UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

Duncan Stahl and Lauren Whiteman claimed their first English Open titles after a buzzing weekend of Racketlon at the Redbridge Sports Centre.  150 entries contested 20 events with singles victories also for Rakesh Gupta (Men’s B), Jo Bennett (Ladies B), Kiran Turner (Men’s D), Jason Granville (Men’s O45s), Barbara Capper (Ladies O45s), Duncan Marlow (O55s) and Wilf Jessop (O65s).  Meanwhile there were doubles titles for Dan Busby & Duncan Stahl (Men’s A), Will Coley & James Watkins (Men’s B), Kevin Neville & Marc Thornley (Men’s O45s), Peter Latham & Stuart Rank (Men’s D), Lee Gregson & Will Gregson (Men’s E), Barbara Capper & Dan Busby (Mixed A) and Kate Russell & Johnny Bispham (Mixed B).  However, the real star of the weekend (from the perspective of the future of UK Racketlon) was Luke Griffiths, as the 12 year old won the Men’s C Doubles (with father Andy), the U16s singles and Men’s C singles titles, in an undefeated weekend for the 12 year old.  Full results on Tournament Software.


For some, a mid match nap was necessary

So, to business and we start, bizarrely enough, with the first day, which featured the age group singles (U16s, O45s Ladies, O45s Men, O55s & O65s) alongside the doubles categories.  A busy day seeing in excess of 50 matches played across the categories, with many players doubling up their events.  Perhaps with eyes on selection for the World Team Championships in Copenhagen in July, strong fields assembled in the Vets classes, nearly all the Prague squads reassembled in the draws.  In the O65s it was a straight elimination as Alan Cornish (4th in the O65s at the 2014 World Championships) and Wilf Jessop pitted themselves for the title.  Wilf was able to narrowly edge the opening three sports to ensure a relatively simple tennis equation to win the first ever O65s English Open title.  Duncan Marlow has had an interesting recent past on the TT table, but he struck back at his (written critics/teasing team mates) to win three TT sets on his way to the O55s English Open title.  He defeated the tricky Mark Johnson in the semi-finals, winning too keenly contested TT and badminton legs (21-18, 21-19) before running away in the squash to leave 7 for victory in the tennis.  He dominated the final against Stephen Walter, edging a tight badminton set (22-20) and dominating TT and squash to ensure his tennis racket wasn’t needed again.  Mark defeated Jerry Bishop to take 3rd place.

 

 

The top two seeds contested the Ladies O45s final, as Barbara Capper defeated Jo Shelley, despite a 21-8 squash defeat, Barbara’s dominance in the TT and badminton (21-5 in both) ensured victory.  Dianne Baker squeaked into third place edging out Kathryn Milne by a solitary point.  Dianne dominated the opening sports (21-8 & 21-4) before losing the second two (7-21, 6-21) in a hard fought encounter! 14 men contested the O45s singles, and the final featured visiting Kiwi/former Brit Jason Granville and Mark Jackson.  Mark had edged out Richard Middleton in the semi-finals with a nerveless tennis performance after a thrilling (22-20 to Middleton) squash leg.  However, in the final, Jason had too much for Mark over the TT and badminton, so that despite a squash defeat, he had secured the title before the tennis.  Richard edged out Ed Harvey to take 3rd place.  The quality and intensity of the competition is yet more evidence that the strength UK Racketlon has in the vets classes is very much here to stay.

Junior classes have also been strong for the UK and once again this was shown in the English Open.  However, as an event it was dominated by the reigning European U13s Champion, Luke Griffiths, who polished off David Bennett in the final.  David had reached the final after a thrilling comeback against Arif Wadud (17-21, 5-21, 21-9, 21-11) to seal a 2 point victory, however lightening was not to strike twice.  Luke raced out into an early lead (21-12, 21-6) and whilst David began his attempt at further heroics with a 21-13 squash victory, it wasn’t enough to put pressure on Luke’s tennis and at 6-6 a first English Open U16s title was his!


Grin to Victory: Luke Griffiths Men's C, U16s and Men's C Doubles Champion!

To accommodate the volume of entries to the Men’s doubles, 5 draws of 4 were produced, Men’s A through E, filling Sunday morning, whilst Mixed Doubles dominated the afternoon.  Father & Son combinations excelled with victories in the E Doubles for Lee & William Gregson and in the C Doubles for Andy & Luke Griffiths.  The E Doubles final was a thrilling affair providing the first gumi arm of the weekend, as the Gregson’s defeated Sam Wilson & Robbie Wong.  In the D Doubles, Peter Latham & Stuart Rank dominated their final against Nick Riddle & James Trueman, their strength in the first three sports coming through as they progressed to the title.  In the C Doubles, Andy & Luke Griffiths edged a close fought final against Joel Durston & James Pope.  After coming back from 17-14 to edge the TT 21-19, they won the badminton 21-11, however sensational squash from Durston/Pope (21-3) left the final perfectly poised going to tennis.  However, young Luke used the force* to ensure he dominated from the baseline and could anticipate balls before they were hit, to seal the win for Team Griffiths.  The B Doubles was an all Midlands affair, as James Watkins & Will Coley took on Jon Spinks & Adit Patel.  After exchanging 21-16 score lines in the badminton and TT respectively, the squash was to prove decisive, Adit did his best getting to 11 against James, but Will was able to dominate against Jon to ensure a 21-13 victory.  The tennis was an even affair, with the scores level as the gumi-arm point was reached, James and Will coming home 14-13 to ensure the B Doubles title.  In the A Doubles it was unlikely that the pairing of Dan Busby & Duncan Stahl was to lose, particularly when at squash Duncan was playing first!  In the final, they lost the TT to Kresten Hougaard & Alistair Prades (21-11) before winning a pulsating badminton (21-19) and dominating squash (21-8) leaving them just 17 points necessary for victory in the tennis, which they achieved in style.  There was even room for a Men’s O45s Doubles, with the all-Essex combination of Kevin Neville & Marc Thornley winning a gripping final by 2 points over Ed Harvey & Mark Steeden.


Kate (L) turned down a Dane, and got a Bispham (C) and a trophy

Dan Busby followed up his morning Men’s Doubles success by partnering Barbara Capper to the Mixed A doubles title.  Up against Lauren Whiteman & Alistair Prades, Capper/Busby dominated the TT (21-6) before edging the Badminton (21-16) securing victory with a 21-11 win on the squash court.  Dan and Barbara are a fearsome combination, and to date have yet to use a tennis racket in anger when playing Mixed doubles together.  Can anyone challenge their dominance from within the UK?

Kate Russell, having turned down the (playing) advances of Kresten Hougaard in favour of Johnny Bispham and this decision paid off as her and Johnny triumphed in the Mixed B Doubles.  Having seen off Dianne Baker/James Pope partnership in the semi-final, they defeated Maureen Thompson & Joel Durston in an exciting final.  Having taken the table tennis 21-10, Russell/Bispham were pegged back through the badminton, leading by 6 into the squash.  As Johnny (playing first) defeated Maureen 11-0, Kate and Joel took to the court.  With the title in the balance, Joel pulled out all the stops, running himself ragged to chase down every ball and heroically fought back to ensure defeat was only 21-17.  Sadly, despite the heroics of Joel, the 10 point deficit to tennis, was to prove too much and Kate & Johnny ran out worthy winners.

Day 2 and a bank holiday Monday, but there was to be no leisurely rest for the keen Racketlon players.  This was especially true for James Pope, who, had arrived at his B&B the night before to learn that it had closed recently, not that anyone had thought to inform him…. Thankfully his doubles partner, Joel Durston went beyond the call of duty and put him up for the night on his couch!  Across the classes, there were a number of strong draws, with the maximum (for a 1 day event) 48 players in the Men’s A, B & C draws!  There was not an easy match in sight and the players were sure to feel that as the day wore on!

There were thrills and spills throughout the Men’s A draw, as in a historic moment for his country, Australian Leigh Sands, got a prediction right, as he edged a tight encounter with Mark Steeden in the first round.  Meanwhile Alistair Prades was left sick of the sight of Dan Busby as for a third match this weekend he lost out to the Yorkshireman.  Both the third and fourth seeds fell, as an under the weather Keith Lesser was defeated by Alex Du Noyer, whilst Luke Barnes found some of his best to defeat Jason Granville.  As predicted, there was one particularly breath-taking set of tennis between Oliver Oxland and James Silvester, both excellent tennis players.  Oliver, needing 10 for victory, started strongly at 7-9 down was a strong favourite for the win.  However, James pulled out a stunning second half of tennis to open up a 18-8 lead and over a nervy few points, made it to the gumi-arm, as both players survived a bombardment of big, deep shots.  As for the gumi-arm, well you can view the video here, it was James Silvester to serve.  There were no further surprises in the quarter-finals, as semi-finals were set up between Hougaard & Barnes and Busby & Stahl.  Luke battled hard, particularly in the badminton (22-20 to Barnes), but was not enough to see off President Hougaard, who achieved the required 11 at tennis.  In the second semi-final, Dan Busby after two hard matches vs Prades and Du Noyer, ran out of steam vs Duncan Stahl and conceded after the badminton.  It was predicted that the harder semi-final for Duncan would give Hougaard an edge, but with the Busby barrier falling easy, was Duncan now favourite, or were we set for a real rumble in Redbridge?


2016 English Open: Men's A Runner Up Kresten Hougaard (L) and Champion Duncan Stahl (R)

The Elite Men’s final was a pulsating affair between Duncan and Kresten Hougaard.  Kresten stormed into an early lead winning the table tennis and badminton 21-14 & 21-18 respectively.  Carrying his 10 point lead onto the squash court, Kresten came under immense pressure as Duncan started with a near faultless start, racing out to a 9-0 lead, before reaching the mid-point break 11-3.  The second half of the squash saw a titanic fight back from Hougaard, as he battled hard to stay in rallies as long as possible, displaying a range of large lunges and exceptional backward rolls to try and keep the ball alive! With the squash finishing 21-11, the final was perfectly poised going to tennis, a straight shoot out.  This time it was Kresten who piled on the pressure, racing out to 4-0, but the bearded Brit fought back, squeaking a narrow lead at the turn (11-8) he kept the pressure on with relentless ground strokes forcing errors from his Danish opponent.  Duncan sealed victory by 7 points, as he won the tennis 21-14.

Car trouble eliminated Barbara Capper from the Ladies Elite, and Kate Russell polished off Dianne Baker in the semi-finals.  After edging the TT 26-24, Kate lost the badminton before her squash dominance leaving her in a nice position going to tennis, which she duly finished off.  In the other semi-final, Lauren Whiteman was paired against firm friend/hospital mate, Jo Shelley.  Wins in the TT and badminton for Lauren took the pressure off the squash, so that despite a 21-9 defeat, she needed just 9 on her preferred tennis court for victory over Jo.  For the Elite Women’s final, Lauren edged a cagey table tennis 21-11 over her opponent Kate Russell, before dominating the badminton with a 21-1 victory.  Kate however came fighting back, with a 21-3 victory on the squash court.  However, much of the damage was already done, and tennis expert/Leon Smith obsessive Lauren secured the 10 points she required for her first Elite level World Tour title.  Jo Shelley recovered from her semi-final defeat to secure third.


2016 English Open Elite Ladies Champion: Lauren Whiteman

It speaks volumes for the quality of the Men’s B event that the final pitched Rakesh Gupta against James Watkins, with the regular B players on the UK Tour left reeling in their wake.  Rakesh defeated James thanks to wins in the TT and badminton, meaning that despite a squash defeat, it was just 6 points he required on the tennis court, to seal his victory.  Stuart Rank took third place, an excellent tournament for Stuart, who is certainly starting to make waves in the B draw on the UK tour.  In the Ladies B, Jo Bennett took the title, edging Dominque Ford into second and friend/competitor Julie Moorcroft into third.

Luke Griffiths grinned his way through the draw as the 2nd iteration of the Smiling Assassin dominated the Men’s C.  He cruised to the final, where he took on Samer Karouni.  Big wins in the TT and badminton (21-8, 21-2) set Luke up nicely, however Samer came fighting back in the squash, winning it 21-7, leaving Luke some work to do on the tennis court.  However, the talented youngster wrapped up the 4 points necessary for the title with ease.  Luke may at the moment be referred to as “Leon’s younger brother”, but the way he is progressing, it may only be a growth spurt before Leon has to worry about his brother, leaving the rest of us with no chance!  Simon Bacha defeated Jon Ben to claim 3rd place.  Kiran Turner won the Men’s D title as he defeated Josh Whitehead in the final.  After two tough opening sports (24-22 and 21-18), Kiran broke free in the squash (21-4) to take the title.  Ben Mayhew took third place.

All in all a great two days of Racketlon, from regular players committing themselves in battle with familiar foes to a host of newcomers becoming addicted to the bug, eagerly asking when the next events were booked.  A massive thank you to Steve Bispham, Ray Jordan, Dom & Helen Ford on the tournament desk.  Some photos from the event are on the UK Racketlon Facebook page, please feel free to tag yourselves in them!

 

* This report was written on May 4th, a.k.a Star Wars Day, hence the obligatory reference to the classic film series.