Jo Shelley and Dan Busby proved to be a class above of their competition as they claimed the Ladies and Men’s Elite titles at the Hertfordshire Open last Sunday. They were joined in the winners enclosure by Alan Plater (Men’s B), Eleanor Sinker (Ladies B), Peter Barton (Men’s C), Ryan Bezer (Men’s D) and Cameron Leighton (Juniors). All the results of a highly enjoyable day at the lovely Letchworth Squash & Tennis Centre can be found here.
Only Lights Phase Bright Eyed Busby
Despite issues arising from the frequency of the squash court lights, top seed Dan Busby (World Teams Elite Silver medallist) progressed with otherwise consummate ease in the Men’s A. First round opponent, Nigel D’Arcy entertained brief ideas of a shock as he claimed the TT set 21-18, but Dan asserted his authority with a 21-7 badminton win. However, with a raft of Saturday afternoon video analysis under his belt, Nigel had hopes of giving Dan some surprises on the squash court, however the experienced squash player proved aware to all threats wining with ease to seal the match. Infact, losing the TT was a bad idea for all players in the first round of the Men’s A, as Alex McMillan, Keith Lesser (World Teams Amateur Champion) and David Bennett all won the opening sport, only to see their opponents triumph in the end. Second seed Jack Bishop (World Teams Amateur Champion) was feeling the pressure as he took on David in their opening match. The talented youngster, now free of exam shackles claimed the TT 21-9 and started the badminton brightly. However, Jack dug into his own reserves of experience to claim the badminton, before an impressive squash victory (21-8) leaving him a simple task on the tennis court to ensure his progression. David’s fellow junior, Ross Wilson (World U16s Team Champion) faced an even wilier character, in the shape of Keith Lesser. Taking the inevitable TT defeat on the chin, Ross chipped away to claim the badminton and squash sets. However, such as the size of Keith’s TT win, Ross would still need an excellent tennis performance to seal his progression. Luckily for Ross, these sorts of tennis results have been a staple of his junior Racketlon career and a controlled 21-8 victory saw off his more experienced opponent. It was a much tighter affair for Alex and Simon Lau. Alex won the TT, before the pair exchanged badminton and squash scores. With Alex needing 18 for the win on the tennis court, the pair tussled away, the game very much a nip and tuck affair, however at the right moment, Simon sneaked away and sealed a 1 point victory, 21-16!
In the semi-finals, both seeds progressed to the final, firstly Dan crushed Simon in the badminton and squash to again avoid using his tennis racket, while Jack faced another junior challenge in the shape of Ross. Ross won the opening sports, but was unable to put any real scoreboard pressure onto Jack, who dominated the squash and left himself a reasonable comfortable tennis target. Despite Ross’ previous heroics, there was no way past the man from Kent, and it was victory for Jack. Dan has been in many a UK or World Tour, Men’s A Final, but for Jack this was new, uncharted territory. While Jack was able to make Dan work harder on the badminton and squash courts than in earlier rounds, he was not able to do the damage required and that left Busby to claim his 18th UK Racketlon title, just 2 behind FIR President Duncan Stahl at the top of the list. Ross defeated Simon to claim third place and add another impressive result to his already burgeoning Racketlon CV.
World Title Hasn’t Blunted Shelley’s Metal
After her maiden World Title in the Ladies O50s (and a World O45s Team Silver) in Zurich, Jo Shelley was back on the UK Tour and in fine form. Facing a four player box league in the Ladies A, Jo would be required to play three matches to completion against Jane Galsworthy, Jo Bennett and Dianne Baker (World O45s Team Silver Medallist). Despite having a lot of Racketlon to play, Jo was in dominant form and would only drop 1 set across her three matches (Badminton against Dianne), especially in the squash and tennis where she dropped a total of just 28 points all day! Dianne claimed second place, however she was given a thorough scare in her opening match by Jo Bennett. Jo B, with newly lasered eyes was seeing it nice and sharp and a tight match saw three of the four sets finish 21-19. Dianne however, was able to seal a 21-13 win in the badminton that ensured she claimed the narrow victory! It was similarly tight in the battle for third place, Jane facing Jo B in this battle and it also went down to the wire. However, Jane was able to gain a foothold thanks to a solid badminton win and cling on to Jo B’s tail on the squash court, taking her to deuce before losing that 22-20, a 21-17 tennis victory meant Jane ran out a 6 point winner.
First Time Champions Reign in the Remaining Events
Across the rest of the Open grades and in our Junior competition, we saw first timers on the top step of the UK Tour podium. For Eleanor Sinker this was also victory on tournament debut! As in the Ladies A, the Ladies B was a four lady box league, with Eleanor facing the experienced Dom Ford & Cherisse Lau and fellow debutant Yolanda Stamford. With Cherisse and Eleanor both defeating the challenges of Yolanda and Dom, they set up an effective final against each other. Cherisse started very strongly, claiming the TT 21-18 before adding the badminton, 21-11 to that and opening up a 13 point lead into squash. Eleanor however, showing a composure and nous more commonly seen in a Racketlon veteran, struck back on the squash court, 21-6 and taking a 2 point lead to the tennis finale. Another tight tussle took place on the tennis courts, but in the end Eleanor was able to emerge victorious, 21-17 sealing the win and a first Racketlon title! Dom defeated Yolanda to finish in third spot.
In the Men’s B, our finalists began their path by taking our the top seeds. Youngster Will Gregson saw off the challenge of Kevin Neville, surviving a slight wobble in the process, Will needing just 6 for victory was pushed hard, Kevin on 13 when Will reached his target. Alan Plater, back from winning the Men’s O50s title at the IWT Malta Open, saw off second seed James Pope, surviving a pretty brutal squash set between the pair. Both Will and Alan progressed to the final, Alan defeating George Roberts while Will defeated newcomer Rory Pullinger in part thanks to an excellent squash performance to minimise the threat from the newcomers excellent tennis! Into the final and the pair traded the opening sports, Alan slightly ahead with a 2 point lead into squash. On the squash court, Will worked hard, but there was at times no way through his opponent. In one rally, Will reduced Alan to scrambling around, quite literally, on his hands and knees, only to look on aghast as Alan summoned the reach to hit a clean winner from this prone position, before collapsing completely to the floor. Alan duly knocked off the 10 points required on the tennis court to seal victory and add a first UK Tour title to his winnings from Malta. Rory defeated George to claim third place on his first Racketlon outing.
Peter Barton claimed the Men’s C title as he overcame the challenge provided by Lee Gregson, father, like son, succumbing to a final defeat, Peter proving just too strong on the TT table and the squash court for his more experienced rival. Ryan Bezer is technically not a first time winner on the UK Tour, as he already has a junior title to his name, but on his debut in the Open age categories he saw of the challenge of Andy Wilson, Ray Ryan and Alan Cornish to rise to the top of the Men’s D four man box league. Alan Cornish, our Men’s O70s World Silver medallist claimed second place thanks in part to a 25-23 squash victory over Ray Ryan who finished third. Andy Wilson was on the wrong side of two narrow defeats (to Alan and Ray) and finished in fourth.
Six juniors competed in two three player box leagues with Freddie Whitfield overcoming the sibling rivals of James (World U13s Team Champion and U13s Boys Bronze medallist) and Claudia (World U16 Girls Bronze medallist), Vincent. Claudia, who had shown incredible dedication to be at the event, having arrived back in the UK just two hours before her first match, landing in from Houston, Texas, the best part of 5000 miles travelled! Cameron Leighton joined Freddie in the final as he overcame the challenge of John Vincent and Oliver Barton, the latter coming agonisingly close to a stunning tennis win. With Cameron needing 5 for victory, Oliver went deep and got close to the finishing line, the final score of 21-5 showing just how close it was, a 1 point victory for Cameron and agony for Oliver. It was another hard fought battle for Cameron in the final, but after a strong start he held off the challenge from Freddie to claim his first UK Racketlon title. Oliver recovered from his defeat to Cameron to claim third place defeating James Vincent.
Once again it was another great visit to the Letchworth Squash & Tennis Club. While a small venue, its compact set up allows players a great chance to relax and catch up between matches and enjoy not having to trek any distance between sports! With more players (including more women and juniors), not to mention a greater number and more diverse range of World Championship medallists, the UK Tour once again showed its strength even in comparison to a World Tour Challenger happening elsewhere this past weekend.