What´s all the raquet about?


Some of the top table tennis, squash, tennis and badminton players in the world are coming to Winnipeg this weekend to see who is the most well-rounded racquet sports athlete.

The Winnipeg Winter Club is hosting a racketlon tournament, the Cardinal Capital North American Racketlon Championships, where 60 athletes will compete in a three-day event that awards more than $4,000 in prize money.
If you’ve never heard of racketlon, chances are you’re not alone. It’s a game where opponents play a set up to a score of 21 in each of the four sports. Set victories don’t matter; it’s all about getting points. The player or team with the most points after the four matches is declared the winner.
"Most people who are not in the racquet sports community have never heard of it," said Evan Mancer, who is organizing the event and will be participating.

Mancer says half of the participants are travelling to Winnipeg for the tournament. Several Europeans, including former world champion and top-ranked player Calum Reid of Scotland, have made the trip for the tournament. It’s the first time Winnipeg has hosted a major racketlon event that has attracted out-of-town competition. He said the local players better be prepared for some tough competition, but believes they can surprise some of the top racketlon players.
As well as Reid, the third, fourth and sixth-ranked players in the world will be competing this weekend.
"It’s a big deal because it’s one of the four Super World Tour events. It’s sort of like tennis with the grand slams. In racketlon, it’s the Super World Tour, and this is one of them," said Mancer, who finished fifth at the 2010 world championships. "For the Canadian players, it will be by far the biggest tournament here in Canada this year."
Mancer was an accomplished tennis and squash player before he heard about racketlon.
At one time, Mancer was ranked in the top 15 in Canada in both sports. But in 2010, he started to hear about racketlon and decided to give it a shot. He competed in his first tournament in Montreal, where he almost took down the top-ranked player in the world at that time, Christoph Krenn of Austria. Since then, the 44-year-old has been hooked as he’s travelled to London, Stockholm, Vienna and Copenhagen for tournaments.

He admits his table tennis and badminton games could use improvement, but said his competitors "still take me seriously, so that’s good" due to several top-10 finishes at events.
"As I’m getting older, my goal in every tournament I play in now is to have one match where I beat a top player," said Mancer, who refers to racketlon as the "decathlon of racquet sports".

One of those top players that Mancer will have an opportunity to beat is the sixth-ranked Kresten Hougaard, of Denmark. Hougaard, who has an accomplished background in table tennis, has been playing racketlon all over the world since 2010, but this weekend will be his first event on Canadian soil.

"I’ve never been to Canada before, so making the trip was quite attractive to me," the 31-year-old said. "I’m staying a few extra days after the tournament to have a look around and see what the centre of Canada is all about."
Hougaard is working to get better almost every single day when he’s back home. He plays squash on his lunch break, plays badminton in the evenings, tennis on weekends and table tennis during the winter months. He’s competed at several world and European championships and says each year the sport seems to be growing.
"Five years ago, most racquet sport players have never even heard of (racketlon). But I don’t think there are any racquet sport players in the country that haven’t heard of it now," he said.

Mancer would like to see the game have similar growth in Canada, which is a big reason why he decided to organize the event. He said the sport is much more popular in Europe, as they have a tournament every two to three weeks, where in Canada they only have one tournament that counts towards the racketlon world rankings.
"Somebody has to be crazy and put one of these (tournaments) on," Mancer said. "Someone’s got to take the lead and try one of these and I felt this was my year."

The tournament features men’s, women’s, doubles, mixed doubles, amateur and senior events. The three-day event finishes up Sunday evening at the Winter Club. There is no cost for spectators.


Winnipeg Free Press