UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

 

Christine Seehofer and Jesper Ratzer claimed the 2016 King of Rackets Elite titles in Oudenaarde. There were British winners in the form of Duncan Stahl (Men’s O40’s) and Barbara Capper (Ladies Vets).  These four were joined by Adolphe Fernandez-Diez (Men’s B), Margaux Randjbar (Ladies B), Jeremie Puyo (Men’s C), Julie Heyse (Ladies C), Michiel Van Mullem (Men’s D), Thibault De Jaeger (Men’s E), Maxim Letvin (Men’s O50’s), Peter Duyck & Lucas Windischberger (Men’s A Doubles), Amke Fischer & Astrid Reimer-Kern (Ladies A Doubles), Natalie Paul & Jesper Ratzer (Mixed A Doubles), Loic Cencig & Jean-Brice Montagnon (Men’s B/C Doubles), Jolien Naessens & Pieter De Bleeckere (Mixed B Doubles), Frank Kleiber & Ulrich Schlepphorst (Men’s O45’s Doubles) and Jean & Theo Michot (Men’s D/E Doubles) in forming the (extended) 2016 Racketlon Royal Family. All the results can be found here.


King Ratzer on his Throne (photo by Inge Omey)

 

Ratzer Retains His Crown

A 16 draw men’s elite featuring the players ranked 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 & 8 in the world, highlighting the strength of the tournament, and for the first time this draw featured six Brits!  There was, however, a mixed bag for these Brits in Round 1, Alex Du Noyer (against home favourite Peter Duyck) and Luke Barnes (against world number 2 Kasper Jønsson) put up admirable performances a before succumbing to defeat.  Ray Jordan and Duncan Stahl were both edged out by Ben Hampl and Morten Jaksland respectively.  Ray, after losing narrow TT (22-20) and badminton (21-17) sets took the lead after winning squash (21-13).  However, his Swiss opponent had far too much for Ray on the clay tennis courts and romped home to victory (21-10).  For Duncan, it was a case of winning three sports and still losing, as he nicked the TT & badminton (23-21) and the squash (22-20), but he was unable to keep up with his Danish opponent as he dominated the tennis, winning 21-8 and securing his quarter-final place.  This match was billed as a tie of the round and it certainly was!

 

 

There was some success as Will Coley, a wildcard into the A draw seized his chance and defeated Jason Granville, in a match that was tale of two halves, Jason winning the first two sports (22-20 & 21-17), before losing the squash (21-12) and tennis (19-17) as Will took his biggest career win. Finally Dan Busby took out FIR president and 4th seed Kresten Hougaard in a match delayed for 20 minutes during squash.  With Dan having kept close to the Danish world number 5 in the TT (21-14) he nicked the badminton 21-19 before proceeding to the squash court.  With Kresten feeling the pressure, he quickly slipped to an 11-2 deficit at the hands of the former world ranked squash player.  Angry at himself and under pressure of the match situation, Kresten decided to take out his frustrations on his tools and so he let his squash racket fly as the players reached the changeover.  The referee decided to award a penalty stroke to Busby, which left Kresten to argue (and lose) that it was a warning first. On the resumption Kresten fought back well but Dan took the squash (21-8) and finally the match after a hard fought tennis battle. 

In the quarters Will was rewarded with a match vs. Kasper Jønsson, who was taking a liking to the feast of Brits he was being fed.  Will was defeated, but he was far from disgraced. Dan took on the Ray Jordan’s conqueror, Ben Hampl. It was popular knowledge that Dan would need a lead going into the tennis to give himself a chance, so it seemed Dan was in trouble when having lost the TT (21-6) he found himself 14-4 down in the badminton.  But teacher Dan did his sums, dug in deep and recovered to win the badminton 21-17. He went from strength to strength as he dominated the squash (21-2), meaning he would need just 14 at tennis to win the match.  Racing into a 9-7 lead it was looking good for Dan, but Hampl dug in his heels, and won 6 consecutive points to threaten an unlikely victory.  However, Dan fought back hard and achieved the 14 needed to make the semis. 

The semi-finals featured Jesper Ratzer (who had overcome Cedric Junillon and Peter Duyck), against Dan Busby and Lukas Windischberger (who had seen off Jack Larson and Morten Jaksland) against the Brit killer, Kasper Jønsson.  For the British interest, all that stood in Dan's way was a player undefeated for 3 years with such quality that he rarely needs a tennis racket!  Starting at TT, Dan was in trouble 20-7 down but a late fight nicked 5 points for a 21-12 defeat. Badminton is usually an enjoyable haunt for Dan but not when you face Jesper, who pushed Dan all over the court while seemingly not expending any energy winning 21-6.  Squash, however is Dan's preferred hunting ground and here he dominated the top seed. He seized on every chance and when Jesper tweaked his ankle, Dan pounced like a predator to secure a 21-15 win and take Jesper to his only singles tennis of the weekend. Sadly he couldn't inflict a shock win, despite leading the world number 1 when he reached his target of 4 points for victory. 

With Brit-killer Jønsson winning his semi-final over Austrian, Windischberger, we were poised for the re-run of many a Racketlon final, but importantly, a possible replication of Jesper’s last defeat, in the 2013 final to Jønsson.  Alas for Kasper, he couldn't touch the imperious Ratzer who dominated the final to win on the conclusion of the squash, final scores of 21-12, 21-6, 21-10, showing his utter dominance.  . The streak extends for Ratzer, while Jønsson is left looking for a new way to break Ratzer down. Windischberger beat Busby to claim third place, Dan tiring after his earlier efforts against Ratzer, unable to crown what would have been a phenomenal weekend for the UK player. 

 

Seehofer Dominates Every Sport To Claim Crown

It was a similarly strong Ladies A field at the 2016 King of Rackets, with the world numbers 1, 2, 3, 6 & 8 entering the event.  There was a sole Brit, Lauren Whiteman, a year on from her Ladies B victory here at King of Rackets.  She faced world number 12, Natalie Paul, and in a tight match, the German’s exceptional tennis abilities (Lauren herself is a tennis specialist) were enough to ensure she progressed at the expense of Lauren.  However, in the quarter-finals nothing was going to stand in the way of the world number 1, as Christine Seehofer dispatched Natalie in clinical fashion winning after squash and therefore avoiding the German’s tennis abilities completely!  Anna-Klara Ahlmer saw off German Astrid Reimer-Kern while Amke Fischer defeated Nicole Eisler, however the match of the quarter-finals was between Lieselot De Bleeckere and Lillian Druve.  Lillian, tipped by some, to take the title, started solidly against her Belgian opponent, and leading 20-11 in the TT was looking comfortable.  However, in Racketlon the hardest point is that twenty-first point and combined with the inherent knowledge that every point counts the pressure can really come on this point.  Lieselot, seemingly dead and buried started to win a couple of points, but to the crowd this seemed trivial, however the run kept going, 20-11 became 20-20 in a blink of an eye, but the Belgian wasn’t finished as she took the next two points for a shock 22-20 victory.  Lieselot added a brutally fought badminton (21-19) and gruelling squash (21-14) to the TT points to sit just 11 points from victory in the tennis.  Cruelly for Lillian, her TT wobble would come back to haunt her, as Lieselot came through 11-18 on the tennis. 

In the semi-finals, Amke Fischer managed to stop the Belgian’s charge, after Lieselot and Amke exchanged TT and badminton wins, a 21-15 squash win for Amke meant that she needed just 15 on the tennis court for victory.  Lieselot tried to break clear, but Amke kept her Belgian foe in check to ensure she progressed to the final.  In the second semi-final, Christine Seehofer crushed Anna-Klara (21-15, 21-6, 21-5) to make it through to the final.  In the final, Amke pushed Christine hard, with Seehofer edging the opening three sports, to lead into tennis by 12 points.  Seehofer then controlled the tennis and reached her required number of points to wrap up victory.  Christine won 9 out of 9 completed sports and was leading the unfinished one, to underline her dominance of this Ladies A event and make up for missing out in the 2015 final. 

 

Brit Watch

Amongst the 22 Brits in attendance at the 2016 King of Rackets, there were plenty of good results, including strong performances in the Men’s A Doubles (Duncan Stahl & Ray Jordan finishing 4th), Ladies A Doubles (Barbara Capper finishing 3rd with partner Eefje Henkelman) and an excellent third place for Barbara Capper & Dan Busby in the Mixed A Doubles, were they pushed the eventual winners Natalie Paul & Jesper Ratzer all the way.  Bruce Shepherd claimed third place in the Men’s O45s as he lost an agonising semi-final to Canada’s Dany Lessard by a solitary point!  However, Bruce recovered to secure third by defeating Graham King. 

Of course, as well as all of this, there were two British champions, as Duncan Stahl and Barbara Capper won their vets events.  Barbara dominated a brutal 5 player round robin for the Ladies O45s, with victory built on a solid foundation of table tennis and tennis, she saw off her main opposition in the form of Switzerland’s Esther Dubendofer who finished second and fellow Brit, Jo Shelley who finished third.  Finally, we come to the Men’s O40’s or as some like to call it, the “junior Vets”.  The seedings for this 12 man draw were spot on as all four made it to the semi-finals.  From here Duncan and Jason Granville progressed to the final, with Duncan edging the opening two sports (21-19, 21-15) before opening up a healthy lead in his specialist sport of squash, and while Jason took it to tennis, Duncan wrapped up the required four points to seal the title.  Duncan is the inaugural winner of the King of Racket’s Men’s O40’s event, as this “junior vets” class was only recently added to the Racketlon portfolio. 

 

Camping Kings, Well Not Everyone...

A number of Brits enjoyed the opportunity to camp on site, highly beneficial for early morning matches.  With tents and mattresses provided for 5 euros a night it was also a cheap way to stay! It was for two Brits their first night camping but while Johnny Bispham came away the ever excited puppy dog, Alistair Prades lasted one night (in an admittedly leaky tent) before running off to stay with the Whiteman's in their airbnb. A novel way to stay at a tournament that is certain!

 

Closing Remarks

Playing Racketlon on the continent is always a different experience and one worth trying just to see how it varies compared to UK events.   King of Rackets is one of the tournaments of the season yet despite playing Racketlon for so long this was my first experience of this tournament and it was a tournament very much worth experiencing.  A unique set up ensures players get a very different experience. Taking over a whole sports centre for a weekend, the opportunity to practise extensively the night before combined with excellent onsite food and a vibrant players party makes for a holistic Racketlon experience.