UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

Dan Busby produced a squash masterclass in the Men’s A final to seal victory in the Hertfordshire Open while Alison Cooke took home her maiden Ladies A title after a pulsating day of Racketlon at the Letchworth Squash & Tennis Club.  There were also titles for Duncan Marlow (Men’s B), Ed Westmacott (Men’s C) and Billy Sutton-Mattocks (Men’s D).  They say good things come in small packages and while only a 2 court venue, the LSTC still attracted a bigger field for a 1 day UK Tour event that a World Tour Challenger event in Austria on the same weekend.  All the results can be found here.

Busby’s Best On Court
An 8 draw Men’s A greeted the players on Sunday from A grade regulars such as Ray Jordan, Jack Bishop and Dan Busby, an up and coming youngster in the shape of David Bennett, a new Frenchman to the tour, Jean-Brice Montagnon and some regular journeymen in Johnny Bispham, Kevin Neville and James Langworthy.  In the opening round, our seeds Jordan and Busby progressed with ease, dispatching Neville and Langworthy respectively.  The other two ties were closer, but the ultimate victors (Montagnon and Bispham) dominated the opening two sports against their opponents (Bishop and Bennett) meaning that despite both losing the squash, they were able to progress with relative ease on the tennis court and through to the semi-finals.  We start with the second semi-final, to be unconventional, and a battle of Kent.  While Ray Jordan hasn’t grown much in the past 15 years, his opponent, Johnny Bispham has changed quite a bit since they first faced each other on a TT table in 2002.  In fact, in the opening TT exchanges, all Johnny could do was berate himself for feeding all Ray’s good shots despite knowing him so well.  However, in the second half, the younger Kent man got into his stride and a run of points ensured that he edged the TT 21-17, and after a competitive badminton (Jordan winning 21-15), Bispham was just 2 points down into squash.  At 3-3 in the squash, Johnny must have been thinking about upsetting the more experienced man-of-Kent, but Jordan found a few bonus gears and quickly crushed his lanky opponent.  21-4 the final score and Ray’s 3 points for victory were trivial for him to pick up and through to the final.  

In the first semi-final, it was a return to that old classic of confrontations, Britain vs France, and while another Britain vs France semi-final would resemble the 100 years war (more on that later), this one was more of a brief skirmish.  Busby vs Montagnon was a largely one-way affair, after Dan took the TT 21-7, they headed to Jean-Brice’s specialist sport of badminton, yet to the onlookers (and certainly both players surprise), Busby led 19-13.  However, Jean-Brice won 10 of the next 12 points to secure a 23-21 victory, however the damage was already done and despite a valiant effort on the squash court from the Frenchman, he could not stop Busby from reaching the final, again without using his tennis racket.  Therefore our top seeds, Dan Busby and Ray Jordan, met as seeded in the final.  If Ray had slipped in his TT against Bispham, then there was to be no hope for Dan of a further slip in the final.  Bringing his skills to the table, the only aberration came at 20-6, when in a desire to win with style and to send a message to Dan, he cracked the ball hitting his smash winner, allowing Dan to claim a let.  It made no difference to the final equation.  Moving on from the TT, Ray then gave an exceptional performance in the first half of the badminton, despite being behind, he was trailing just 11-9 at the turn, with an aim of 18 points and a chance to put real pressure onto Dan into the squash.  However, despite one winner from Ray right into the Busby jugular, it was largely one-way traffic in the second half and a 21-11 victory destroyed much of Ray’s early hard work.  However, it was far from over, Ray lead by 5 into squash and if he could nick a few points, there was still a healthy chance of victory.  That was quickly extinguished by Busby, who a year ago, had demolished Duncan Stahl on these very courts in this same final and in 2017 it was no different.  Clean striking, perfect length and tight width just left Ray with nothing, literally nothing to take on and try and force the issue.  11-0 at the halfway point and Ray was playing really well! The second half continued in much the same vein and despite Ray picking up a couple of points, he couldn’t do any real damage to the Busby game and a 21-3 win left Dan needing 9 for victory on the tennis court.  On the tennis court, it was an exceptional effort from Ray, who fought valiantly, however, ultimately 9 points was just too hard to defend and Dan ran out the victor, with Ray leading 14-9 on the tennis court, 7 points short of what would have been an incredible comeback victory.  Jean-Brice defeated Bispham to claim third place at his debut UK Tour event.  

Cooke finds a Recipe for Success
The ladies came through two box leagues before playing off for final places in a busy day (as ever box leagues require tennis to be played to completion!).  Group A featured top seed Kate Russell and her initial challengers Matilda Parslow and Caroline Richmond.  In Group B, it was second seed, Sarah Ball who was joined by tour regulars Dianne Baker and Dom Ford and relative newcomer Alison Cooke.  We start with Group B, owing to the tightness of the matches.  With Dom having to withdraw after her first match with Dianne, that left Ball, Baker and Cooke to fight it out for the top spots.  Ultimately, Alison proved to have too much for Dianne and Sarah across the tennis variants, with healthy TT and tennis wins the backbone of her progression to the final.  In the final match in the group, Sarah held her nerve to defeat Dianne by a solitary point, winning 21-10 in a thrilling game of tennis. Returning to Group A, and despite working harder than she might usually expect on a squash court, Matilda dominated against her opponents Caroline and Kate coming home with comfortable victories to ensure she would also progress to the final to face Alison.  Kate overcame Caroline to take second place in the group and to set up a third place playoff with Sarah.  

In the final, Alison got ahead early in the final with an excellent 21-6 victory in the TT before following it up with a 21-13 victory in the badminton, to take a useful, heavy lead into the squash.  Here Matilda was able to strike back, however Alison worked exceptionally hard, and with the comfort of a 23 point cushion, she took on the lower percentage shots, making many of them and heaping the pressure on her younger opponent.  Matilda ran out the victor, 21-10 and so Alison was to need 10 on the tennis court for her maiden title.  Sadly, however, the onlookers were denied the chance to watch this tennis match as Matilda was forced to retire due to injury.  Having bravely deciding to take the fight to the squash court walls, Matilda was swiftly defeated by the brick and plaster combination in tandem with her racket and a nasty shin injury leaving her unable to keep in the match.  Alison therefore claiming her maiden title on the UK Racketlon scene, a great result for a player in the first season on the tour.  Sarah dominated the opening sports and the tennis to weather the Kate Russell squash storm to secure third place.  

Duncan Grinds Out the Victory
It was also an 8 man draw in the Men’s B, headed by seeds Paul Mathieson and Duncan Marlow, and despite some players (*cough* Matt Daggitt *cough*) taking a route from Cambridge to Letchworth via Redbridge, it was straight forward progression to the semi-finals for both our seeds (Paul defeating Matt, and Duncan defeating newcomer Tom Jarvis), while Nigel D’Arcy (over James Pope) and Fabien Mauroy (over Chris Lewis-Brown) joined them.  The first semi-final between top seed Duncan and UK Racketlon’s long term favourite Frenchman Fabien (don’t worry Jean-Brice, you will probably soon take this crown…), was our second GB vs France encounter of the weekend.  As alluded too earlier, it was this contest which seemed to take on the recreation of the hundred years war.  It started reasonably enough, Fabien as expected cruised through the TT (winning to 9) and the badminton (winning to 11), before Duncan struck back on the squash court, winning to 7.  Nice and easy into tennis, Fabien needing 14 for the victory, Duncan requiring 21.  However, it quickly became clear on the tennis court that nothing would be “nice and easy” about this match’s finish.  There are some ‘classics’ of “Racketlon tennis”, Jake Tetley, Ed Harvey and Ramon Miles all names mentioned in the tremendously long and detailed conversations had by players in the queue for tennis as Duncan and Fabien traded gentle blows.  Conservative estimates indicate that one rally contained in the region of 100 “shots”, in the vaguest sense of the word.  However, eventually, as a new geological epoch was almost formed, Duncan reached the 21 points required, Fabien left stranded 4 points away from victory.  
In the second semi-final, After Paul and Nigel had traded heavy victories in the TT (Nigel) and squash (Paul), with Paul’s dominance on the badminton court the difference between the two players, his 21-10 victory there leaving a simple task on the tennis court and progression into the final.  Paul was able to also enjoy a hearty lunch, because he started after and finished well before semi-final 1!  Into the final, and Duncan showed no ill effects of his prolonged tennis match, getting off to a great start winning the TT to 15.  Paul struck back with a 21-9 badminton victory, his badminton having been in excellent form all day, only his first round opponent Matt Daggitt getting close to defeating him there.  Over to the squash court, and despite Paul’s best efforts, Duncan ran out a 21-11 victor, meaning he was 4 up into tennis.  Playing in a far more forthright style, Duncan raced into an early lead and despite a late fightback from Paul, Duncan ran out a comfortable winner and secured the Men’s B title.  Fabien defeated Nigel to claim third.  

Westmacott Makes His Point, While Sutton-Mattocks Overcomes All
Ed Westmacott defeated Paul Belcher in the final of the Men’s C in a final that lurched this way and that before finally Ed was able to wrestle control.  It seemed like plain sailing for Ed after he enjoyed a comfortable 21-3 TT victory, however Paul struck back in quite awesome style, a 21-1 victory on the badminton court ensuring that he took a slender lead onto the squash court.  Here however, Ed showed he had not been cowed by the heavy defeat at badminton, a 21-2 victory leaving him the simple task of 5 points for victory on the tennis court, a total he achieved with relative aplomb.  Ed had entered the B, but had been slipped down to make the draws nice even 8s, winning the C the perfect response from the newcomer, who will certainly be causing issues for the B players in future events! William Pearce defeated Charlie Attenborough to claim third place, managing to win the first 3 sports to leave a simple target on the tennis court.  The Men’s D came down to a final battle between France and GB.  Both Billy Sutton-Mattocks and Bastien Dohla had defeated all before them ahead of their final match, making it the effective final in this 5 player box league.  Billy was able to open up a healthy lead across the TT and badminton, and despite Bastien striking back in the squash, it wasn’t enough to stop his British opponent and Billy claimed the Men’s D title.  Maximus Sutton-Parker defeated Sam Barker to claim third place in the Men’s D.  

Once again it was a great day at the Letchworth Squash and Tennis Club, a venue who always make us feel very welcome.  With lovely facilities and a nice compact layout, it really is one of the treats of the tour, and always makes for a nice event towards the close of the season.  There is one further event in 2017, the Robin Hood Open, a final visit to Nottingham in this season, however for a third time in 2017, Nottingham has filled a UK Tour event weeks in advance of the intended close of entries.  The UK Tour will be back in 2018 and we will be populating the tour calendar in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on the website, Facebook page and Twitter for news of that!