Dramatic, Thrilling, History Making Racketlon - English Open 2017

After three blistering days of intense competition, Calum Reid secured his first Racketlon title in exactly 3 years winning the Men’s A after acting as an injury replacement for Keith Lesser.  It was a thrilling story in the Ladies A, where Martina Meißl claimed her first English Open title to add to her two previous Racket Masters titles here in the UK in a dramatic finale.  There were also victories for: Nicolas Lenggenhager (Men’s B), Helene Lechemolle (Ladies B), Simon Puthoste (Men’s C), Ross Wilson (Men’s D), Jermaine Manners (Men’s O40s), Richard Middleton (Men’s O45s), Jo Shelley (Ladies O45s), Alison Cook (Ladies O50s), Bruce Shepherd (Men’s O55s), Angus Howard (U13s), David Bennett (U16s) and Leon Griffiths (U21s).  There were doubles victories as well for: Michi Dickert & Lukas Windischberger (Men’s A Doubles), Lieselot De Bleeckere & Natalie Paul (Ladies A Doubles), Lieselot De Bleeckere & Lukas Windischberger (Mixed A Doubles), Keith Lesser & Oliver Oxland (Men’s B Doubles), Esther Dubendorfer & Jordan Dainty (Mixed B Doubles), Peter Browning & Peter Frobisher (Men’s D Doubles) and Frank Kleiber & Richard Middleton (Men’s O45s Doubles).  All the results can be found here, meanwhile there are photos from UK Racketlon and Robert Wilde as well.  In addition, the event was live blogged by members of the UK Racketlon community, so you can relive the action by re-reading the blog, or if you prefer, a full tournament report is below. 
All results are online on fir.tournamentsoftware.com



Old and New Stars Shine Bright For Britain


There were few surprises in the first round of the Men’s A, with the exception of the defeat for third seed Michi Dickert at the hands of Duncan Stahl, in a match originally seen as being pretty tricky for both players to negotiate.  With the rest of our seeded players progressing through to the quarter-finals, the biggest consternation had arisen by the injury withdrawal of Keith Lesser and his replacement with the 2011 World Champion, Calum Reid.  Calum, who hadn’t played an international Racketlon event since the 2014 World Championships agreed to slot in at late notice.  He quickly dispatched with Ray Jordan to set up a quarter-final with training partner and friend Duncan Stahl.

 
In the quarter-finals, second seed Morten Jaksland defeated Dan Busby, after winning the table tennis to 12 and doing major early damage to Dan’s hopes right at the start, Morten stuck close to Dan in the Badminton (losing to 17) and then a phenomenal effort in the squash, (losing to 19), ensuring he took a slender 3 point lead into his preferred sport of tennis.  The young Dane made no mistake there and polished off Dan for a convincing win.  With Duncan having eliminated third seed Dickert, the defending champion was then himself wiped out by Calum, who reached the semi-finals without dropping a sport.  Fourth seed Kresten Hougaard faced the talented Frenchman Sylvain Ternon, and with TT (21-6 to Kresten) and Badminton (21-4 to Sylvain) having cancelled each other out, a convincing 21-10 squash victory for Kresten left him needing 12 to win on the tennis court, which he achieved with the score 13-12.  


But, we leave the tie of the quarter-finals to the very end.  Lukas Windischberger, top seed, undefeated in 2017, pre-tournament favourite and hunting for a fourth title of the season, faced the UK’s up and coming star, Leon Griffiths.  A gripping quarter final followed, Leon flew out into an early lead with a 21-11 TT win before a 21-14 badminton win put the young Brit in total command.  However, Lukas has been in fearsome form on a squash court and a crushing 21-7 victory for Austria’s finest, left Leon 3 points up going to the tennis.  Leon started well and he got out to a 11-8 lead at the turn thanks to some brilliant forehand winners.  But the young Brit was tiring and under the anxious gaze of his parents, living every shot from their elder son, first serves were rare and Lukas was reinventing himself into the tennis equivalent of a squash court wall, getting everything back, with little pace for Leon to work with.  Lukas, seeing his opponents weakness, pounced winning 6 of the next 7 points to turn 8-11 into 14-12 and it was very much match on.  A dead net chord for the Austrian made it 17-14 leaving it perfectly poised with both needing 4 points for victory.  Leon looked deflated, but there was a growing British crowd and as they roared their support, Leon found a second wind, he took the next two points, before great net play from Lukas made it 18-16.  More roaring from the crowd and two more points for Leon, gave him 3 match points and while Lukas saved one, he couldn’t save a second, handing Leon his biggest win on the world stage.  As Leon was embraced by younger brother Luke (in an emotional moment for all), Lukas was nothing but magnanimous in defeat, with praise for his opponents efforts, showing the class of a great champion even in defeat.  


With just enough time for everyone to recover from those epic scenes, we entered the Saturday night semi-finals with Calum Reid vs. Morten Jaksland and Kresten Hougaard vs. Leon Griffiths.  Morten ended Calum’s run of winning sports with a 22-20 TT win, however after that brief ray of light their was nothing the young Dane could do about the returning Scot, Calum may lack the hair of his first English Open triumph in 2005, but he still has all the skills he needs and 21-17 (badminton) and 21-5 (squash) wins, left him needing just 4 points at the tennis to secure another English Open final berth.  Morten is an excellent tennis player, but even this task was beyond him and so Calum, a late replacement entry had made the final.  In the second semi-final, Leon probably started as a slight favourite having won his last outing against Kresten at the 2016 Racket Masters.  With TT (Kresten 21-10) and badminton (21-8 to Leon) cancelling each other out, it was to squash to see who could land the decisive blows.  A Herculean effort from Leon pressed Kresten around the court and while the Dane was always in control and certain for victory in the squash, he was unable to land a decisive blow to give him the edge into tennis, a situation not helped when he required an injury time out after a fall led to a nasty finger injury.  With Kresten winning the squash 21-15, he would need 18 at the tennis.  The FIR president came out all guns blazing on the tennis court, forcing early errors from his younger opponent and he raced into an 8-5 lead.  But once again cheered on by a partisan home crowd, Leon brought the match back to parity at 8-8 and then raced off into the sunset and the final, with a 21-11 victory.  


We have in the build up to this event talked about history being made and there was in the Men’s A final, as Calum Reid and Leon Griffiths contested the first all British SWT final in Racketlon history.  Calum had the rub of the green on the TT table and he stole that 21-14 (video here), putting some Racketlon pressure on his opponent.  Leon then endured a horrific start to the badminton, Calum racing into a surprise 7-3 lead with Leon committing several unforced errors.  Leon struck back and won the badminton 21-12 (video here), to ensure he once again led into the squash by 2 points.  On the squash court there were no errors.  Calum was exceptional, giving a master class in how to play squash in a Racketlon event, he hit consistent tight lengths, pushing Leon deep into the back corners, before putting away any simple drop shot chances.  Leon wasn’t for quitting, a beautiful trickle boast got him on the board at 9-1, and he fought his heart out, but there were few chances past Calum who was as good in defence as he was in attack.  21-6 to Calum (video part 1, part 2)), who would need 9 points for the 2017 English Open title.  Leon, with some superb hitting gave brief hope of an incredible finish, but Calum professionally snuffed out the chance and with the score 9-9 (video here), Calum Reid was crowned the 2017 English Open title, his fourth win at this event (in addition to winds in 2005, 2011 & 2013), making him the most successful player of all time at this event.  For Leon, it was another second place, but his stock has risen further and all players will fear seeing his name appear in the draw that is for sure.  Morten claimed third place in the Men’s A with a gruelling victory over Kresten which included a 45 minute, 23-21 squash victory and a clinical 21-2 tennis win to complete the victory.  



Drama All Round in the Ladies A


For all the thrills in the Men’s A, the Ladies A draw made it look small time as the four lady box league resulted in fantastic play and a thrilling finish which left some of the brightest brains in UK Racketlon using pencil and paper to work out the possible winners.  Hannah Boden, Martina Meißl, Natalie Paul and Lieselot De Bleeckere contested what turned out to be a nerve wracking event.  The writing was on the wall from the first set of games.  Lieselot and Natalie went to squash all square and with Lieselot winning 21-7 she must have felt she was in with a good chance of an opening victory.  However, exceptional control from Natalie on the tennis court seemed to have guaranteed her a stunning victory, before Lieselot hit back and at 19-6 both ladies needed two points for victory, Lieselot struck first making it 19-7, however Natalie held her nerve to seal a 21-7 tennis victory and leave the match result hanging on a gumi-arm.  Natalie was asked to serve by Lieselot and after a tense rally, Lieselot’s passing shot drifted wide and handed Natalie an exceptional win.  Meanwhile, Hannah’s sensational badminton (21-5) had nullified Martina’s TT and squash wins, meaning the young Brit needed 17 points for a famous win over the twice Racket Master from Austria.  Perhaps crucially for this match, Martina had miscalculated and thinking Hannah needed 15 points, had loosened up with the score 19-15 to polish off the win in the tennis, before realising that she had in fact won by a solitary point!


It didn’t get any easier or less tense in round two for the ladies, as Martina faced Lieselot and Natalie played Hannah.  Hannah again dominating on the badminton court this time supported by strong TT and squash wins had the match wrapped up by tennis, however as it was a box league the match had to be played to completion and maybe crucially, Natalie won the tennis meaning it was just a 12 point defeat.  Martina vs. Lieselot was a repeat of the 2015 Racket Masters final, and once again Martina prevailed and once again it was preciously close.  With TT and badminton cancelling each other out, Lieselot led by a solitary point into squash.  A brutal squash set followed with neither lady giving much breathing space to the other.  It finished 23-21 to Martina, meaning with a solitary point lead into tennis, it was to be a winner takes all tennis set.  Another tense affair followed, but Martina prevailed 21-18 giving her a four point win.  
Into the final round and with Martina playing Natalie and Lieselot playing Hannah it was all to play for.  With the results all so close, it was down to UK Racketlon’s maths brains to calculate the standings, and Johnny Bispham delivered.  Going into the final round, Martina needed to win to win the Ladies A.  If Martina lost, then Natalie was the champion, unless Hannah won and Natalie won by fewer than 24 points, so with all this complexity the competition got underway.  Hannah, knowing the situation, got off to an excellent start against Lieselot, first polishing off the final 6 points in the TT to turn 15-15 into a 21-15 victory and then dominating the badminton (21-10) to lead by 17 into squash.  Martina and Natalie meanwhile shared a pair of 22-20 victories, Natalie winning the TT and Martina the badminton to ensure they were all square into squash.  On the squash court, Hannah put in a superb performance and defeated Lieselot 21-18.  Meanwhile, Martina dominated Natalie with crunching forehands from the Austrian leftie allowing her to physically dominate the T.  Natalie dug deep, but went down 21-7.  Therefore into tennis, Hannah needed just 2 points for victory, but she was reliant on Natalie once again winning 21-6 for an outright win on the tennis court, (or 21-7 for another gumi-arm).  Hannah quickly earned her 2 points and despite losing the tennis 21-17, all attention had quickly turned to Martina vs Natalie.  For a brief moment as Natalie raced out into 13-5 lead, the highlight of which was a gorgeous smash winner, there were glimmers of hope for Britain to produce both English Open elite champions, however Martina snuffed out Hannah’s dreams (for now) securing her required 8 points.  The drama brought to the end with Martina, the Ladies A champion, adding the English Open to her previous titles here in the UK, while for Hannah it was second place (credit: Racketlon UK) in what was a great weekend for the youngster, with Natalie rounding out the podium and a thrilling Ladies A event.  


Rounding Up The Rest


Amazingly we have only covered two draws so far in this report, barely scratching the surface of the English Open, such was the level of drama on offer for all those following in person or online.  As such, we will only produce a “brief” round up of the remaining draws!  In the Men’s B, it was an excellent win for Nicolas Lenggenhager who defeated another talented UK youngster in the shape of Alistair Prades.  Nicolas, an exceptional badminton player nullified Alistair’s best sport and despite TT and squash wins for Alistair (21-16 and 23-21 respectively), it wasn’t enough to stop the Swiss from claiming the Men’s B title.  Poland’s Greg Lorkiewicz defeated Morocco’s man mountain Mohammed Koubaa to finish in third.  It was European domination in the semi-finals of the Ladies B, and after Helen Lechemolle won the all French battle in the semi-final against Anne-Laure De Mullenheim, she went on to dominate Austria’s Stefanie Rath in the final, winning before the tennis in a sublime display.  Anne-Laure defeated Natalie Prado from Spain to claim third place.  There was more French triumph as Simon Puthoste defeated Simon Gilhooly (GB) in the Men’s C final.  After France’s Simon won the TT 21-1, the British Simon struck back in the badminton (21-5) and squash (21-10) however the Frenchman delivered a clinical tennis display (21-5) to seal the title.  Sweden’s Tomas Torstensson defeated Britains Joel Durston to claim third place.  There was further British success in the Men’s D as Ross Wilson defeated Sam Barker in the final, Lee Gregson claiming third place.  


There were three junior classes, and in the U13s it was a repeat of the London Open, as Angus Howard pipped Fallon Reid to the title with James Vincent in third.  Fallon having a great weekend including an impressive consolation win in the Ladies B, showing skill levels belaying her young age.  David Bennett won the U16s, putting Will Gregson down into second place with Men’s D champion, Ross Wilson in third.  Leon Griffiths (unsurprisingly) dominated the U21s, winning the title to add to his second place in the Men’s A.  Piers Boden was second and Harry Pearce in third.  There were an additional five vets classes and in the youngest of these, Jermaine Manners returned to Racketlon to win his first title in the Men’s O40s, with Ulrich Schlepphorst (Germany) in second place and Andrew Hopwood in third.  Richard Middleton defeated Jon Foulds in the final of the Men’s O45s, with Mark Steeden in third making this an all British podium, a feat also seen in the Men’s O55s, with Bruce Shepherd seeing off the challenges in their box league of Martyn Langston (2nd) and Duncan Marlow (3rd).  In the Ladies vets events, it was a victory for Jo Shelley in the Ladies O45s, with Switzerland’s Esther Dubendorfer in second and Maureen Thompson in third.  Finally, Alison Cook took home the Ladies O50s title, with Sarah Ball in second and Sally Walker in third place.  

 On top of all this we had a range of doubles classes that were played, all the winners are listed at the top of the page.  Sadly, there just isn’t space to cover the goings on from a range of interesting doubles events.  The final word goes to thanking the volunteers who helped us put on such a show, with special mention to Helen Ford on the tournament desk, Geoff Jordan on tennis control and Keith Lesser who “found his calling” as a squash controller.  There were many other helpers to the usual UK Racketlon team so thanks to everyone. 

 

James Pope
UK Racketlon