Preface: James Pope was not at the World Singles Championships so Joel Durston – he of the ‘weirdest tennis serve in racketlon’ – agreed to keep the seat warm by doing the British report. He apologises if some great British triumphs seem a little neglected here. If so, it’s certainly nothing intentional; just that at the time he was, variously, playing, watching one of the hundreds of other games (on that note, credit to James for always getting such detail), eating, in the sauna, having a massage...or, frankly, just hungover from the players’ party.
After great success at the World Team Championships this summer with "Our Heroes: GB4" and other GB successes, and on the domestic and international tours, many of the 32 Brits who headed to Nuremburg, Germany, for the World Singles Championships last weekend had big hopes of more silverware.
While there was no success for them in the graded main adult categories, which somewhat unsurprisingly were dominated by the Austrians, Danes and Germans, there was a lot of silverware for Brits in the age classes, older and younger, showing the future is very bright for UK racketlon. There were golds for Barbara Capper in the Women Seniors +45, Richard Middleton in the Seniors +50, and Luke Griffiths in the Juniors u13s; silvers for Duncan Stahl in the Seniors +40, and Leon Griffiths in the Juniors u21s; and bronzes for Jo Shelley in the Women’s Seniors +40, Bruce Shepherd in the Seniors +55, Julian Clapp in the Seniors +60, and William Gregson in the Juniors u13s.
Middleton in middle spot (photo by Inge Omey)
First, to the most dramatic win of the tournament (indeed the most exciting end to a racketlon match this observer has ever seen). Richard Middleton, the 2nd seed, had progressed to the final with relative ease, beating compatriot Simon Iron +36, Belgian Stephane Goriely +19 and Israeli Avi Shemri +20, while rival, friend and top seed Thomas Knaack had progressed with similar comfort, after a tight +5 win in his first match against Swede Nikläs Hagerbrand. Their final began with a brilliant set of table tennis, which went 25-23 in Middleton’s favour. Then, as expected, the middle two sports basically cancelled each other out - the German winning badminton to 5 and the Brit taking squash to 3, meaning Middleton needed 18 for the win in tennis. On paper, this would put the game fairly strongly in Middleton’s favour as probably the better tennis player – on paper.
On carpet, he found himself, amazingly, 13-5 down at one stage, due to his opponent’s dogged and crafty display and his own nervous errors; understandable for almost anyone else in the circumstances, but surprising for a player known for being so solid. But, he mounted a fine fightback, setting up a finish so tense even he – surely the calmest, most polite player on the UK tour – was roused into shouts of c’mon! after winning big points. At 16-17 to Knaack, a good rally ended with Knaack coming to the net and forcing Middleton into the tramlines with a good volley, before Middleton hit a good low, dipping drive into Knaack’s body. The German’s reaction drop volley to the other side hit the net tape and agonisingly trickled along for, incredibly, about a racket’s length...before tipping down on his own side. Tennis, as they say, is a game of fine margins.
The final point, to make it 18-18, was even more dramatic; the kind of ridiculous rally you would think could only happen at the end of a cheesy Hollywood film. Again, Knaack had approached, and played a good low volley. Middleton flew forward to – just – dig the ball up (you’d never guess he was 51), while his momentum took him to the net too, leaving the two players basically staring each other in the eyes from about two metres away as Knaack prepared his shot (here the film would freeze frame and you’d see the players’ sporting careers, if not lives, flash before their eyes). Like a badminton rally where a player just sticks their racket in front of the net to block, Knaack’s shot ended up right on Middleton racket for a volley winner! Call it luck, judgement or whatever...Middleton, rightly, didn’t care. He was ecstatic, jumping around, arms aloft and bear-hugging Knaack. So much so that he, along with half a dozen or so watching Brits, earned a telling off from the (rather killjoy) umpire on the next court for being too loud. I very much doubt that's happened to Richard 'politest guy in racketlon' Middleton before. But it was well merited.
Middleton also claimed 5th/6th in the B grade after losing to the eventual winner Paul Sach and a walkover against fellow Brit Jeremy Krzystyniak, who had beaten Alistair Prades to get the quarter-final.
Women's Seniors +45
Barbara Capper also claimed gold, beating German Heike Vogt +8 and Czech Vera Kottova +17 in a round robin of five where two players had unfortunately pulled out. The difference proved to be her brilliant table tennis, in which she earned 21-6 and 21-7 wins.
13 and razor sharp focus, World Champion Luke! (photo by Inge Omey)
At the other end of the age scale, Luke Griffiths claimed a brilliant win, beating top seed Botond Francia of Hungary before tennis. He started the game in fine fashion, taking a 21-11 win in the table tennis, a set he thought he would lose, then rounded off the win 21-16 and 21-10. In fact, such was Luke's dominance, he only need to play three points off tennis all tournament - in his win over William John Lee Gregson, which featured a brilliant leg of TT Luke won 25-23. Will had earlier defeated fellow Brit Leon Kashdan-Brown +5 and went on to claim bronze with a strong +22 win over German fourth seed Cornelius Ried.
Luke also came =21st in the huge 81-strong C grade - the strongest placing of the six Brits in the category and a brilliant performance given most players were at least twice his age (13)! He had a bye, beat Swiss Gerhard Curda +9, lost +20 to eventual third-place finisher Florian Baumgartner of Germany, won +5 thanks to commanding 21-3 finish at tennis and then lost +12. [Joel also selling himself short here, he had a very good win Mikael Blom and finishing =25th in the 81 man draw - Ed]
Luke's older brother Leon also did very well, placing 9/10th in the Elite category, making him the highest ranking Brit this tournament at just 16 years of age, and earning silver in the U21s. +24 and +12 wins against Piers Boden and Finland's Luka Penttinen put him into the final against Georg Stoisser, where Austrian won +4 after a fiercely contested match and some massive hitting in the final tennis leg.
Duncan Stahl narrowly missed out on a gold in the 32-strong Seniors +40 after a high-quality final with Jason Granville, which the New Zealander (and honorary Brit??) won +8. Bruce Shepherd lost in the semi-finals of the seniors +55 to the brilliant Peter Sakovics, before a strong +15 win against Jesper Schou Nielsen of Denmark earned him bronze. Lauren Whiteman bravely battled through a back injury to finish a very respectable 11th-12th in the women's A, after a good win against World No.8 Mirianda Frick. In that category, there was a strong return to the game, under a new name and after a new child, to former World No.1 Nathalie Vogel (nee Zeoli). Playing as a wildcard, she took out number four seed Martina Meißl +12, then Nathalie Paul +5, before new number one Christine Seehofer edged their tense semi-final encounter +4. The Austrian then went on to beat Germany's Amke Fischer +10 to take the world title. In the men's Elite, Denmark's Jesper Ratzer, now an incredible three-and-a-half years unbeaten in singles, beat compatriot and training partner Kasper Jonsson +31 in the final - and didn't even have to step foot on the tennis courts all tournament! Man's a machine.
Finally, we must say 'danke schön' to the great venue that is Sport:Park Nordwest, all of the volunteers and last but not least tournament director Michael Eubel for all their tireless work in organising a fantastic tournament which ran with absolutely no hitches or drama.
Next time round, the Griffiths brothers will be about two years older...while Richard Middleton will probably still be managing to defeat the process of ageing as comprehensively as he does most of his opponents.