UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

2018 may have been one of our greatest ever years, from unprecedented results on the World stage to a trend setting year on social media, UK Racketlon has never seemed stronger and with our first event on the 2019 UK Tour already full, 2019 looks to be already racing on from this platform.  However, the future can wait, let us first look fondly back over the past season.  


UK Tour Roll of Honour
For various reasons, the 2018 UK Tour was comparatively short, with just nine events, however each of these events was packed to the rafters with players and exceptional Racketlon.  In the Men’s A, Dan Busby was king, he claimed five of the nine titles with wins in East Midlands, Essex, Staffordshire, Hertfordshire and the Richard Lawrence Opens.  As such, Dan now has 19 UK Racketlon titles, just 1 behind the all-time leader, Duncan Stahl.  In fact, that Duncan still leads is due to two factors.  Firstly, he was able to be in the UK (instead of sunny Malta…) for the Welwyn Garden City Open, which he triumphed in for his 20th title and then for a blast from the past, Jermaine Manners to defeat Dan in the final at the North West Open, to win his first Men’s A title in seven years!  Elsewhere, Luke Barnes won the inaugural Northumberland Open and Leon Griffiths won his second British Championships title, Leon will be looking in 2019 to be the first man to win a hat-trick of Men’s elite titles at the British Championships.  


For the Ladies, Hannah Boden confirmed herself as the queen of the sport in the UK, she played three UK Tour events (in her A-Level year) winning all three with victories in Staffordshire and the North West Open alongside her fourth consecutive British Championships Women’s A title.  She has now won 13 UK Racketlon titles in her career and in 2019 will be certain to add more to her tally and of course will be gunning for a fifth national title in a row when we return to Parklangley in April.  With five other titles available (the Essex Open has no women’s draw, just open mixed draws), Jo Shelley claimed two (her sixth and seventh in the UK) with victories in East Midlands and Hertfordshire, which has moved her up into fourth on the all-time list behind Natalie Lawrence (eight titles) and Barbara Capper (nine titles).  The final three titles were shared between Lauren Whiteman (Welwyn Garden City), Kim Hay (Northumberland) and Matilda Parslow (Richard Lawrence).  For Matilda this marked the culmination in a run of consistency which saw her reach consecutive finals in Hertfordshire 2017 (lost to Alison Cook), East Midlands (lost to Jo), British Championships (defeated by Hannah), Welwyn Garden City (defeated by Lauren), Staffordshire and the North West Open (both defeats to Hannah) with victory continually avoiding her, despite the brilliant season she was having.  To triumph in her seventh straight final and claim her maiden UK Tour Women’s A victory was a deserved result for someone who had worked so hard and capped such an excellent year.  


Meanwhile, Ross Wilson (U16s) and Patrick Middleton (U21s) both claimed national titles in junior events at the British Championships whilst Will Taylor, Oliver Barton (both East Midlands), Angus Howard (Essex and North West Open), Cameron Leighton (Hertfordshire Open) and Ryan Bezer (Staffordshire Open) all announced themselves as future names to look out for.  That said, they are names we don’t expect to see many more times on the junior circuit in the UK as they progress through the Open age groups (Ryan, Ross and Will have already won D, B and C grades this season respectively!).  In the seniors, Jeremy Krzystiniak (O45s), Martyn Langston (O55s) and Izzy Bramhall (Women’s O45s) all claimed senior national titles at the British Championships, Geoff Woods claiming the only other UK Tour vets title on offer at the North West Open.  

All our 2018 season winners can be found here for Banded Singles and Vets & Juniors

 



Super Series Winners
The Super Series grew from its excellent start in 2017 with more thrilling contests in 2018, four events comprised the 2018 Super Series with the East Midlands Open, British Championships, Staffordshire Open and North West Open, the events with Super Series points on offer.  Into the final round in Manchester, all the titles were up for grabs, although Dan Busby had the easiest task, needing to only turn up to win the Men’s Super Series title.  In the Women’s event, it came down to a straight shootout between Jo Shelley and Matilda Parslow, who were drawn together in the opening round.  In a winner takes the title match, Matilda Parslow came out on top and thanks to four final appearances in the four Super Series events, she claimed the title ahead of Hannah Boden (who won three of the events, but missed East Midlands) as consistency triumphed.  The Challenger title was won (a tad controversially) by Jermaine Manners.  Jermaine pipped the “people’s champion” Jon Spinks as he won the Men’s A North West Open title to claim the Challenger title.  The closest finish was in the Futures Super Series title with three possible winners on the final day, but in the end Ryan Bezer finished second in Manchester to claim the title ahead of Angus Howard.  Will Taylor who had been leading through the first three events finished in third place.  Steve Hall claimed the Masters Super Series title thanks to a third place in the Men’s O45s at the North West Open, with second place a three way tie between Geoff Woods, Martyn Langston and Jeremy Krzystiniak.  The Super Series has been so successful that in 2019 the FIR are launching their own version as part of the World Tour.  The final standings in each category can be found here: Men's - Ladies - Challenger - Futures - Masters



Brits on Tour
Once again a staggering number of British players travelled the world in search of Racketlon.  There were tour titles for Dan Busby, Richard Middleton and Jo Shelley amongst others, while British players were prevalent across the Champions League teams, notably the iPro London 2’s who finished second in Division 2.  But perhaps most importantly of all, the British had a huge impact at the 2018 World Championships, both for the Doubles events in Nussloch and the Singles and Teams event in Zurich.  As a result, TeamGB came home with our greatest ever medal haul and in the process topped the medal table with 13 titles, three silvers and eight bronze medals.  Details on all our champions and medallists can be found here including a first ever silver in the Elite teams event, a first ever U13s Team title, continuation of our unbeaten record in U16s teams and maiden world titles for senior players Duncan Stahl, Jo Shelley and Bruce Shepherd in what was a quite stunning five days for the Brits.  

 


All our medallists from the 2018 World Championships in Zurich!



2018 UK Racketlon Awards
For fans of our previous instalments (2015, 2016, 2017) you know the drill, some of these awards are voted on by the general Racketlon public and some are awarded on an ad-hoc basis by myself (so all complaints to James Pope please – Ed).  As ever, we start with our voted awards.  


UK Racketlon Man of the Year
Although a number of people were nominated for the award, this ultimately came down to a battle between two players, Dan Busby and Luke Griffiths.  There is not much to say about Dan, he has been a man to beat on the UK Tour since his return to the sport and as already mentioned will be favourite to remove Duncan Stahl at the top of the Men’s Roll of Honour in 2019.  Luke Griffiths is probably also similarly well known in the UK, the smiling assassin as he is known is developing at a pace and announced himself internationally with his performances in the Men’s B at the 2018 World Championships, as he didn’t upset, more dismantled apple carts on his way to a stunning 4th place finish (having also claimed the U16s World Title).  However, for little Luke all this was not enough to take this final title of the year, the voting public edged it by one vote to our 2018 Man of the Year: Dan Busby.  

Dan's the Man (of the Year, 2018)!


UK Racketlon Woman of the Year
Three ladies received multiple nominations for this award this season.  In reverse order we have: World U16s Bronze medallist, Claudia Vincent, she was knocked into third place for this award by multiple UK Tour winner and World O50s Champion, Jo Shelley who finished second.  However, and somewhat amazingly, our Woman of the Year came very close to not winning a tournament all season.  After being pipped by Jo in the final of the season opening East Midlands Open, she reached further finals at the British Championships, Welwyn Garden City Open, Staffordshire Open and North West Open losing on all four occasions.  However, this consistency meant that our winner was always knocking on the door.  She eventually claimed her maiden title at the Richard Lawrence Open to add to her victory in the 2018 Women’s Super Series (thanks to her consistency), crowning what has been an excellent breakthrough season.  Our 2018 Woman of the Year, Matilda Parslow is a very worthy winner of this title after an excellent season.  

UK Woman of the Year in action


International Man of the Year
The draw at the 2018 World Championships was not kind to Morten Jaksland, the second seed was picked to face compatriot and defending World Champion Jesper Ratzer in the second round and this cruelly curtailed his involvement in the championships.  However, this should not take any shine off what has been a phenomenal year for the man from Denmark.  He claimed the Men’s A title in the biggest (outside of the Worlds) World Tour event of the year, the SWT King of Rackets and also the Nussloch Open.  In addition he was a finalist in the rest of his World Tour appearances in Sweden, Lanzarote, Prague, Germany and Malta.  As a result, this meant that he finished up as the 2018 FIR Tour Race Champion with a shot in 2019 of taking the World Number 1 spot.  While always a fearsome tennis player, with a forehand that sounds like a gunshot, over the past 18 months or so, Morten has improved beyond belief in the other Racketlon disciplines to make himself the Danish number one and world number two.  In 2019 he is certainly one to watch, but in 2018, Morten Jaksland is the UK Racketlon International Man of the Year.  

International Woman of the Year
From early on in the voting, two ladies quickly stood out, both having been nominated for very different reasons.  The first is world number one, Christine Seehofer.  She has once again dominated the Women’s tour and threatens to set an unbeaten run that may never be touched.  Undefeated once again in singles, her last defeat coming in April 2016.  This season she defended her World title and along with her position as reigning European champion, she has shown herself to be an unstoppable force, can any lady get close to her in 2019?  Our second nominee has simply watched the results come in, as she recuperated from a severe knee injury sustained in the 2016 season.  Anna-Klara Ahlmer underwent two knee surgeries, concentrated on her studies (including joining an elite club of Racketlon players to present at the EGU General Meeting!), bided her time and in 2018 returned to the World Tour.  Despite the time away, the Swede was right back competing at the top end of the women’s game and collected some silverware along the way, including second place in the Austrian Open at the end of November.  Two ladies, two very different stories, but in 2018 two worthy joint winners of the UK Racketlon International Woman of the Year award, congratulations to Christine Seehofer and Anna-Klara Ahlmer!

 
UK Tournament of the Year
More or less immediately, two tournaments emerged as the front runners.  Our first nomination is built on strong local roots that has been shown to bring new players to the game organised by one of UK Racketlon’s most likeable personalities.  George Roberts has taken the Staffordshire Open at Keele University from humble beginnings of a few dozen players and transformed it into a mega event.  At the other end of the spectrum, the British Championships is our showpiece tournament of the year, 94 players competing in singles, doubles, juniors and vets events over two days, this year at the Parklangley Club.  Both tournaments represent vital components of the UK Tour and support for both these events was intense.  The British Championships took an early lead, before the Staffs faithful rallied to give it what appeared on deadline day as an unassailable lead.  However, the British Championships struck back and with 30 minutes to go, the scores were tied.  Getting in at 23:43, I was WhatsApp’d a final vote and the winner was decided.  By a solitary vote, the 2018 UK Tournament of the Year was… The British Championships.

 
International Tournament of the Year
It was a great time on the courts for many Brits on the 2018 World Tour, with a plentiful supply of medals across all the events.  As such, the UK community is able to name a number of tournaments as their favourites from the always popular events in Prague and Latvia to the standard bearer of tournaments, King of Rackets.  However, in 2018, one event has fond memories for many Brits.  The 2018 World Championships proved to be universally popular with players from around the World and that was also very true here in the UK.  Therefore, just pipping out the Latvian Open, the 2018 World Championships in Zurich were voted the 2018 UK Racketlon International Tournament of the Year.  Congratulations to Esther Dubendorfer and her team!

Match of the Year
His cheeky grin and lively personality have endeared the UK Tour members to Luke Griffiths, but his on court abilities highlight the talent he has.  His run in the Men’s B at the 2018 World Championships was exceptional, Josseline Gade, Roland Pichler (4th seed), and Markus Clement (13th seed), were felled with ease.  But as he reached the quarter-finals, the smart money thought this run would end.  Sweden’s Rene Lindberg was just too good.  Rene was in fine form too, he had defeated Arnaud Genin, Mikael Rehn (12th Seed) and Thomas Knaack (5th seed), built on a solid tennis game.  Luke, therefore knew he needed to be ahead into the tennis and he started brilliantly, 21-17 in the TT and the 21-12 in the badminton.  However, Rene struck back, 21-7 in the squash to leave the match all square into tennis.  Rene had just one tennis defeat in his 16 Racketlon appearances to date, there was surely no way Luke could do it.  Luke is young, he is passionate and he wears his heart on his sleeve.  At times, this can bubble over, but when correctly harnessed it makes him unstoppable.  Rene threw everything at Luke, but Luke broke free.  Cheered on by the Brits, Luke stroked the ball around and set up 5 match points at 20-15.  He didn’t win the first, but he did win the second, 21-16 and this video shows what it meant to him.  Despite some strong contenders for this award, the 2018 UK Racketlon Match of the Year goes to Luke Griffiths vs Rene Lindberg at the World Championships.

 
Moment of the Year
Nothing has ever split the (UK Racketlon) voting public more than the choice of 2018 Moment of the Year.  From cramp treatment to epic journeys, junior domination to senior brilliance, there were contenders from all over the shop.  However, one moment did prevail.  In the final of the World Teams Amateur division, GB2 faced Sweden 2 in the final.  In a nervy affair, the match was on a knife edge and it all came down to the tennis in the final Men’s Singles, Keith Lesser vs Par Gunnar Mattsson.  Keith needed just 7 points in the tennis to secure the title and he flew into an early lead and at 6-3, 8 match points and he was cruising the victory to seal the title for GB2.  Suddenly however, something came over Keith and 6-3 became 6-10, and facing a potential gumi-arm!  Keith, nonchalantly turned to his team mates and asked “What’s the team score?”, before returning to his tennis match to win the next point and seal the title for GB2.  Nerves, what nerves?!  Congratulations to GB2 on their World Title and to Keith Lesser on winning the UK Racketlon Moment of the Year award!

UK Racketlon Personality of the Year
There were no such doubts in this category.  One player has stood head and shoulders above his peers in 2018 and made a huge impact on the sport not just here in the UK, but in ripples across the Racketlon world.  Our winner has done a number of small things this year, but perhaps he is now best known for his efforts in Zurich.  Our winner was entered in the singles events, he had his own matches to play, but every morning he emerged from his tent, picked up his phone and set about ensuring every UK player and team who won a medal were celebrated across social media.  This meant that for some players, they could celebrate their victories with their family and friends whether in the UK or far afield.  Our exceptionally worth winner and UK Racketlon Personality of the Year is none other than Sam Barker.  

Twitter Master and UK Racketlon Personality of the Year


We now move to the more frivolous awards of the year, to recognise some of the more amusing and unique aspects of the 2018 Racketlon season.  



Physio of the Year
Injuries occur in sport, it is inevitable and the same is true of cramp.  The 2018 IWT German Open was played in exceptional heat, on the first day of competition the mercury soared to 38C and eventually after an intense day of Champions League competition, one player cracked.  As Berlin Berghain Boasters and iPro London fought for the Division 2 title, London captain Johnny Bispham succumbed to the heat.  Cue, professional physio and iPro London team mate Lindsey Johnson-Farge who took charge of Johnny’s legs and recognising cramp in his quads did what to the un-initiated (like your author) looked like sitting on him.  It did the trick and Johnny rose from the ground to finish his final match before collapsing in a heap to eat pizza whilst lying on the ground.  

Non-Playing Racketlon Moment of the Year
There must have been something in the air in 2017, because 2018 has in one respect been the year of the Racketlon baby.  A number of UK Tour stalwarts are now parents and some of these parents already have ideas for mixed doubles pairings in the 2034 World Championships… However, despite these wonderful moments for the players, the non-playing Racketlon moment of the year was a single day in Newcastle back in July.  Having met at the 2013 English Open, their relationship has blossomed both on the tour and away from the Racketlon scene.  For those of us in attendance, the Wedding of Luke and Katie Barnes (nee Barclay) was a truly joyous occasion.  From Katie dancing at the alter during the hymns to Luke’s saxophone solo during the reception, it was a fantastic evening of year.  However, as the afterparty continued, we received a candidate for a traditional award…


A great day and night on Tyneside!


Bone Crusher of the Year
This award has been previously awarded to Martina Meissl (2015), James Pope (2016) and Jon Spinks (2017), but in 2018 the award came at a party, not on the court.  Clearly caught up in the emotions of the day our winner decided he needed to sweep someone off their feet at the Barnes/Barclay wedding.  Teacher Dan Busby gave our winner a stern no, James Pope found a (rare) turn of pace to slip his clutches, the ladies of Newcastle steered well clear, alas Johnny Bispham was not so fleet of foot and he was wrapped up in the arms of our winner.  Whether in the pick up or in the put down, Johnny sustained a cracked bone in his thumb and injured 2 out of the three ligaments in his right hand.  With that in mind, James Langworthy is a very suitable winner of this award in 2018.  


Epic Journey of the Year
In 2018, one youngster has had quite the season.  From entering as last-minute filler at the Staffordshire Open through to winning a World U16s Girls Bronze, Claudia Vincent has had quite a few months in the game.  That said, she has also shown the commitment required to thrive within the sport.  With the Hertfordshire Open taking place on Sunday 28th October, young Claudia was on Saturday evening to be found in Houston, Texas.  A trans-Atlantic redeye flight later, she was collected from Heathrow airport at 6:30am before being on court at 9am in Letchworth, a journey of over 4900 miles to make the event.  

Hard as Nails & Lazarus of the Year Awards
In 2018, these titles, which represent those who play through the pain barrier (Hard as Nails) and show incredible recovery power from season ending injuries (Lazarus) are awarded to those players who are unwilling to give up.  This year, the winner receives both awards having been considered to have first played through the pain before then seeking medical advice which suggested his season should end and ignoring it because TeamGB was calling.  Having cracked his thumb, strained his ligaments and been incredibly grumpy at James Langworthy, Johnny Bispham appeared at Stansted Airport 5 days after sustaining his injury in Newcastle to head to Germany for the German Open and Champions League.  Despite wearing a thumb support guard when off court, Johnny played through at times not insignificant pain in his right hand to try and lead iPro London to the Division 2 Champion’s League title.  Although he would fall short in that regard, he demonstrated the requisite pain threshold to earn the 2018 Hard as Nails Award.  


On return to the UK, he received further medical advice to stop playing, but there was a World Championships to play and Team GB 3 was not going to captain itself.  Heading to Zurich, Johnny played a full part in the team event and before succumbing to a three point second round loss in the singles.  His season didn’t end there and Johnny would be seen at the season ending Richard Lawrence Open picking up a second place in the Men’s A Doubles.  Therefore, Johnny also wins the Lazarus of the Year award, our first double winner of these titles.  

Photo of the Year
There have been some great photographs (as ever) in Racketlon this year.  Whether the multitude of framed gold, silver and bronze winners from the World Championships by Sam Barker, the Racketlon Wedding Group Shot (see above), or the ever brilliant contributions from the legendary Inge Omey, we are never short of a photo or two in Racketlon.  But this year’s winner, is far more personal.  As two Kent Racketlon stalwarts enjoyed the sunshine of Belgium, our Chairman, Ray Jordan removed his top.  Poor Jack Bishop, left feeling sick had no option but to take a quick selfie of the situation, and inadvertently won the Photo of the Year award.  
However, due to issues of this being a family website, the image will not actually be shown….

Outgoing FIR President of the Year
It is never easy to take over from a long-time leader, just ask the likes of Gordon Brown or John Major, however when Marcel Weigl stepped down from the position of FIR President during the 2015 season, there would not have been a rush of people to take over from him at the top of the sport.  Kresten Hougaard, however put his name forward and brought a new style of leadership to the position.  He took the sport to new places, in particular the Club La Santa in Lanzarote, and was also the first FIR President to win a UK Tour title (2016 Essex Open) and the UK County Championships (with Essex also in 2016).  While struggling with the weather and split hot and cold taps, he endured a few months living in the UK and helped out running the desk at the British Championships, showing that even as FIR President he would get stuck in to the running of the sport at any level.  In 2018 he has stepped down from the role, passing the baton on to our very own Duncan Stahl, and while Duncan has many exciting plans, that these plans can begin is testament to the efforts of Kresten to rejuvenate the FIR governance and the sport itself.  Everyone at UK Racketlon hopes he continues to enjoy playing without having to be the focus of everyone’s issues whenever he appears!

 
Sometimes it all got to much for Kresten (living in the UK, not Racketlon....)

 

And Finally…
That concludes our review of the 2018 UK Racketlon season.  As we sign off for 2018, I want to take this opportunity to thank all the players, parent-taxis and supporters who make the UK Tour what it is.  The time and energy every one of you invests into the sport makes it a joy for those of us running it to be involved in and we constantly strive to make it even better for you.  However, it would be remiss of me to not offer one final vote of thanks, and that goes to our Tournament Directors.  Our Racketlon season is nothing without your efforts and they are very much appreciated.  Thank you very much!