In the Old Warlocks, apologies Vets, classes the competition is as ever filled with guile and intelligence replacing youthful exuberance. In the O45’s, Ed “The Nugget” Harvey weathered the Mark Steeden squash storm and stuck to him like glue in the Badminton to set up a 9 point victory. Simon Brown defeated Julian Kashdan-Brown to take third place.
The Men's Over 45 Champion, Ed Harvey (right) with Tournament Director, George Roberts
The Women’s and Men’s doubles used two differing innovative draws to ensure everyone got enjoyable competition. For the Women’s draw, the 4 entrants played a round robin changing both partners and opponents. The pairing with the biggest win would be crowned champions. The dream pairing was Hannah Boden & Lauren Whiteman, who returned a 84-34 victory, just edging out the pairing of Hannah Boden & Fiona Sime (84-39) to take the crown. The Men’s Doubles utilised the lottery partner approach, the debut of this exciting new format for UK Racketlon. Copied from our Danish friends, this format was used for their National Championships men’s doubles, the entrants were ranked and 8 “seeds” chosen from the 16 entrants. These seeds represented the top 8 players in the draw and they were then allocated at random another player from the remaining pool of 8, to make the Men’s Lottery Doubles. The format produced some incredibly tight contests, there were 2 gumi arms (both lost by the pairing of “ever present” Alex Du Noyer & Jonny Horsford) and all but one tie going the distance to tennis. Keith Lesser & Joel Durston were crowned champions, defeating Dave Ridout and Jonathan “The *Insert Adjective*” Wan, despite Keith & Joel receiving a thrashing in the badminton! Piers Boden and George “Caveman” Roberts battled past Jon “The Spinker” Spinks & Ross Frisby by just 4 points to take third place.
The intense facial stares of Gary Jackson had no impact on Dylan Leigh
The Mixed A Doubles saw a box league draw and after Katie Morton & Ray Jordan had defeated Catherine Baker and Dan Busby, Duncan Stahl & Barbara Capper then defeated Katie and Ray, leaving Duncan and Barbara the task of defeating Dan and Catherine for victory in the Mixed A Doubles. But Racketlon is never that simple. A rejuvenated Busby and Baker kept it close through their weaker sports of TT and badminton, before delivering a strong squash win. To tennis, Duncan and Barbara 13 up, just needing 9 for victory, they were defeated to 8 in the tennis, a gumi was required. Could Dan and Catherine become the “Killer B’s” and tie the box up? Duncan and Barbara won the spin and opted to serve. Duncan then, with total chivalry told Barbara that she was serving. Barbara tossed the ball up, rolled in her serve... Let..... Does it get tighter with the title on the line? A second attempt to play the gumi, and Catherine (having also had Dan be chivalrous and told her to receive) could only net the return, gumi-arm victory and Mixed A title to Duncan and Barbara.
Ray Jordan looking for a volley winner past Dan Busby as their partners look on
Finally, the Mixed B Doubles proved that Family is not necessarily the recipe for doubles victory as husband & wife team, David & Sara Milburn and Father & Daughter team, Charles & Michelle Eaton were unable to trouble the established Mixed B pairings of James “Athers” Pope & Beth “Unknown” Milburn and James Watkins & Dianne Baker. These pairings had met in the final of the Mixed B at the Welsh Open in February and despite a much improved Table Tennis and marginally improved Badminton scores (compared to the Wales match), James & Beth were still not able to defeat James & Dianne, as Dianne’s upgrade of James’ once again proving a shrewd decision. This second Racketlon title for James Watkins part of an excellent year he has been having.
Sunday – All The Singles Players, All The Single Players, Put Your Hands Up!
Sunday saw the banded singles titles awarded with victories for Duncan Stahl (Men’s A), Hannah Boden (Ladies A), Tom Atherton (Men’s B), Ross Frisby (Men’s C) and Marina Zabell (Ladies B), with a total of 65 singles entries in the days play. In the Men’s C, Ross Frisby overcame Matthew Daggitt in the final. Matthew, justified his number 1 seeding winning through to his first Racketlon final, however despite dominating the badminton and edging the squash, he was unable to get past the tricky Scot, who displayed excellent TT and tennis to secure victory. Ross was dominant throughout the event and will now certainly be looking for future Racketlon challenges in the B draw. Meanwhile, Jonathan Ben recovered from an agonisingly close 2 point defeat to Matthew in the semi-finals to defeat Alistair Bolger to take third place. The 5 player box league in the Ladies B resulted in the title being determined after a three way count back, as the importance of profiles in Racketlon highlighted as the top 3 players all beat each other, leaving nothing but points difference over the whole completion to separate the ladies. The winner was Marina Zabell, whose strengthening through the sports profile worked perfectly for eventual second place Sara Milburn to defeat her, however Sara was unable to defeat third placed Michelle Eaton, whose strong TT and Squash profile was enough to defeat Sara. The points difference to determine the final order is based only on the scores between the tied players, Marina finishing +7, Sara -4 and Michelle -5. The finest of fine margins, but the every point counts nature of Racketlon highlighted once again.
In the Men’s B, Tom Atherton triumphed without needing to take his tennis racket out of his bag, the Welsh Open Men’s B champion proving his dominance defeating second seed Barrie “Mr Blue Skies”Keeley in the final 21-13, 21-2, 21-7. Tom’s profile, which is very strong through the opening three sports especially badminton and squash will make him a tough proposition a number of A players, and hopefully Tom will step up to test himself against the Elite Men in his next tournament. Jon “The Spinker” Spinks and Zubin Siganporia were the defeated semi-finalists.
In both the elite draws it was far from easy rides for the seeded players, whilst a pair of juniors really made their mark on the final results. In the Men’s A, it was Leon Griffiths who was the junior star. He announced himself in real style with a table tennis demolition of Dan Busby (21-0), before nabbing 4 points off the excellent squash player, meaning he needed just 13 to secure a famous victory. He achieved this with Dan just 2 points away from his own victory, a massive win for young Leon. Leon, then next faced Duncan Stahl and pushed the top seed hard throughout, Duncan having enough to see off the youngster, especially through the squash and tennis and see himself into a second consecutive British Championships final. The second semi-final pitted long term friends and driving forces of UK Racketlon, Ray “Fun with Flags” Jordan and Keith Lesser. Ray took some narrow victories in the first three sports to leave himself only needing a simple tennis victory to set up a repeat of the 2014 final. Duncan has gone undefeated on the UK Tour since his 2014 defeat to Ray and his determination to win was apparent throughout. In 2014, Ray delivered knock out blows in the TT and badminton to keep Duncan at arms length through the rest of the tie, in 2015 it was different. Ray cruised the TT, but Duncan stuck to the big man, pushing him close through the badminton. Duncan won big at the squash, meaning he needed just 16 at tennis and he achieved this total to win the title that alluded him last season. Meanwhile, Leon Griffiths defeated Keith Lesser to take third place and really announce himself on the senior stage of the UK Tour. The double world junior champion (doubles & teams) has a bright future in the sport.~
The Women’s A however probably featured the tightest and most competitive singles play of the weekend, with the some of the quarter-finals seeing the seeded ladies pushed hard. Lauren Whiteman came close to upsetting number 1 seed Barbara Capper, going down by just 4 points, whilst Katie Birt the U16 World Champion, weathered the TT and Badders storm from Katie Morton before showing real guts in the tennis to defeat Morton to 5 in the tennis, to secure a 6 point victory. Laura Swain progressed through her quarter to set up a semi against Hannah Boden. Laura was however unable to stay with Hannah, as Hannah’s ever impressive and reliable badminton combined with improving squash being too much for the 4th seed. Barbara also progressed to the final with victory over Katie, Barbara able to dominate the table tennis and badminton to set up a simple win and a repeat of the 2014 final, where she triumphed over Hannah. In 2014, Hannah was pinned back by Barbara’s TT and Squash leaving an uphill struggle in the Tennis. In 2015 it all change. Making more of a dent into Barbara’s TT (21-9), Hannah as expected dominate the Badminton (21-4), but it was the squash that changed it all. Hannah winning 21-8, compared to 24-22 the year before. This left Hannah with the far easier task of taking 4 off Barbara in the tennis, which she achieved to secure her maiden British Championships crown. Barbara will be back, but Hannah is really developing into an incredible talent, having also recently won a badminton title and England representation, this win is the biggest of her Racketlon career and hopefully will act as a spring board to many more.
Looking Forward, Looking Back
To quote a song, we have come a long way down the track, but we still have a long way to go. The 2015 British Championships were a fantastic event. It is our biggest National Championships in terms of entries, with 90 players and 127 entries across all the events on both days. Best of all was the number of junior entries and the performance of the juniors that entered the banded singles classes, especially Hannah Boden. George Roberts hopes to take the entries in both juniors and ladies events and develop participation and Racketlon development in these categories through Sport England initiatives. If you have any experience to offer in this, please contact George.
Off court, the existing volunteers ran a very solid show, ably supported by the community spirit, players and organisers combining to ensure that the event ran smoothly outside of ideal meteorological conditions on Sunday. However, it is worth mentioning a point made recently, we need more volunteers and more support to ensure the sustainable development of our sport, we have developed well over the last 5-7 years and sensationally since we held the World Championships last August, but we still have a long way to go. The Swedish National Championships had 180 entries to our 120, this must surely be our target, we have the best national tour, but we can still do better for flagship national events. We have much to be proud of, much to be inspired by, but much still to do to keep the push going.
Finally, thanks again to the welcome of the Surrey Sports Park, we look forward to returning their on August 7th-9th for our flagship event, the FIR Super World Tour event, The Racket Masters, ENTER NOW, it is certain to be a sensational event.
P.S, I Photographed You