UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

Dan Busby’s exceptional vein of form both in the UK & abroad continued as he sealed a third Staffordshire Open Men’s A title, once again without using his tennis racket, while for Hannah it was a second Ladies A title to add to the Men’s B title she won here last year.  There were also victories for: Simon Lau (Men’s B), Steve Hall (Men’s C), Scott Keeley Hughes (Men’s D) and Ryan Bezer (Juniors).  Thanks to sponsors Complete ICT Solutions all the juniors went home with a new racket while John Bellfield International supplied a range of cosmetics and other prizes.  It was a belting day of Racketlon at Keele University including outdoor tennis played in glorious sunshine, the full lowdown follows, while all the results can be found here.  

Is TT his Second Sport?
It has long been known that Dan Busby has real pedigree in his squash, but perhaps a lesser known fact is the rapid improvement in his TT.  After Peter Frobisher had defeated Johnny Bispham by taking 17 off the TT specialist in that discipline and causing grievous harm to Johnny’s odds of winning, he walked into a first elite semi-final against Dan.  After such a performance vs Johnny, Peter would have been full of confidence, but a 21-5 defeat in the opening sport left Peter reeling.  While he clawed back some of the damage to win the badminton 21-13, he was unable to live with Busby on a squash court and a 21-2 victory ensured Dan’s record remained intact.  After a burgler alarm had foiled Jon Spinks’ planned arrival gifting Keith Lesser a bye, Keith set up another meeting with Alex Du Noyer, who himself overcame the challenge of Jack Bishop.  Jack, on the back of an excellent victory over Sylvain Ternon in Paris last weekend, just couldn’t get going in the TT and a 21-7 defeat here, matched by a similar score in the badminton, left him with far too much to do in the final two sports.  Into the second semi-final, and Alex nullified the Lesser threat in the TT, losing to just 16 before a badminton pummelling and a gruelling squash win (21-16) left him with the simple maths of needing 7 on the tennis xourt, which he knocked off with relative ease.  

That victory put Alex into a 5th final out of 6 tournaments in 2018, and a third meeting with Dan Busby.  In their previous meetings this season, Dan has dominated from the outset and once again he was in imperious form.  A 21-7 TT victory is his best over Alex this year and while Alex took the badminton (his first set off Dan this year), Dan snuffed out Alex’s remaining hopes with a very solid squash victory, winning comfortably enough to avoid the need for his tennis racket to come out his bag.  Keith finished third as his TT dominance was decisive in setting up a comfortable result overall.  

Revision and Repetition Crucial for Post Exams Boden
Coming out of the seclusion of months of A-Level preparation, Hannah Boden returned to Racketlon as top seed in a 12 lady draw featuring the top names in the ladies rankings.  The top 4 seeds all progressed to the semi-finals, Hannah defeating Oxfordshire’s Jane Galsworthy, Jo Shelley defeating newcomer Kathryn Schutterlin and Matilda Parslow defeating Natalie Slater, all three ladies progressing to the semi-finals with relative ease.  However, fourth seed Lindsay Johnson-Farge was made to work very hard by Shirley Barre in one of the matches of the day.  With 21-16 victories in the TT and badminton, Lindsay was 10 up heading to Shirley’s natural habitat, a squash court.  Shirley crucially won 21-8 to take a 3 point lead into tennis.  In a nervy tennis set, which lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous via a healthy dose of nervy Racketlon tennis, it finished with Lindsay winning 21-18 and setting up the gumi-arm.  The fourth seed took it on the gumi, but only just.  

Into the semi-finals and Hannah made swift work of Lindsay, wrapping up victory before the tennis, however Lindsay can take heart from the score improvements she has made since their last meeting in April.  The second semi-final featured a third meeting of the season between Jo and Matilda.  Jo defeated Matilda back in February to win the East Midlands Open, but Matilda gained revenge in the semi-finals of the British Championships.  Jo got off to a flying start, winning both the opening sports 21-11, setting up her most comfortable position to date against Matilda.  However, Matilda struck back on the squash court, a 21-12 victory meaning, Jo required 11 on the tennis court for victory.  However, recent performances have given Matilda a lot of confidence, and she produced an excellent tennis performance to win 21-8 and take victory.  One feels that this is a growing rivalry that will only continue to develop and push both players on, especially in Manchester were they will likely decide the winner of the Ladies Super Series between them.  

Hannah, however, still sits a cut above the rest in the UK.  Facing Matilda in a repeat of the British Championships final, Hannah dominated 21-5 and 21-2 victories in the table tennis and the badminton respectively, which ended the match as a contest and despite victory in the squash for Matilda it was all over.  For Hannah, it was a twelfth UK Tour title, moving her 3 clear on the all time winners list, while, Matilda reached her fourth Ladies A final of 2018, and much like Alex Du Noyer she is still searching for that first title of 2018.  

Second Place for Second Seeds
In the Men’s B, C & D, the second seeds all equalled their expected outcome by finishing second in each.  In the Men’s B, top seed Simon Lau proceeded to the final after victory over Geoff Woods, while second seed Peter Browning dealt with the challenge of Alex McMillan to set up their tie.  After exchanging a cagey pair of closely contested opening sports (including a thrilling 21-19 badminton victory for Peter), Simon was able to dominate the squash court, his 21-5 victory left him needing 4 on the tennis court for the title.  Peter, however was far from ready to lie down and leading 10-2 as they approached the turn, he had a chance of stealing an incredible victory.  However, Simon was able to grab a couple of points to ensure the top seed was going home with the title, at the end of an intriguing final.  Alex defeated Geoff to finish third.  

Fourth seed Steve Hall faced second seed Will Gregson in the Men’s C final with both having different routes to the final.  Steve had a dominating performance in his semi-final vs Robert Rhodes, polished off by a crushing squash victory to seal his place, whereas Will was made to work very hard by Sam Barker, after a 21-10 TT victory for the youngster, Sam struck back with 21-19 and 21-17 victories in the badminton and squash and was leading the tennis 18-16 when Will sealed his 17th point and victory.  It was something of a reverse for Will into the final, this time finding himself on the wrong side of a heavy TT defeat, before summoning the strength to nick a pulsating badminton set 22-20 and dominate the squash (21-10) leaving his opponent needing 18 to win.  However, Steve’s ability on the tennis court shone through, despatching his young opponent with consummate ease to claim the title.  Sam was involved in another tight match as he edged out Robert to take third place by just 2 points!

The Men’s D featured 6 players, so two groups of three were used to devise our finalists with Scott Keeley Hughes and Ray Ryan emerging victorious from this opening phase.  Top seed Scott dominated the final, winning over the first three sports to leave second seed Ray as runner up, as was the case for all our second seeds in Staffordshire.  Joe Thursby finished in third place.  


A First Junior Win for Bezer
Finally, we turn to our junior event, a four player box league featuring gumi-arm drama and sibling rivalry! Before James Vincent could think about dealing with the challenge of his sister Claudia, he first had to face Cameron Leighton.  With Cameron needing 15 for victory, James managed to squeak his way to 20-14 before holding his nerve to secure the gumi-arm.  James won the spin and asked Cameron to serve, the rally began but before it could be decided, Men’s B player Paul Mathieson shanked a shot across their court and ran to collect his ball.  This forced both boys to stop the rally and restart their gumi-arm! Cameron again held his nerve on serve and was able to get the ball just beyond James’ reach to seal victory.  This was Cameron's first ever Racketlon match, and while many will have won their first ever match, few will have done so on a gumi!.  James dusted himself down to face the challenge of sister Claudia, and despite losing the TT, James was able to secure victory winning the remaining three sports.  Throughout all this, Ryan Bezer calmly kept his head down and secured victories over all three players to take top spot for the first time.  Cameron claimed second with James and Claudia third and fourth respectively.  Thanks to sponsors Complete ICT Solutions, all four of our junior players went home with rackets, the Complete ICT Solutions team eager to see Racketlon grow in Staffordshire and be accessible to all.  

All in all, it was an excellent day at Keele University.  Our thanks to the staff their for their assistance in setting up the venue and agreeing to close up later, allowing us to maximise play.  Thanks as ever to Helen Ford for bossing the control desk in a rather warm and stifling sports hall and to George Roberts for organising the event.  Finally, it is worth mentioning a few names: James Wakefield, Luke Humphries and Matthew Rogalski bumped into the 2017 Staffordshire Open.  Within weeks they were organising a training club with the help of George Roberts and a group of about 10 has now formed, James, Luke and Matthew the three able to play the event this year, making the debuts after a year of learning sports that were entirely new to them.  They loved their day and we can expect to see them, and other members of the Staffordshire club in future tour events.  With a growing nucleus of players in Oxfordshire too, there are some great roots for regional development of Racketlon communities in the months and years ahead.