UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

Team Yorkshire captured both the A event titles at the East Anglian Open as Luke Barnes and Michelle Hall came home with the trophies.  Elsewhere there were victories for Johnny Bispham (Men’s B), Tom Kenny (Men’s C) and Steven Sykes (Men’s D).  All in all it was an excellent debut tournament for first time Tournament Director Johnny Bispham at an event new to many of the entrants and to the venue of the University of East Anglia Sports Park.  The full results can be found here on Tournament Software. 

 
Ladies A Winner Michelle Hall and Men's A Winner Luke Barnes with Tournament Director Johnny Bispham

 

We start with the Men’s A and after a mid-week injury withdrawal, it became another infamous 5 player box league.  However, in a modification on the Yorkshire Open, this was to be played as 15 up in consideration of the duration of the Men’s A matches.  Dan Busby, fresh from an excellent performance at King of Rackets last weekend, was keen to show his mettle and his talents, however this group featured young talent in the shape of Alistair Prades, as well as the known foes of Leigh Sands, Fabien Mauroy and regular rival, Luke Barnes.  There were opening wins for Leigh as the Cambridge based Australian defeated Devon’s own Prades, whilst Dan polished off his French aperitif, Fabien in the first batch of matches.  In the second batch, Dan squeaked past Alistair, as the young Devonian caused all sorts of issues for the top seeds in this draw.  Ultimately it was his superior squash that got Busby over the line for a 1 point victory, but not before he came within 2 points of overall defeat on the tennis court.  While that all occurred, Luke opened his account with victory over Fabien.  The middle batch of matches seemed to have finalised our result, as Luke claimed his first main draw victory over Busby.  Since Dan returned at the 2015 Yorkshire Open, he has been a thorn in Luke’s side, but in East Anglia it was to be a thorn plucked clean away.  Luke winning three sports to earn his victory over Busby and put himself in pole position for the East Anglia crown.  Leigh defeated Alistair to have seemingly sealed his third place finish as well.  However, in batch 4, it all went horribly wrong for Luke, as he slipped to a 1 point defeat to Alistair, the Devonian winning to 8 in tennis to seal his biggest UK Tour victory.  With Dan beating Leigh to finish with 3 wins and a solitary defeat, it sent Luke into batch 5 needing a win to claim his first title.  Needing to hold his nerve, Luke got off to a flying start as he defeated Leigh 15-1 in TT, followed up by a 15-10 badminton win.  A 15-11 squash win for the now London based Harrogate man ensured he was victorious and claimed his first UK Tour title since September 2014 thanks to his victory over Dan.  Despite defeat to Luke, Leigh, by virtue of his win over Alistair claimed third place as both finished with 2 wins and 2 defeats; while Fab rounded out the table, however he was the undisputed king of TT.  Once again, as at in the Men’s A box league in the Yorkshire Open earlier in the season no player was undefeated, yet again highlighting the role of individual player profiles and the effort to win a box league coming to the fore. 

 

The ladies A featured an 8 draw with Michelle Hall (defeating Dianne Baker), Fiona James (defeating Dom Ford), Ruby Marsden (defeating Charlotte Parker) and Jo Bennett (defeating Esther Daniell) securing places in the semi-finals.  In the semi-finals, Michelle was pushed hard by Fiona in the TT and the squash, however her abilities on the badminton court, were enough to see off the Cambridge University student by 15 points.  What Michelle couldn’t see off, was Fiona’s eye shadow, the hardy make-up surviving everything a day of Racketlon could throw at it, remaining perfectly in place!  In the second semi-final, Jo Bennett, under the (unfair) pressure from the moniker of “Mother of GB international” saw off another Cambridge Uni Racketlon lady in the form of Ruby Marsden.  The ladies exchanged TT and badminton scores (21-9, 8-21) ensuring Ruby lead by 1 into squash, however, Jo was able to pull away on the squash court, and her 21-4 victory left a simple enough equation on the tennis court, which Jo would ease towards.  In the final, both ladies who have claimed Ladies B titles already this season, were looking for a first Ladies A title.  After Jo edged the TT 21-19, Michelle roared back on the badminton court, winning 21-4.  Jo, however, dominated the squash court and her 21-2 victory, left it all to play for on the tennis court.  Both ladies, pushed hard, but in the end Michelle had enough and her 21-10 victory secured an 8 point win and a second title for Team Yorkshire. 

 

The Men’s B was a 12 player draw featuring regulars and newcomers alike.  The semi-finalists consisted of Jon Spinks (who defeated Ben Jones) against David Bennett (who defeated Paul Davies) and Jack Taylor (who polished off James Pope) against Johnny Bispham (virtue of victory over Christopher Lewis-Brown).  In the semi’s, recent GB selectee, David produced an impressive effort to push the experienced Spinks all the way.  David grabbed 8 points in the TT before almost nicking the badminton, going down 22-20.  However, Jon dug deep into his supplies of grit and resolve and level pegged with David throughout young Bennett’s specialist sport of squash, Jon going down 18-21.  A tense tennis followed, but Spinks was able to reach his target of 10, with David falling just short on 15.  In the second semi-final, tournament director Johnny Bispham was hoping to join an elite club of rare tournament organisers who win their class at their event (a class of Duncan Stahl and Dan Busby).  His semi-final against Jack Taylor started in perfect fashion, his first 21-0 win at TT.  However, Johnny’s joy quickly evaporated as he went down 21-2 to the badminton specialist.  With the match almost level going to squash, Johnny burgled a 21-9 victory, meaning he needed just 8 points on tennis for a place in the final.  Bispham squeaked into a final against regular foe, Spinks, reaching his 8 point victory target with Jack on 18 points, despite defeat, an impressive second tournament for the UEA student.  In the final, Johnny flew out the blocks against Yorkshire Open champion Spinks.  A 21-13 TT win setting up an advantage he was not to surrender.  Johnny took the badminton to 9 and used the scoreboard pressure to his advantage to keep Jon under the cosh on the squash court.  Johnny took the victory and his first Racketlon singles title with a 21-17 win. 

In the Men’s C, Tom Kenny came roaring from behind in a Racketlon match of 2 halves over Robbie Wong.  Having conceded a 23 point deficit in the TT and badminton (9-21, 10-21), Tom looked dead and gone to all who saw the scorecard, especially against Robbie a very experienced Racketlon player.  However stunning 21-9, 21-4 squash and tennis wins claimed a 6 point win and the Men’s C title for Tom.  An excellent result from so far back, as ever proving that a Racketlon match is not over until you have mathematically won!  Paul Hume claimed third place, “the plate” belittling his nickname with a run to the semi-finals in the 16 draw event.  Steven Sykes dominated the Men’s D to emerge from his group undefeated and without having required the need of his tennis racket before proceeding to hand out a similar result to his other finalist Matt Gladders.  Youngster Daniel Ryan claimed third place, adding yet another name to the list of impressive UK juniors. 

 

All in all, a very successful event.  A conservative schedule that was watched over by the eagle eyed tournament desk specialist, Steve Bispham actually ran ahead of time and lots of enjoyable Racketlon was played.  The weather entirely decided to not play ball, yet the players stuck together to ensure that play continued on courts that responded well to the lunchtime deluge!  Congratulations to all the winners and a massive well done to Johnny Bispham, for setting up this great event, let us hope it is the first of many Racketlon tournaments here in Norwich.