Persson. The Winner.

The sixth English Racketlon Open, held in London over the weekend, became a tournament of upsets and final drama with surprise victories in both Elite events. See reports below.

Although Rickard Persson was mentioned in beforehand speculations as a probable runner-up few people thought that he would have a chance against big English favorite Douglas Struthers in the final. But he made it. By means of a single point victory. Then English Racketlon compensated the drawback on the Men's side with a major upset in the Ladies' class, where Natalie Lawrence took the title after an impressive performance against world no.1 Susanna Lautala-Näykki in the final.

A mighty backhand. 21-9 in tennis against Struthers!
photo: BMM

Good Tennis, Persson!
The Men's final started out with a safe 21-6 for table tennis specialist Persson. If anything this was a better start for Persson than expected given the fact that Struthers has quickly improved his table tennis (which is still considered his weak spot) during the last few years and even played a close game against Eliasson in it during the two tight, almost legendary, matches they played last autumn. The badminton difference was also going to be quite big as Struthers repeatedly pushed Persson with quick strokes to his chest. 21-9 to Struthers meant +3 for Persson going into the squash. Persson had shown very good squash form during the early stages of the tournament beating e.g. Weigl (Aut, WR4) by 21-1 and Krenn (Aut, WR8) by 21-8. But so had Struthers, e.g. beating squash specialist O'Donnell (Eng, WR3 and first seed) 21-9(!) Long, exhausting rallies slowly got the best out of Persson and, although no one can say he did not fight well, the set ended at a crushing 21-7 - and the match was over! least that was what many in the audience were thinking given that most of them thought Struthers would win the tennis. He was +11 ahead and thus only needed 11 points in the tennis to win the match.

But, as the tennis started, it became clear, very quickly, that Persson had very different plans. In a few minutes, and after impeccable play, he was in the lead by 8-1 and when he reached 16-5 the total score was level and it looked as if he was actually going to achieve the seemingly impossible. That's probably what Persson, also, was thinking and, as most Racketletes are aware, that kind of thinking has a tendency to bring out the "Gummiarm" (although the literal translation of this Swedish word is "rubber arm" a better way of describing it in English is probably "chicken arm"). And it certainly looked as if that was exactly what Persson was suffering from when his game suddenly changed to include unforced errors, unthinkable just a few moments earlier; Struthers got 4 straight points and 16-5 turned into 16-9. "Game Over" yet again? Maybe that's what Struthers was thinking... because now it was his turn to lose a series of straight points. The match was over at 21-9 and Persson had won it by one single point.

Persson-Struthers +1 (21-6, 9-21, 7-21, 21-9)

The end of the match seems to have been a clear case of "Gummiarm Roaming" a term sometimes used to describe a phenomenon that occurs when the Gummiarm moves - or roams - from one player to the other coinciding with the thought of being close to victory. It certainly looked that way and it is a fact that Persson lost 4 straight points at a stage when he looked like a winner followed by 5 straight lost points by Struthers when he came close. Gummiarm roaming or not, the match is certain to go down history as one of the classics.

But how unexpected was it really? Persson has faced Struthers on two previous occassions; the first time at the Austrian Open in November 2006 and then shortly afterwards at the Swedish Open in January. And both times Persson has actually won the tennis(!) By 7-6 in Stockholm and by 16-11 (unconfirmed) in Vienna. The latter match seemed, in fact, to have much in common with the English Open final; In both cases Struthers needed 11 to win. And in both cases Persson won the tennis by a relatively clear margin. The low expectations on Persson are probably better attributed to the fact that he has, in most people's minds, become a bit of "the eternal runner-up"; He has, time after time, reached tour event finals. And he has, time after time, pulled the shortest straw. He has, in fact, according to his own estimates, achieved the final about 10 times and has won only once before; that was as long ago as at the 2003 British Open and a contributing factor behind that victory was that favorite Magnus Eliasson injured his foot and had to retire in his semifinal against Persson. This time Persson's victory can be explained by nothing else but his great performance. He is a winner. Finally.

Lawrence First Tour Title.

England's no.1 Natalie Lawrence.

The Ladies' final too, became a dramatic affair. Finland's world no.1 Susanna Lautala-Näykki started out by winning both of the initial events by 21-14 but then lost her grip in squash to a hard hitting Natalie Lawrence (ENG, WR4), who only gave away 2 points(!) giving her a lead by 5 points before the tennis. The final set offered some high quality tennis between two tennis specialist and was very tight. At 12-12 Lawrence seemed to have the situation under control and at 16-17 she had secured five match points (including a potential Gummiarm tiebreak). At that stage Lautala-Näykki must have clinched her fist and managed to save the first three to 16-20. One more point and the audience would have had the Gummiarm tiebreak it desired. But a forehand cross from Lawrence that landed on the outer edge of the side line (one or two in the audience actually thought it was out...) meant, instead, a victory by 2 points for Lawrence.

Natalie Lawrence (ENG, WR4) - Susanna Lautala-Näykki (FIN, WR1)
+2 (14-21, 14-21, 21-2, 17-20)

No Threat Against Bredberg.
The Veterans event came to be dominated by Sweden. Former handball world champion Claes Hellgren upset second seed Richard Whitehouse in the quarter final and Johan Linse, a Racketlon veteran from Gothenburg, who played his first Racketlon tournament at the end of the Eighties similarly upset Ray Simpson, also in the quarter final. This meant that all 3 Swedish participants in the Veterans' event had advanced to the semifinal the only non-Swede being Germany's Volker Sach.

Ulf Bredberg, Gothenburg, Sweden.
photo: BMM

A slightly worried Bredberg (although both players are from Gothenburg, they actually never faced each other before) managed to beat Linse without set loss; +17 (21-19, 21-18, 21-11, 7-5) and Sach took care of Hellgren by means of a similar over-all difference (relying safely on his table tennis); +19 (21-4, 15-21, 21-19, 9-3). The final between Bredberg and Sach also became a quite straightforward affair with Bredberg leading comfortably before the tennis (normally very good news for him since tennis is his strongest sport);

Bredberg-Sach +17 (8-21, 21-10, 21-8, 11-5)

A Tournament of Upsets.
One interesting aspect of this year's English Open is the many upsets that took place in the Men's Elite. All(!) top 3 seeds fell out at an early stage. Here is a short account.

Seeded players:
1) O'Donnell WR3
2) Weigl WR4
3) Dickert WR6
4) Krenn WR8
5) Persson WR9
6) Köpf WR10
7) Porsborn WR11
8) Struthers WR12

First seed O'Donnell fell against eight seed Struthers (-20) in the semifinal.
Second seed Weigl fell against Persson (-20) in the quarterfinal.
Third seed Dickert fell against Struthers (-20) in the quarterfinal.
Sixth seed Köpf fell against Gruber (-4) in the first round.
Seventh seed Porsborn fell against Foulds (-22) in the first round.

In fact, only 3 (Krenn, Persson and Struthers) out of the 8 seeds performed in accordance with expectations or better.

What a massacre.

Hot First Rounds.
This report would not be complete without the results of the two first round matches that attracted most attention before tournament:

O'Donnell-Marco Deeg +5 (21-3, 21-5, 7-21, 2-17)
O'Donnell was ahead by 20 points before tennis and therefore needed only 2 points to win. But he only got it at 2-17! What if he had needed 3 or 4?
(Deeg went on to reach the plate final - after clear victories over Volker Sach and Alex Köpf - where Christian Wall became too difficult (despite a 21-1 win in the squash))

Dickert-Wall +7 (21-2, 21-19, 20-22, 3-15)
A very tight match as expected. Similarly to the previous match Dickert was ahead by 19 points before the tennis and needed only 3 points to win. And only got it at 3-15. Wall went on to win the plate in a superior manner. Clearly, the tournament would have looked different if not three of the main favorites to win it (Struthers, Dickert and Wall) had been in the same quarter...

The Road to Redbridge
The 2007 English Open became the biggest and best of all English tournaments so-far. Above all, English Racketlon now seems to have found its home - following a long period of trial and error. Although the Redbridge sport center was mentioned as the dream target from the very start in October 2002 this was the first time Redbridge hosted a Racketlon event - following English tour events in three different sport centers; Heston-Hounslow (London), Watford-Bushey (London), Birmingham.

The Redbridge Sport Centre, next to Fairlop station on the London Central Line. Excellent conditions for all four sports. A rarity on the Tour.

It has also taken a series of impressive pioneering efforts. Here is one way of looking at the background:

Phil Reid.

Phil Reid was a Scottish badminton specialist that came up to me with half a bottle of whisky at the 2001 Gothenburg Open. He was the first Scot I ever met in a Racketlon context and he claimed that he was "very excited" about this new sport. Less than a year later he had organised the first Scottish Open, the first Racketlon event outwith Scandinavia (so we thought at the time - until we discovered that Racketlon had a tradition in Austria since 1994, probably exported there from Sweden).

Michael Auchterlonie.

One of the participants at that first Scottish Open was an inspired table tennis specialist by the name of Michael Auchterlonie. Exuberantly enthusiastic he had printed out much of the content of and carried it with him in a folder. A few months later, in October 2002, he was organising the first English Open in the David Lloyd center in Heston-Hounslow (London).

Stuart Foster.

One of the participants at that first English Open was a distinctly jolly character by the name of Stuart Foster. There was something practical and action oriented about this "no nonsense" Englishman. A couple of months later, in April 2003, he was the man behind the first British Open - held at the David Lloyd Racket Club in Watford-Bushey - and he was also going to take over the English Open in the autumn. Through his relentless organisation of a series of British and English Opens over the following years an English Racketlon community started to take shape. Two inspired figures in that community carried the names of Keith Lesser and Ray Jordan, who are now the main drivers behind the English Open.

Ray Jordan and Keith Lesser.

So, thank you Keith and Ray.

And thank you Phil Reid, Michael Auchterlonie and Stuart Foster. Look what you started!



Results Summary
Redbridge, London
17-19 August
(Full results available here (.xls))

Krenn, Persson, Struthers.

John O'Donnell (ENG, WR3) - Mario Gruber (AUT, WR76)
+22 (tt:9-21 ba:21-7 sq:21-1 te:-)
Douglas Struthers (ENG, WR12) - Michi Dickert (AUT, WR6)
+20 (12-21, 21-13, 21-3, 5-2)
Christoph Krenn (AUT, WR8) - Johan Nordstrand (SWE, WR28)
+13 (21-12, 21-14, 13-21, 14-9)
Rickard Persson (SWE, WR9) - Marcel Weigl (AUT, WR4)
+20 (21-11, 9-21, 21-1, 4-2)
Struthers-O'Donnell +20 (11-21, 21-11, 21-9, 10-1)
Persson-Krenn +29 (21-7, 21-19, 21-8, -)
Persson-Struthers +1 (21-6, 9-21, 7-21, 21-9)

Natalie Lawrence (ENG, WR4) - Susanna Lautala-Naeykki (FIN, WR1)
+2 (14-21, 14-21, 21-2, 17-20)

Paul Sach (GER, WR10) - Taavi Himmist (EST, WR1)
+26 (21-2, 21-4, 11-21, -)

Ulf Bredberg (SWE, WR3) - Graham Norton (ENG, WR19)
+22 (tt:21-6 ba:21-12 sq:22-24 te:-)
Johan Linse (SWE, WR30) - Ray Simpson (ENG, WR7)
+16 (21-12, 13-21, 20-22, 21-4)
Volker Sach (GER, WR6) - Rod Robinson (ENG, WR-)
+4 (21-0, 13-21, 2-21, 21-11)
Claes Hellgren (SWE, WR9) - Richard Whitehouse (ENG, WR5)
+3 (21-9, 14-21, 13-21, 21-15)
Bredberg-Linse +17 (21-19, 21-18, 21-11, 7-5)
Sach-Hellgren +19 (21-4, 15-21, 21-19, 9-3)
Bredberg-Sach +17 (8-21, 21-10, 21-8, 11-5)


English Open Tournament Director Keith Lesser reports.

Tournament Director's Report:
Slick Rick Marches to Victory

It was a Swede and an English Lady, not an English Man and a Finnish Woman who took the plaudits in what could be considered as two of the biggest upsets of the tour so far. Natalie Lawrence, established English Number One, took her first tour title in style. Boyfriend and coach Robert Watkins represents England at Over 40’s squash (even though he looks 30) and Natalie’s 21-2 destruction of Susanna can not go unnoticed!

Lawrence with Watkins.

Rickard on the other hand, oh boy! That’s what dreams are made of, nice girl on his arm, nice trophy and cheque in his bag and a specially tailored QPR shirt as a present for one of the nicest and best racketlon players of all time.

Rickard with Suzanne.

Struthers Not Much Koepf
Did Alex Koepf slip a shot of gin into Doug’s Lucozade? The man who is normally so focussed played table tennis and tennis below his level and Rickard was inspired and solid making very few mistakes. Particularly in table tennis, Doug must pressure more into Rickards cross over point to make it awkward for the big man. For there are few better at knocking them back using all the angles the courts provide. What was that Mats Källberg beat Magnus Eliasson? Rickard Persson beat Doug Struthers? What’s next Keith Lesser beats Andy Petersons……………………..

Great Scope, Great Courts, Bring on the World Champs!
The centre was built for Racketlon, everyone agrees, almost purpose built. Racketlon is the root of all that Redbridge is about and the new home of the sport in the UK. Next year we hope more local players will participate and for the first time in 3 years we keep the same venue that we are happy with, a great centre near Stansted airport. Can someone just build a hotel next door, please?

More sponsors, plasma screens, sky TV, squash and badminton referees will give the tournament a world championship outlook. The management team have a two or three year plan to achieve all these things in a growingly demanding international playing climate “I hope new countries are not put off by players expectations”. At least the challenger status gives people a chance to try without the pressure………….

The first step will be for England to hopefully host the 2008 Doubles World Championships which takes place this year in Vienna.

The next British tournament is in Ipswich and you can enter online via the next international events are in Holland, Sweden and, Austria. Let's not forget the Scottish Open; Remember you have to pay in advance pls.

Best of the Rest
Simon Lucas came through an inspired top half to face Christian Alte in the Class B final, well done beating Stuart Foster and the number one seed Johan Linse from Sweden. Simon was made player of the tournament as little could be done in the final, Christian is a very strong player “Gregor Puchas like”.

Eide, Qualtrough, Wolfbrandt (did you play tennis sometime before?), SEE, Cornish, Sutlieff, Sach and of course ULF ULF ULF, no that isn’t a meat feast super supreme it’s Ulf Bredberg destroying everyone, it looks more and more likely that we will have to wait for the Magnus Eliasson generation to turn 45 in 5 years before Ulf is displaced as the world number one. Carleke didn’t make the trip, but probably Ulf wants a rematch.

Special Service Award
Ed Johnson tragically passed away last year in a motorbike accident. He will be remembered and celebrated through this award. Given in 2006 to Lennart Eklundh and in 2007 to Hans Mullamaa. So congratulations Hans!

Initiator of the International Racketlon Federation and its first President (2002-2005).
Initiator of the World Tour and its coordinator during the first four years (2003-2006)

We talked a bit about conduct on court and this can be improved. Listen:

1. During knock-up: There are 2 people on a squash court, both players hit it to each other not just back to you
2. Don’t throw rackets
3. Don’t smash rackets
4. Enter a category which fits both your ranking and your level (see other article specifically on this)

And most importantly smile

See you next year (maybe……….)


Provisional 2008 British Tour

Jan – English Champs – Dominique Ford
Feb – Midlands Open – Lloyd Pettiford
March – British Champs – Ian Mackney
April – North of England – Matt Whittaker
May – Ipswich (Challenger) – Martin Levens
June – Herts Open – John Davies/Brendan Caroll
July – South of England – Stuart Hobden/Jez Bennett
July – London Open – Steff Morgan
August – English Open
September – Scottish Open

Other – Hampshire? Essex? Hull? Bristol/Bath? Welsh? Irish?


Revision history:
2007-07-20: First version.
2007-07-21: Added Tournament Director's Report.
2007-07-22: Added section "A Tournament of Upsets".
2007-07-22: Added pictures.