UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

Leon Griffiths emerged victorious from the Men’s A box league at the 2017 Kent Open on a glorious sunny day in Canterbury.  He was joined in the winners list by his younger brother Luke, who won the Men’s B, while Oscar Gordon-Reid (Men’s C), Jo Bennett (Men’s D) and Luke Ralph (U16s) joined in the victory celebrations.  The Kings School Recreation Centre in Canterbury played host to a small yet highly sociable day of intriguing Racketlon filled with all the usual levels of nerves and narrow victories!  All the results can be found here.

With four men contesting the Men’s A, it was to be their favourite form of draw, a box league, where all three matches are played to completion (they love those box leagues, they really do!).  Leon the defending champion (having won the two previous Kent Open events) started as the clear favourite, but he would face a challenge from Ray Jordan (consistently runner up to Leon at the Kent Open), Alex Du Noyer and Jack Bishop.  Alex, having ensured it was a far harder journey to Kent from London than was strictly necessary, was able to get the “easy” match out the way first, as he started against Leon, while Ray started against Jack.  While Leon coolly dispatched Alex with a comprehensive victory, Ray was made to work much harder by his fellow Kent-man, Jack.  Having won the TT and lost the badminton, Ray led by just three onto the squash court and while a healthy victory here ensured he was in the box seat, he was made to work all the way in the tennis, to emerge the victor.  In the second round of matches, Leon was pitched against Ray, and with both having won their opening matches, the match represented an effective final.  Leon, dropping the TT to Ray (his only sporting defeat of the day), roared back to crush his more experienced opponent in the badminton and squash to ensure that he was to take home a third Kent Open title.  In the battle for third, Alex did all the early damage in the TT and badminton, to ensure he could comfortably weather a second half fight back from Jack to seal third place.  The highlight of their match being some particularly thrilling squash points, Alex chasing the ball around like a terrier, winning points with a satisfied grunt and losing points with moans about being an “ugly oaf”.  In the final round of matches, Leon showed his dominance as he dispatched Jack, while Ray came through another lively tussle with Alex in strong fashion to ensure that Leon was the victory, with Ray second once again.  

It was a straight forward Monrad 8 draw in the Men’s B, although nothing was straight forward for local hopeful, Johnny Bispham who was handed the tough draw of Luke Griffiths in the opening round.  It was perhaps a tale of two opening specialist sports.  Johnny got off to a great start, 11-2 at the turn, however Luke fought back and Johnny only winning 21-14.  It was a similar situation in the badminton, where Luke reached the turn 11-1 up, however he was able to seal a comprehensive victory in his specialist sport, winning 21-3.  As is the way in Racketlon, these small swings really count and Luke emerged the overall victor.  Second seed, David Bennett also progressed with relative ease, as he overcame the tall challenge of Simon Gilhooly.  The other two first round matches were far tighter affairs, both tales of two excellent tennis displays.  Firstly, Peter Browning reached the tennis court in his match against Graham Norton, needing to win 21-12 or better to progress through to the semi-finals, Graham looking for 13 points for a gumi-arm and 14 for the win.  Moving his opponent around the court whilst minimising the risk to his own shots, Peter managed to do the bare minimum for victory, winning 21-12 to take the match by a solitary point.  The final opening round match, saw Matt Jackson facing the on paper tricky task of winning 21-5 or better for victory over James Pope. With Matt leading 13-0, the tricky task had become a relatively simple one thanks to an excellent demonstration of Racketlon tennis, keeping the ball in and driving errors from your opponent through pressure alone.  Somehow, by hook, crook and a dead net tape, James burgled his way to 6 points and the gumi-arm.  Winning the spin, Matt choose to serve, but sadly his serve drifted wide, handing victory to James.  

The semi-finals were far more straightforward affairs for the victors, with Luke dispatching Peter without the need of a tennis racket, and David needing just a handful of points on the tennis court to defeat James.  In a week’s time, David and Luke will look to add European U16s titles to their World U16s titles won in Denmark last year, but while in Vienna they will be team mates and doubles partners, in Canterbury, they were opponents looking for a UK Tour title.  It was first blood in the final to Luke, with a 21-10 TT victory, before David fought his socks off to earn 14 points on the badminton court, an excellent result against Luke.  David then produced a third excellent squash display on the day, winning 21-3 to ensure that they went to the tennis court for a winner takes all game of tennis.  Here, though, the younger Griffiths brother was able to assert some control once again on the match, winning 21-12 to secure the Men’s B title.  Luke may be the sole victor in Canterbury, but from a TeamGB perspective it was exceedingly heartening to see two of our U16s dominating the Men’s B draw so convincingly.  Peter defeated James to finish in third place.  
In the Men’s C it was another Monrad 8 draw, with Peter Frobisher, Ben Larcombe, Jonathan Nevett and Oscar Gordon-Reid through to the semi-finals after opening round victories.  For Peter and Ben, their semi-final opened with their respective strongest sports and so they both earned a comfortable early win and suffered a heavy defeat.  With Ben edging a titanic tussle on the squash court, it was an all or nothing tennis match from which Peter emerged victorious.  For Oscar and Jonathan, there were once again shared TT and badminton victories, although both were much closer, before Oscar dominated the squash court, a 21-4 victory meaning he needed just 4 tennis points to defeat Jonathan and progress to the final against Peter.  The final was very much a match of two halves.  Peter bossed the opening sports, winning the TT 21-14 and the badminton 21-3, to have a commanding 25 point lead into the squash.  However, Oscar was not to be fazed by the mountain he had to climb and a 21-2 squash victory reduced his arrears to just 8, before he produced a polished tennis performance to win 21-8 and seal the Men’s C title in style.  

In the Men’s D, Jo Bennett and Brian Lees both reached their match against each other having defeated both their fellow competitors, Helen Mattock and Jake Saxby, to set up an effective final in their box league.  As with the Men’s C, this was another final of two halves, with Brian racing out into an early lead with 21-6 and 21-13 victories in the TT and badminton respectively.  Jo, struck back in the squash, a 21-4 victory meaning that she needed to win to 21-14 or better to secure a Men’s D title (something that her son, David, has never achieved!), while Brian needed 16 points for the title.  An at times nervy tennis display saw both players tussle for victory, but it was Jo who was able to secure the 21-14 victory and another 1 point win at the 2017 Kent Open.  Victory by the narrowest of margins, allowed the Jo to add another title to her collection.  

Finally, the juniors enjoyed a 5 player round robin box league, with Leon Cutting, James Donaldson, Josh Cutting and Luke Ralph taking on the winner of the 2017 Futures Super Series, Angus Howard.  In the end, only Luke could see off the challenge of Angus, claiming a 4 point victory to wrap up the title, Angus finished in second with Josh Cutting taking third place.  An enjoyable day in Canterbury at a nice little venue, where spectators had great viewing of all four sports and plenty of space for all the players.  Our thanks to Tournament Director, Ray Jordan for organising the event and to his on the day team of Fiona Sime and Steve Bispham who kept the event running nice and smoothly throughout the day.  

The UK Tour has a slight rest now, with the European Championships starting next week, before returning with three events in September, the South Eastern Open (Limpsfield - 3rd September), Richard Lawrence Open (Oxford – 16th & 17th September) and North of England Open (York – 24th September) all fast approaching.