As a Brit, I am used to long waits for sporting success, but recently we have been enjoying a period of years where these long records have been tumbling. Winning Wimbledon? Check. Wales qualifying for a major championships? Check. In Racketlon, there is also a sporting monkey on their back, a victory missing from their collection, that one nation pines for. This time it is not the British who are clamouring for the win, but the host nation of the 2016 Racketlon World Team Championships (28th to 30th July 2016), Denmark. Despite having the luxury of calling upon some of the current greats of Racketlon, they have only the 2015 European Team title claimed last November in their trophy cabinet. Can they end their hoodoo and achieve World Team glory on home soil this week? Of course, the Elite title is not the only titles up for grabs this week in Copenhagen. Vets, Junior and Amateur divisions will be competed for, in a feast of team Racketlon, which is undoubtedly, the best way to play Racketlon. All the draws, squads and results are available here.
The Pressure is on Denmark, Will They Choke on their Pastry?
The Elite draws for this are not yet done, as they will be done live on Wednesday, all we know is that Denmark are the top seeds and Austria are the second seeds. The draw will include the Canada squad making their debut in a World Team Championships, and nearly all the main Elite draw players are donning their national colours for this event. Denmark are (once again) the overwhelming favourites, calling on the prowess of the world numbers 1 and 2, Ratzer and Jonsson. Ratzer is (along with Magnus Eliasson) the greatest Racketlon player we have ever seen, but he is missing one crown jewel from his collection. But Denmark have been the favourites before, and despite this, the World Team title is missing from their trophy cabinet, one might even be tempted to use the choke word about it..... While that would be harsh, it would be very premature to assume that the Danes are already anointed as champions. Second seeds Austria along with Great Britain will fancy their chances, with a number of players in their squads in great form, ready to pounce on a moments weakness from the Danes. Austria are able to call upon the services of Lukas Windischberger & Ladies world number 1, Christine Seehofer. The Brits feature Latvian Open champion Dan Busby and second placed Leon Griffiths while also for the first time in three years the formidable talents of Izzy Tyrrell. Beyond these teams, there are going to be strong challenges from Switzerland (featuring Nicole Eisler), Sweden (including the prodigal Stefan Adamsson) and France (with Cedric Junillion) in particular and it is likely that from the quarter-finals onwards, there will be some humdingers of matches. That all said, I believe that Denmark will be the champions joined on the podium by Austria and GB in an order determined by the draw.
The squads are assembled, time to rock and err Racketlon
Amateur? In Name Only!
The Amateur division expands again, with a new peak of 14 teams entered and this is a division in which the quality continues to increase. The early favourites have to be the top seeds GB2, who can call on the quality of the likes of Luke Barnes and Lauren Whiteman as well as the nuggety persistence of Keith Lesser. They are joined in the seedings by Austria 2, Germany 2 and GB3. All three of these teams can call upon some exceptional players, with Austria 2 featuring Racket Masters ladies champion Martina Meißl, while GB3 feature the experience of the likes of Rakesh Gupta and Ed Harvey. Looking across the teams, the quality of the players displays a real cross section of the Racketlon community and it is the celebration of Racketlon that we want to see. These players, from the Elite event podium players to the dedicated players who fill out the B and C draws at our international events, are the core of our sport, the foundation we need and they deserve their national caps. Without doubt, with the mixture of skills and the greater variance between each players strengths and weaknesses the competition will be fierce and certainly not over until it is over. When one looks at the draw, you would expect the top two seeds, GB2 and Austria 2 to make the semi-finals, but who they will face? In the top half of the draw, I think the first shock of the round will see GB4 defeat third seeds Germany 2, Britain with a chance of beating Germany for once as there are no penalties involved. GB4 will I predict then fact a brutal quarter-final with Denmark 2 (who will sweep away Finland 2) and sadly I think it is the Danes who will overcame GB4 and end their gallant run, but it will be close, Denmark 2 progressing to face GB2 in teh first semi-final.
The lower half of the draw is a whole different kettle of fish, with opening fixtures to get even the least committed Racketlon fan salivating over. Firstly GB3 vs Sweden 2, as fourth seeds GB3 are expected to win and knock out the current European Amateur Champions, but the Brits do face an incredibly tricky opening test. The tastiest of the opening matches pitches France 2 against Belgium 2. The French calling on the Ladies B King of Rackets champion, Margaux Randjbar and the stalwart Frenchman of the UK Racketlon Tour, Fabien Mauroy and with these players as part of the squad, I expect they will be too much for Hans Abbeloos and the rest of Belgium 2. Second seeds Austria 2 face the winners of an intriguing tie between Germany 3 and Denmark 3, I expect the home nation to edge this one, before being polished off in the quarter finals by the Austrians. With GB3 cleaning up the French in their quarter-final, that sets up an Austria 2 vs GB3 semi-final. I’m going to go out on a massive limb here and call it, a GB2 vs GB3 final, with an overall victory for GB2, going one step further than they did last November in Prague. Denmark 2 will claim third place on the podium ahead of the Austrians.
GB2 in 2015, a collection of nutters, the 2016 batch looks far better...
Juniors Jumping at the Chance for Glory
If the Amateur division is the core of our sport, the junior teams are our future, and teams will once again compete in the U16s and U21s competition. The U16s is a three nation event, with each nation playing each other twice, so the pressure is on these youngsters to perform in 4 matches with consistency. The GB U16s will start as the favourites, having won the recent European and World Team titles. However, the squad is all new and gives tournament debuts to Joshua Ben and David Bennett, whilst Luke Griffiths will be looking to follow in brother Leon’s footsteps and lead the team to glory. They will face competition from Switzerland and Hungary, who will be hopeful of upsetting the applecart of Team GB success in this event in recent years.
For the U21s, there are 6 teams, split into two groups before the winners of each group playing off to secure the title. Group A features Austria, Denmark and the Czech Republic, whilst Group B features GB, Finland and Switzerland. This draw keeps the finalists from the European Championships last November, Austria and GB apart, when last November the Austrians ran out the victors. Looking at the squads, the quality of the players is phenomenal and bodes well for the future of our sport. Amongst the squads are elite regulars Marcus Christiansen, Christine Seehofer, Bettina Bugl and upcoming elite players Leon Griffiths (finalist in Estonia) and the siblings Boden, Hannah and Piers. Looking at the groups, I expect that the GB U21s will progress rather serenely towards a final, and while I also expect it to be a re-run of the European Championships final, and a rematch against the Austrians, they will need to overcome a tough test from the Danes. Whoever prospers from this pairing, will set up an intriguing final and I suspect that this final will really highlight how Team Racketlon ramps up the basis of our sport to a whole new level, every point counts is never more true than in a Racketlon team.
These Gents (GB O55s) know all about drinking to success, but will they enjoy a Danish victory beer?
Groups abound in the Vets classes, with 6 teams competing in the O45s and O55s divisions. Group A of the O45s features the well travelled Canadians, Belgium and probably group winners Germany. Group B contains GB, the Swiss and Denmark in what looks like a tasty set of group matches. The Swiss and Danish squads look strong, and I would designate this the group of death, except the GB squad looks monumentally strong, particularly with the luxury of sole custody of Barbara Capper for this event. So strong is this O45s squad that the GB selectors were able to free previous stalwarts Rakesh Gupta and Ed Harvey to the GB3 squad! The GB vs Germany final will be tasty, but I fully expect the GB squad to bring home the (Danish) bacon and a gold medal. The O55s is also two groups, and Group A features GB, Germany and the Czechs, whilst Group B features Finland, Denmark and Hungary. Group A will feature a barnstorming tie between GB and Germany. The Brits can call on a wealth of experience, Marlow, Shepherd, Rayner & Norton the backbone of a squad that has finished first or second in every running of this event, but the German's can not be ignored (literally) with Joachim Gersdorf & Antonio Zeoli in their ranks. The winners between these two will likely face Hungary, the perennial foes of the Brits who will make it out of Group B. Despite the presence of the exceptional Peter Sakovics, the winner of the GB vs Germany tie will be confident of winning the O55s title by defeating Hungary in the final.
Obviously, this is all the thoughts of this author, who is questioned frequently on whether he can predict his specialist subject, let alone actually have any sensible ideas about Racketlon. So, I spoke to a proper Racketlon expert (well at least he should be...), FIR president and organiser in chief of the World Teams 2016, Kresten Hougaard. “I have to agree with you that it will be an U16s victory for the Brits, and I also think Britain will win the O45s. I thought initially that you [Britain] would win the O55s too, but I’ll change my mind to Germany, I think that Gersdorf & Zeoli are too strong. The rest of the titles are staying right here in Denmark, with U21s, Amateur and that missing link, the Elite World Team title.”
There is then, some disagreement between myself and the President, but we shall see who is correct in less than a week. So, there we have it, the draws are done, the accommodation booked and the team kit posted as a photo on social media. This humble scribe hopes that every player enjoys their time in their national colours. It is a great honour and whether elite or junior, amateur or vet, the experienced team player or making your debut, it is always a brilliant experience and I hope you all really enjoy it. Good luck to all the players and organisers, it is bound to be great!