101 players will help welcome the English Open back to the Racketlon World Tour in what has been an incredible entry, bigger than a number of full world tour events. 19 events from U16s to O65s featuring 147 entries, it is certainly going to be a vibrant celebration of Racketlon, and its ever growing strength here in the UK. There are some tasty draws, even amongst the amuse-bouche that is the Sunday doubles and vets events, but we will dive straight into the main course of our feast, the Men’s A.
Kresten Hougaard leads the line as top seed, as he returns to the venue of his recent victory in the Essex Open. One month into his stay in the UK and Kresten has claimed victory silverware in both theEssex Open and the County Championships, so he will be looking to ensure he claims a hat-trick. Kresten opens up with the chance to avenge one of his less enjoyable Racketlon matches, when the seemingly fearsome Danish World Team squad was defeated by England, thanks in part to a shock singles victory for Jeremy Krzystyniak in 2013. Jeremy sneaked a 2 point win that day, can he repeat that in Redbridge this weekend? Should Kresten extract his revenge, then he has claimed some small draw fortune. With seedings based on world rankings, Dan “Matchmaker” Busby floats around the draw like an unpleasant smell. Should Busby get past Alistair “1D” Prades, he lurks in the background, however, fortunately for Kresten, the UK number 1 has slipped into the lower half of the draw, as potential semi-final opponent for number 2 seed Duncan Stahl. Duncan however has been drawn in what for me is the tie of the first round, as he takes on Richard Middleton. Richard is where everyone younger than him dreams of being when we are older and everyone older wishes they had been. If he were better known, tennis commentators would stop likening Novak Djokovic to a machine and more as “a Richard Middleton”. Duncan *should* have too much for him, but will have to be on his toes, especially on the squash court.
Our two protagonists in the Men's A, Duncan (l) and Kresten (r). Picture by Inge Omey
In fact the draw has thrown up a couple of very interesting squash match ups, Coley vs. Bishop will be pressurised squash, the balance of that tie seeming to lie there. “Two Dinners” Coley is the favourite, but needs a healthy win on the squash court to be confident of taking out Jack. However the juiciest squash tie, pits Mark Steeden vs. Leigh Sands. Leigh is returning to UK based World Tour matches for the first time since he suffered the ignominy of being told, repeatedly, how bad Australian cricket was, and thinks his current tie is "50/50 across all the sports". Given how Australians regularly overly state their confidence, I think Mark winning before tennis is all but assured. Regardless, the squash in this match will be sensational, requests for periscoping it are already in. Another fascinating single sport experts match up is the tennis between James “Sgt Wilson” Silvester and Oliver “Face in the Papers”Oxland. These two tennis experts could put on quite an exhibition if it is tight going to the final sport, and certainly a potential schedulers headache if they get going on Redbridge’s top class courts.
Both the third and fourth seeds will face a nervous wait for their first round fixtures, with two of the toughest draws facing them. Leith “Landlord” Lesser faces his Racketlon kryptonite in the form of the“Ever Present” Alex Du Noyer. The badminton/tennis profile of the “Ever Present” is hard work for our plucky third seed. Meanwhile fourth seed Jason Granville, comes over to represent the true face of antipodean sport, the Kiwi’s being everything the Australian’s aren’t (magnanimous in victory or defeat primarily). Jason faces Luke Barnes, one of the most dangerous player on the UK tour. Should it click on the day for Luke, he will surely win, Jason will have to work hard to ensure that Luke can’t click to ensure he emerges unscathed. On my paper, Duncan is the favourite for the title, however Kresten has a theoretically easier semi-final and that freshness may count in his favour come the fourth and final match of the day.
A monrad 8 draw will see the Ladies A contest the English Open title. Barbara Capper heads this field, facing Dianne Baker in the first round, a potential rematch from Sunday’s Over 45’s semi-final…. Kathryn Milne takes on Kate Russell, in what will surely be another excellent squash encounter. Jo Shelley will sadly have her (main sport of) squash dismantled as the second seed has been drawn against home favourite and rising squash superstar Elise Lazerus. Meanwhile, preseason tip, Lauren Whiteman faces Lorna Russell, a match likely to feature a tight start followed by one sided final sports. Lorna will dominate the squash and Lauren the tennis, so the match will pivot on the TT and badminton sets. It is very hard to look past Barbara for the title, but Lauren could cause the upset if it is to occur. A four lady round robin awaits Dominque Ford, Jo “papped” Bennett, Lisa Hogben and Julie Moorcroft, in a Ladies B event that is far too close for me to even attempt to try and predict.
Kate will need to stretch everything to get there against Kathryn
The Men’s B draw has instantly captivated the community on WhatsApp. Fourth seed, Fabien Mauroy went into a midnight meltdown when his Google-fu let him down searching for James Trueman. Fabien will be hoping that Trueman won’t find his show being wasted on thee (Frenchman), lad. The vagaries of the draw have ensured that both the first and second seeds have drawn tough unranked players. Ed“The Nugget” Harvey, tops the bill but has run into the tricky test of Marc Thornley whilst second seed, Frank “The Bandana” Kleiber, over from Germany has run straight into a horrible draw, as he faces the unranked (in singles) Rakesh Gupta. In fact, there are a couple of unranked players floating around the B draw to cause chaos, with Welsh Open B champion, Adit “The Accidental” Patel playing Matthieu Beurel-Diamant from France and Kevin "Pumped" Neville who faces Joel Durston. Established players also seem drawn to each other, with Johnny “Puppydog” Bispham looking to carry his (sober) form in the Czech Open back to Blighty as he faces Stuart Rank. James Watkins, so long as he avoids punching any walls, will be confident of not needing his tennis racket against James Pope, whilst Jon Spinks will be hoping to keep his recent singles form rolling against David Rawlings. Looking at the draw, I must confess I see a Men’s B English Open title for James Watkins this weekend, so long as he can learn to vent his anger with his left hand at least.
Pumped & passionate about winning, Kevin Neville (Photo by Pierre Olivere)
The Men’s C is the third 16 draw monrad in the men’s singles, Sweden’s Ulf Viktorsson (hoping to do as he says on the tin) and George “Caveman” Roberts topping the seedings, for this event. However, lurking like a predator (but thankfully for Johnny Bispham, in the C), is Luke “Smiling Assassin 2.0”Griffiths. Younger brother to Leon, Luke is rising in Racketlon of his own accord, having grinned his way to the U13s European Singles title last November in Prague. A number of tour regulars float around that draw and some interesting potential matches are on the cards, however Richard “Stats Man” Boreham will already have a full prediction of the days events produced….. A 12 draw in the Men’s D highlights the popularity of the tournament, with the fate of the newly left handed Sam Barker probably of most interest. Sam, having suffered an RSI to his right wrist is still too keen on Racketlon to not play as he awaits surgery. He therefore has entered the Men’s D as a leftie and it will be fun to see him give this a stab. I don’t think you can ask for more dedication from a player than this and we all wish Sam the very best.
Luke smiled in Prague, but will he grin in Redbridge?
These singles draws all follow on Monday, after a Sunday which features Men’s O45’s, O55s, O65s; Ladies O45s and U16s singles events alongside a raft of doubles events. There is far too much to document here, so a few snippets. 16 months after ditching him as a partner, and defeating him in two finals and a 3rd/4th place match, Dianne Baker is reunited with James Pope in the Mixed B Doubles, with a tough match against Kate Russell & Johnny Bispham to start them off. The Bispham/Russell combination is also a source of much amusement (for us) and pride (for Johnny), as Kate turned down the advances of Kresten Hougaard having already promised to play with the man from Kent/Norwich/limited gene pools. It is worth also thanking here the work of UK Racketlon’s equivalent of eHarmony, Dan “Matchmaker” Busby” for arranging a number of these pairings in the final weeks of entry.
So there we have it, the English Open returns, and it looks to be certainly back with a blast! Keep updated in all the usual places for Draws & Scores, Twitter Conversations and of course the news from the UK Racketlon Facebook page.