UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

Hannah Boden secured her historic fourth British Championships Ladies singles title this weekend at the Parklangley Club in London.  The Men’s A singles title was claimed fellow youngster Leon Griffiths and with Ross Wilson claiming the Men’s B title and Luke Griffiths winning the Mixed B Doubles (with partner Katie Barclay), the teenagers showed their older peers exactly what to do.  Elsewhere there were titles for: Ben Larcombe (Men’s C), Jason Foster (Men’s D), Jeremy Krzystyniak (Men’s O45s), Martyn Langston (Men’s O55s), Ross Wilson (U16s), Patrick Middleton (U21s), Izzy Bramhall (Ladies O45s), Luke Barnes & Alex Du Noyer (Men’s A Doubles), Peter Browning & Jeremy Krzystyniak (Men’s B Doubles), Rob Hunt & Ben Larcombe (Men’s C Doubles), Hannah Boden & Izzy Bramhall (Ladies A Doubles) and Hannah Boden & Dan Busby (Mixed A Doubles).  All the results can be found here.  

Our Ladies A Podium (l-r): Jo Shelley, Hannah Boden, Matilda Parslow (Photo by Jo Bennett)

Threes and Fours for Unstoppable Hannah Boden
Coming into this seasons British Championships, you had to dig down into the past results to find the last time Hannah Boden lost at the event.  Having claimed all three Elite titles in 2017 (Ladies, Ladies Doubles and Mixed Doubles), you find her most recent defeats were in 2016 (mixed doubles) and 2014 (Ladies singles), her domination quite incredible in recent years.  But it is one thing to have dominated, continuing to dominate is an entirely different kettle of fish.  However, Hannah was simply unstoppable in the Ladies singles, she reached the final by demolishing Lindsay Johnson-Farge in the quarter-finals and then fourth seed Dianne Baker in the semi-finals, built on a bedrock of TT and badminton.  In the bottom half of the draw second seed Jo Shelley came past Shirley Barre and third seed Matilda Parslow defeated Katie Barclay, setting up a repeat of the recent East Midlands Open final.  Back in February, Jo was victorious, however at the British Championships, Matilda was able to reverse that result.  Jo won a convincing TT, however Matilda edged a close badminton, before carrying that momentum onto the squash court, where she spectacularly demolished Jo, in both ladies favoured event.  With her ball rolling rapidly, Matilda stayed with her momentum and wrapped up the 15 tennis points she needed to make the final with ease.  

Into her first British Championships final, Matilda faced three time champion, Hannah and any thoughts of nerves from the defending champion were quickly vanquished.  After a confident 21-12 TT win, Hannah then produced a badminton masterclass.  Having conceded just 2 points against Lindsay and 1 point against Dianne, Hannah went one better over Matilda, the 21-0 victory a quite literally faultless performance.  Matilda, to her credit struck back in the squash, forcing the match to tennis, but with Hannah needing just 4 points, she breezed to the winning post and a fourth title.  That win makes her the most successful player in British Championships history, four wins in an event (all four in succession) is an incredible record and one you imagine is going to be extended further.  Jo Shelley defeated Dianne Baker to finish in third place.  Matilda and Hannah faced off against each other in the Ladies Doubles final, as Hannah, with partner Izzy Bramhall took on Matilda and her partner Katie Barclay.  However, the combination of Hannah and Izzy was unstoppable, they dominated the opening two sports and eased to the title, Sarah Ball and Lindsay Johnson-Farge claiming third place.  

It was all too much for some players when Dianne took on Hannah in the semi-finals

Joining up with Dan Busby, to renew their partnership as the reigning champions in the Mixed A Doubles, the pairing cruised through two opening rounds, setting up a final against Jo Shelley and Richard Middleton, however this was a far from simple procession for the defending champions.  With Richard and Jo nicking the TT (21-19), Dan and Hannah hit back quickly with a thumping badminton win.  However, Jo and Richard had the squash power to ensure they won the third sport and set up a chance into tennis.  With Dan and Hannah needing 14, Jo and Richard needed to break clear early, however they were consistently pegged back and this enabled Hannah and Dan to claim victory.  Lindsay Johnson-Farge and Jordan Dainty claimed third place, edging out Johnny Bispham and Matilda Parslow in a keenly contested match, 21-18, 21-17, 15-21, 21-17, very few points between them in each sport.  

Hannah therefore finished a second British Championships undefeated, winning 67.5% of the points she (or her partners) played in, and winning 86.6% of the completed sports, stats that have all improved since last year’s event, a concern for all her opponents here in the UK and further afield!

Successful Defence for Leon
For the first time, Leon Griffiths entered the British Championships as the defending men’s singles champion, and started out in a manner that suggested he considered offence to be the best form of title defence, demolishing David Bennett and then Johnny Bispham before the tennis.  Second seed Dan Busby also progressed with similar ease, also not requiring his tennis racket as he polished off Luke Griffiths and then Keith Lesser.  Third seed Duncan Stahl was made to work harder for his semi-final spot, coming past Jordan Dainty in his opening match and then getting around Ray Jordan in the quarter-finals, both matches requiring him to go into the second half of the tennis.  Since the draw has been made, fourth seed, Luke Barnes, had the obviously tougher task, as he faced Jermaine Manners.  Luke started well edging the TT, but Jermaine was able to sneak the badminton and the squash, leaving a requirement of 12 in the tennis to knock out Luke.  Luke made a good fist of it, and despite leading, he was never able to put some daylight between himself and Jermaine, who reached his required 12 with Luke on 13.  Jermaine then set up his semi-final with Dan by overcoming Jon Spinks.  Jon started well, with a solid TT victory, was unable to live with Jermaine on the badminton and squash courts, allowing Jermaine a simple tennis task to seal victory.  

There was a moment of controversy in the first semi-final, as Leon played Duncan.  As the end of the squash approached, it was clear that this match was going to be a decisive set of tennis, however play was interrupted when Susie Griffiths, Leon’s mum, dropped a water bottle on the squash referee’s head.  Now, there is no suggestion of impropriety (Susie is lovely), however play was suspended while the referee regained his composure!  Into the tennis, despite an excellent effort from Duncan, Leon was able to use his skills to control the match and ensure his progression to a second straight British Championships final.  The second semi-final pitted Dan against Jermaine, and it was their second meeting, their previous meeting at the 2010 English Championships (on that day, Jermaine ran out a +16 winner over Dan).  In 2018, they were fairly equal as they headed to squash, Dan holding a narrow 2 point lead over Jermaine.  Dan was then able to dominate his preferred sport and that ensured that he had a simple task to achieve in the tennis and a 7-5 victory sent Dan through to a second British Championships final.  However, in the final, Leon did not let Dan have a sniff of victory, he took a tight TT to 15 before destroying Dan on the badminton court, a 21-4 win mean he would hold a lead into the tennis regardless of the squash score.  With the pressure firmly off Leon and firmly on Dan, Leon dragged himself to 14 points (without any referee’s being harmed in the process) meaning it was a simple 6 point requirement for the title.  Dan made him work for it, but 6-5 and Leon was a double British Champion.  Jermaine defeated Duncan to claim third place.  

Both still smiling after Duncan (r) defeated Ray (l) in the Men's A Quarter-finals

Double Gumi-Arm Doubles
The Men’s A Doubles final was a repeat of the 2017 final, as Luke Barnes & Alex Du Noyer faced Leon Griffiths & Ray Jordan.  In 2017, it was an agonising gumi-arm defeat for Luke & Alex and one they were keen to get revenge for as the final began, and sweet revenge it would be.  Unlike their 2017 meeting, the 2018 meeting was a very cagey affair.  Ray & Leon sneaked the first two sports, the TT won 22-20 and the badminton 21-19 and when they also poached the squash 21-18, they had three sports in the bag and a target of 15 for the win.  However, Alex & Luke were not going to be giving up, and they took the tennis set, 21-14, forcing a second gumi-arm between these pairs.  However, in 2018 there was the role reversal as Alex and Luke secured the deciding point and the victory.

There was further doubles gumi-arm action, as the Mixed B final ended up with both pairs inseparable over the four sports in another enthralling doubles final, as Katie Barclay & Luke Griffiths played Shirley Barre & Stuart Preston.  Katie & Luke took an early lead in the TT before Shirley & Stuart started clawing it back, 21-17 in the badminton reduced the deficit to 4 before a 22-20 squash win brought it down to 2 points.  When Shirley & Stuart ran out 21-19 victors in the tennis, they had clawed all the points back and levelled up the entire match.  Into the gumi-arm and the young and fearless Luke Griffiths poached a volley to take the gumi-arm and the title for Katie and himself.  

Oldest and Youngest Entrants Setting A Great Standard
In the build up to the event, it was wonderful to see the volume of entrants for our U16s and O55s events, and as both events progressed, it was clear that the quality of both events should also have the World Racketlon community very concerned in the run up to August’s World Championships.  Starting with the older generation, the O55s bracket continues to swell in size and also in quality but it was the regular guard who made it through to the semi-finals, the top three seeds, Martyn Langston, Duncan Marlow and Steve Kneller were joined by Bruce Shepherd who overhauled fourth seed Rakesh Gupta.  Bruce wasn’t finished with his seed elimination efforts, and he felled Duncan Marlow in the semi-finals, all square into squash, Bruce shone and then followed that up with a great tennis performance to make the final.  He was joined there by top seed and defending champion, Martyn Langston, who defeated Steve Kneller and then proved he had just too much for Bruce.  Martyn dominated the opening three sports to seal a second O55s title on the bounce.  

The younger end of the spectrum was dominated by Ross Wilson, one of our four U16s stars in 2017.  Ross is an excellent tennis player, however there was little need to show those skills as he processed to a first U16s National Title.  In the final he played Matthew Davidson, who pushed Ross harder than anyone else in the event, however it was not to be for Matthew, who did take Ross to tennis, but only for a solitary point.  Will Taylor defeated Luke Ralph for third place, while impressively thirteen year old Angus Howard finished 5th, recovering from a quarter-final defeat to Ross.  

Ross and some of his U16 compatriots were not done there.  Matthew also sealed a tenth place finish in the Men’s B, while after defeat to eventual Men’s D victor Jason Foster in the semi-finals, Angus finished in third place in the Men’s D, Jason going on to seal the title with victory over Stuart Herriott, dominating the badminton and squash after Stuart had started brilliantly in the TT, to set up an easy equation on the tennis court to seal the title.  However, the star of the junior show was of course Ross, who alongside his U16s victory, romped to a sensational victory in the Men’s B.  He faced a little of everything as he overcame a squash coach, a TT specialist and then a tennis specialist to set up a final against Oliver Close.  Ross flew out the blocks to win the first two sports and after weathering a squash court storm from Oliver, Ross dominated the tennis court to wrap up a very deserved second title of the weekend.  Conor Savage defeated Patrick Middleton to claim third place in a competitive play off match, featuring exceptionally tough badminton and squash.  

Last, But Most Certainly Not Least
If you are still reading, congratulations! Such is the state of UK Racketlon, there are categories and matches galore and we will dive into these final events.  It was first vs second seed in the Men’s C final, as the second seed, Ben Larcombe defeated Julian Clapp in the final, a huge TT win enabling him to handle Julian’s fight back in the middle sports.  Steve Hall polished off Dan Ryan to claim third place.  Ben was back on the podium with his partner Rob Hunt as they claimed victory in the Men’s C Doubles final against Scott Jessop & Joe Lazell.  With the TT, badminton and tennis won by just 2 points, it was in the end the ability of Ben & Rob on the squash court that proved decisive.  Steve Hall & Simon Wareing finished in third.  In the Men’s B Doubles, Peter Browning & Jeremy Krzystyniak were dead level heading to the squash court against Ollie Close & Keith Lesser.  With a 21-17 victory for Peter & Jeremy they knew they needed 18 at tennis to tee up victory.  Despite a dogged performance from Ollie & Keith, it was Peter & Jeremy who came out on top to claim the title.  Graham Norton & Bruce Shepherd finished in third place.  
There was a further triumph for Jeremy in the Men’s O45s.  Having made light work of Andrew Hopwood and then Simon Lau, Jeremy awaited the victor of Richard Middleton and Mark Steeden.  Their potential match up was highlighted in the preview and it didn’t disappoint on the squash court, Mark edging it 23-21, however Richard dominated the first two sports to ensure relatively easy progression to the final.  In the final, Jeremy took the early lead in the TT, only to see Richard peg him back in the badminton.  Jeremy pulled away again in the squash, a 21-15 win meaning he needed 17 in the tennis.  However, with Richard leading 16-13, it was narrow race, and Richard nearly sneaked it, getting within 2 points of victory before Jeremy was able to seal the deal and a first National Title.  

Mark Steeden takes off as he battles in the badminton

Finally, there was another player earning their first ever national singles title.  Izzy Bramhall (p.k.a Izzy Tyrrell), has been one of our most successful women in the sport, winning many a world and UK tour event, however she never managed to claim the elite singles national title.  However in 2018, Izzy romped to victory in the Ladies O45s box league, to seal a first ever singles title for herself going undefeated over the weekend.  Sarah Ball beat Maureen Thompson in the effective second/third place play off for an impressive debut at the British Championships.  

A Vote of Thanks
All in all, a brilliant weekend of highly competitive Racketlon, showing the growth in the strength of the sport here in the UK.  Our thanks to the Parklangley Club, wonderful facilities on and off the court which have been a real hit now for two seasons with the UK Racketlon community, and it is fair to say, a venue that the community will be very keen to return to in the future.  Finally, it would be remiss to not thank tournament organisers Ray Jordan, Mark Steeden and Jack Bishop and their dedicated team of helpers, Jo Bennett, Jerry Bishop, Steve Bispham and Geoff Jordan who ensured the whole event ran like clockwork from the Tournament Desk, the players who provided volunteer squash court marking and our TT umpire David Cue.  With refs across all four sports, the event had a wonderful feel with players of all classes and abilities receiving the highest standards of marking if they wished to do so.  The UK Tour continues through the rest of the year, with the County Championships just 6 weeks away!