King of Rackets is THE tournament on the FIR World Racketlon Tour, and one I am excited to be ticking off my played list. Famous moments, infamous moments and Jake Tetley forcing a player to retire rather than play more tennis with him. The event based in Oudenaarde in Belgium is also the venue where Jesper Ratzer last lost a Racketlon singles match, in June 2013. Since June 2013, my football team has employed 7 managers; Steven Gerrard has slipped, twice; Nick Clegg has become an obscure politician; Donald Trump has become a very prominent politician, and the International Space Station has travelled 450 million miles. Three years is enough time to complete a PhD, meet someone and get engaged (average time 2 years 11 months), experience a blue moon or a return trip to Mars. In short, it is a very long period of time and a heck of a record and yet the question does still feel like “if he loses” not “when he loses” even at what is closest to his bogey venue.
Anyways, enough of what you can find out on Google and on to the 2016 King of Rackets event. 164 players with 252 entries, and there is a lot going on, which I will now try to break down into something coherent…. It has been unseasonably wet in France, Belgium and Holland in the last week or so, with estimates of some places receiving two months’ worth of rain over a 5 day period. The French Open has faced some significant issues, including its first fully lost day of play for 16 years and this wet weather will be hanging around until at least Thursday evening. As a result a cooler feel to the event is likely than last year when it was rather toasty, and whilst a dry weekend is forecast, I am not yet 100% convinced we won’t see some rain during play. Challenging conditions for players and organisers quite likely to exist.
A host of Brits enter the elite events, and given the time of year, the obsession is whether any of them will join Andy Murray in the second week. However, given that this is a) not Wimbledon and b) a 3 day event this is a pointless waste of words…. A 16 draw for the Men’s A, featuring 6 Brits, a couple of tough draws not least for Luke Barnes and Duncan Stahl. Luke has the second toughest draw available, facing world number 2, Kasper Jønsson, but at least he can console himself, it could be worse (he could be Cedric Junillon who faces Jesper in a repeat of 2015 Malta Open final). Duncan has a joint “Tie of the Round” as he faces Morten Jaksland, a draw pitching the world number 6 against the world number 8. They share that honour with the match between 4th seed Kresten “El Presidente” Hougaard & Dan “Matchmaker” Busby. These two have already enjoyed some entertaining battles and both will be confident of victory. Elsewhere, the “Ever Present” Alex Du Noyer takes on home favourite Peter Duyck, Ray Jordan has Switzerland’s Ben Hampl and Will “Two Dinners” Coley faces Jason Granville. Already this draw has been educational for Will, on the differences between the New Zealand and Australian flags. Overall it is hard to look past Jesper for the title, he was in dominant form at the Nordic Games Challenger in Denmark last weekend and bar an injury it is hard to see someone getting through him.
In the Ladies A, Christine Seehofer leads the line in a 12 ladies draw. She will face the winner of Lauren Whiteman and Natalie “The Apprentice” Paul, in the quarter finals. Lauren is making the step up from the KoR Ladies B event which she won in 2015. The other British interest is Barbara Capper who takes on Nicole Eisler from Switzerland, the winner playing Amke “Autocorrect” Fischer in the quarter-finals. Overall, I shall place my usual commentators curse onto (see this video for explanation of this phenomenon - 60 seconds in) Lillian Druve. Lillian one of the all time top tour title winners looks well set to come through the draw and take the title.
The standard across the Elite draws is immense, there are 6 of the top 10 in each Elite draw, so whoever walks away wearing the biggest crown from the coronation on Sunday will have done a spectacular job.
(The less Elite) Brit Watch
In the Men’s B, we have 6 Brits, an Irishman and an Australian we give a lot of stick to look out for. James Watkins and Jack Bishop get a lazy start to their B campaigns as they are straight through to round 2 of this 32 draw monrad. Phil Todd will get a badminton lesson from Frenchman Jean-Brice Montagnon, a player who dropped 17 points in 5 badminton sets at the Racket Masters 2015…. Phil will be banking on handing out other lessons to Jean-Brice, in more than just dancing… The winner of this tie will face James Watkins. Julian Clapp faces German Korbinian Heim in his opening tie, the winner of this match rewarded with a match against Jack Bishop. Alistair Prades, on tour without his wingman Martin Joosten, will hope to not be lost and alone (or stuck with Johnny Bispham for too long), he also has a French badminton player in the shape of Loic Cencig. Finally Mark “Sicknote” Harris takes on Tristan Gabriel in his opening match. The Irish number 1, Matthew Haynes is in town and he has a first round bye, but there is not so much luck for Australian Leigh Sands. Leigh has an opening match against Frenchman Remi Piau. In a change to my usual programming, I am not going to pick on Leigh in this preview. But this is mainly because Australian’s in Europe mainly end up working in bars and I will want a beer on Saturday evening, so I had better be nice to him for once.
The Ladies B features three Brits who all start with local opposition (everywhere is local in a country like Belgium…) in an incredibly awkward 17 player draw! Dianne Baker will open her account against Doreen Ceuppens, Jo Shelley with Neelke Vernaillon and Maureen Thompson facing Sarah Raemdonck. All three will be hoping to repeat Lauren’s success in 2015. There are three Brits in the Men’s C, James Pope kicks off against Jonas Crepeele, James will be hoping to rain on this Belgian’s parade. Johnny “Puppydog” Bispham faces Swede Ulf Viktorsson, and he will be confident of victory if he drag himself away from yapping around certain Elite male players. Jon Spinks, on the other hand, has a less than delightful first round draw as he takes on Indian Ashutosh Pednekar. Jon has played an Indian player in his last four Racketlon tournaments and after a quick glance at Denmark based Pednekar’s performance in his debut tournament last weekend in Copenhagen has been declared as having the worst draw of all the Brits.
In the vets classes, as ever we have high hopes of bringing home silverware, particularly in the Ladies O45’s, where we somewhat dominate the draw. Barbara, Maureen, Jo and Dianne will only face international competition for the title from Switzerland’s Esther Dubendorfer. In the Men’s O40’s, Duncan “39” Stahl will be hoping to cement his place as the World Number 1, some competition coming from Phil Todd (well again probably only on the dance floor) and our favourite Kiwi, Jason Granville amongst others. In the O50’s, Bruce Shepherd starts his campaign against Frank “the bandana” Kleiber in a draw headed by tournament software supremo, Graham King.
We also have numerous interests in the various doubles categories, half the pairings in the Men’s A Doubles are British, Busby/Harris with probably the toughest draw as they face top pairing Kresten Hougaard & Morten Jaksland. In the Mixed A, Capper/Busby will be looking to extend their UK dominance into Belgium, but they will again face hefty competition, and I for once they will need their tennis rackets! Whiteman/Harris are the other all GB pairing, but Luke Barnes (with Lieselot De Bleeckere) and Will “Two Dinners” Coley (with Amke “Autocorrect” Fischer) also appear in the draw, headed by the top pairing of Natalie “The Apprentice” Paul and Jesper Ratzer. Two all British pairings in the Men’s B both pairs sounding rather religious with Pope/Spinks joined by Bishop/Prades, whilst Johnny “Puppydog” Bispham joins up with the Irish number 1, Haynes. In the Mixed B there is further British interest, mainly focussed on how on Earth the Dianne Baker/James Pope combination got made top seeds… Jo Shelley & Johnny Bispham, Maureen Thompson & Phil Todd also feature in this draw.
So, there you have it, the 2016 King of Rackets is good to go. Full draws are available here. Good luck to all the players, and let’s hope that the weather holds dry!