A Triumph for Scotland and Sweden
Date: 2004-11-19

Raymond Jordan reports below from the 2004 racketlon World Championships in Vienna, an event that attracted 234 players from 15 different countries making it the biggest tour event so-far - and a great leap forward for the game of racketlon.

Magnus Eliasson and Sarah Mcfadyen are the World men’s and women’s champions following the World Racketlon Championships held in Vienna from November 11th - 14th. Both were seeded one in their event. Pär Carleke and Calum Reid are the new Veteran and Junior world champions respectively.

All eyes in the Men’s event were on the top half of the draw which contained Eliasson, Kärkkainen and Struthers, the 3 most popular choices when I asked people to predict the World Champion before the event started. It was certainly a very strong men’s Elite draw, with the most notable absentees being Stefan Adamsson (last year’s runner-up) and Mats Källberg, due to injury. This resulted in four of the eight top seeds coming from outside Scandinavia - Struthers, Reid, O’Donnell and tournament director Marcel Weigl.

Eliasson’s path to the final was certainly a tough one. In the first round he gave Austria’s number one squash player Andreas Fuchs a ‘hammering’ despite losing the squash set 21-8, then after beating Mika Hasmats in round 2 came the challenge of Doug Struthers. The two had played last year in the second round which had resulted in a close victory for Magnus, but this time it was a little more clear cut. Doug got 15 in the table tennis; he had achieved his target. However, from being 9-6 up in the squash, he went on to lose 21-11 and with it any realistic hope of victory. “I hadn’t expected to lose the squash” he said - clearly the focus had been on his weakest sport up until then. After a close badminton set the tennis was a formality and the world number one marched on to a semi-final with his nemesis Kärkkäinen, who had duly despatched Calum Reid before the tennis - although not before the young Scot had performed very well in table tennis, reaching 19.
The Harbour Master Roland Helle also reached his allotted position in the final, although none of his matches were easy. After beating Sami Lithenius he was tested by Germany’s number one Holger Stamm, who shocked him 21-8 in the table tennis - Stamm’s long pimpled backhand rubber causing Helle problems initially, although he was too strong in the remaining disciplines.

A very tough test came against British number one John O’Donnell in the quarter final, who won the first 3 sports very closely, but the difference in tennis standard was too great in the end, Helle winning +3. His semi-final with Rickard Persson was not quite so close, as the tall journalist ‘choked’ in the badminton after a great table tennis opener and expected squash score, leaving himself too big a mountain to climb in the tennis.

Eliasson and Kärkkäinen, the two favourites to win the title before tournament start.

Eliasson v Kärkkäinen was possibly the most important match Racketlon has ever seen and on this occasion was a lot closer than any of the previous encounters, and resulted for the first ever time in victory for the Swede. Eliasson took 16 points from Mikko in the table tennis, which showed to be crucial. Last time the swede only got five points. 21-11 in squash and 21-16 in badminton took Magnus into a safe lead of 10 points before the tennis. Although Mikko is an excellent tennisplayer with a ranking among the top 30 in Finland there was no chance for him to even the score.

And onto the final - there was certainly a danger of it being an anti-climax after the first semi-final, but it proved to be as interesting and controversial a match as will be seen in a long time. Magnus went 12-3 up at table tennis, looping very well. However, a succession of lucky nets and vastly improved play from Roland Helle gave him the set 21-18 - the anger of the World Number one all too clear to see in his furious ‘vice like’ handshake at the end. The squash set was just as exciting - Roland went 7-1(!) up before Magnus gradually forced his way back in by virtue of higher consistency. The controversial point however came at 13-11 when Eliasson demanded the referee be changed after a difficult decision. He was changed eventually (although certainly should not have been), and Helle’s displeasure was clear in refusing to shake hands at the end of the set. 21-13 and a lead by +5 to Magnus. In badminton there were more problems - the world number one claimed the shuttles were too fast on several occasions, despite them dropping significantly short of the line when tested, to the amusement of some badminton players in the audience. The score was 21-18 to Magnus, leaving him to get 14 in tennis, which he duly did, although not before being foot faulted several times! The winning point was a disappointing one; neither players realising the match was over - but then we saw the usual Magnus pose, arms outstretched in celebration as he was once again the World Champion.

Helle. Not far behind! World ranked number 2...

As usual the Men’s Elite draw threw together some interesting matches. Badminton experts Mathias Fagerstrom and Nikolay Angelov had a very good first round clash with the higher ranked Swede taking the victory, although not before the audience were treated to an enthralling badminton set. The pick of the Elite matches has to be Anders Rickan versus Marcel Weigl in the second round. The very cool and consistent Swede defeated the tournament director and home favourite on a gummiarm point (Rickan’s 4th gummiarm-victory in his career!) after a terrific cross-court forehand topspin under pressure to huge roars from the crowd - and he was still grinning over his Spaghetti Bolognese several hours later!

Anders Rickan. Ruthless when it really matters.

Of the top Austrian specialists, Jürgen Koch (badminton) showed a lot of potential, losing to Holger Stamm by only 10 points, and he appears to also be a strong tennis player, as well as a capable table tennis player. If he were to improve his first two disciplines then he could certainly be a danger, particularly to the badminton specialists!

The ladies event was no less interesting, with only Finland’s Hanna Miestamo missing from the draw. Number one seed Sarah McFadyen won her first world title - the first to leave Scandinavia, after defeating fellow Scot Katy Buchanan in the semi-final and then number 2 seed Lilian Druve of Sweden in the final. This is the third time in a row that Sarah has beaten Lilian and it is hard to see how the result could go the other way, with the young Scot’s table tennis improving with each tournament. The margin in the final was +11. As expected Sarah won the squash and tennis to single figures, with Lilian doing the same at badminton. Table tennis was therefore the key, which resulted in a 22-20 victory for the Swede, a fair reflection of their abilities although it must be noted that Sarah was 7-0 ahead! Third and fourth positions went according to world ranking, Katy Buchanan of Scotland third and Susanna Lautala-Naykki finishing fourth.

Sarah McFadyen, Scotland. World Champion. Facing Sweden's Lilian Druve in the final.

The all-Scottish semi-final was over before the tennis; Buchanan looking tired after the week’s exertions. When she beat Sarah in Belgium Katy had won the first two disciplines which gave her a distinct advantage, both points-wise and more importantly, mentally, and in order to defeat her again a similar performance would be required although she couldn’t manage it this time. Lilian defeated Susanna, also before the tennis, demonstrating too much strength in both squash and badminton.

Regular appearances on the World Tour have certainly kept Lilian sharp and on top of her game; in contrast to her Scandinavian rivals. The eight quarter-finalists in the woman’s event were from 5 different countries and with Poland, England and Bulgaria also sporting a number of talented individuals the women’s game is becoming more dynamic and harder to predict with every tournament. The number of female entrants for this tournament was also far higher than for any other tournament in history and hopefully next year’s tour events will continue this trend.

The junior events were a new innovation at this year’s World Championships with the two top seeds meeting, as expected in the final of the Under 20’s. Calum Reid from Scotland had an easy path to the final, as did local favourite Christoph Krenn. However the Men’s Elite quarter-finalist from the Bridge of Allan Sports Club was too strong for ‘big bird’. After a comfortable victory at table tennis and then winning both squash and badminton Calum made the two needed points at tennis with ease to become the very first World Junior Racketlon Champion in a match labelled by some as the ‘battle of the hairstyles’.

Calum Reid, Scotland, winner of the "battle of the hairstyles" and the first ever Racketlon Junior World Champion

In the Veterans event Pär Carleke of Sweden unsurprisingly defended the title he won last year in Gothenburg. Although he was seeded 2 behind England’s Richard Whitehouse he was seen as the pre-tournament favourite, also featuring heavily in Sweden’s team event success on the Thursday. In the final he beat fellow countryman Janne Elmhag by +33; in fact Par’s domination of this event was so great that he didn’t have to play a tennis set all weekend! He comfortably defeated another Swede, Ulf Bredberg, in the semi-final although the most exciting games came in the top half of the draw where Scottish semi-finalist and squash guru Kevin Lawlor defeated both the number one seed Richard Whitehouse in an enthralling encounter (+10) in round 2, and then the much fancied Harri Peltola of Finland in the quarter-final with +2!! The best local performance in the vets was by Konstantin Bradvarov, who lost to runner-up Elmhag in the quarter-finals.

As you would expect for the World Championships the Class 1 and Amateur events were very strong, demonstrated by the fact that Class 1 winners of recent tournaments Darren Kerins (English Open), and Michael Mattsson (Scottish Open) both lost their first matches. The event was won by Sweden’s Peter Jonsson, a very strong table tennis player with good badminton and tennis to back it up; he defeated Racketlon newcomer Mark Jackson (England) in the final. The plate event was won by one of the colourful characters on the tour, Finland’s Martti Vottonen.

Robert Wyszynski of Poland won the Amateur Event, defeating Austria’s Walter Emsenhuber in the final by 10 points, Poland’s first World Championship medal - the first of many? The ladies amateur event was won by Austria’s number 2 lady Susi Minichsdorfer who beat Sylwia Borek of Poland in the final.

The Men’s elite plate proved to be very interesting, with a number of high profile names such as Steven Verbruggen, Nikolay Angelov, Steve Thomson and IRF President Hans Mullama competing, and it was the crafty Scot Thomson who won, beating the ever smiling Angelov in the final +3. Every other match in this draw seemed to be a clash of top badminton players, with Stephane Cadieux having to play Verbruggen, Mullama and Angelov in sequence and Steve Thomson facing both badminton pro Jurgen Koch and Angelov - all after Angelov had lost to Mathias Fagerstrom in the first round proper!

The tournament as a whole was very well run, tournament director Marcel Weigl very grateful for the help of his many assistants - some of them from Belgium! Everything ran pretty much to schedule as fortunately there was enough time to leave a 5 minute or so gap between each set of matches starting, something which definitely prevented a backlog on the tennis courts (normally a problem at racketlon tournaments). The hotel accommodation was also excellent at the price although some competitors (let’s be honest, some Brits), didn’t benefit completely by not going to bed AT ALL on more than one occasion! The hotel bar being open until the early morning was also very welcome, especially as some people (Hadden/Reid!) had reserved seats for the whole four days! Local transport is also very good for this venue with the centre of Vienna being an easy 15 minute ‘U-Bahn’ journey away, and the large shopping complex just round the corner with it’s many bars and restaurants (particularly the wonderfully priced Schnitzel restaurant!) will also be fondly remembered.

As Marcel had promised there were a number of innovations at this tournament that made it ‘special’. The cheerleaders’ routines were very impressive; the music throughout was received with mixed feelings (although I personally didn’t notice it when playing and I don’t think a lot of other people did either). The exhibition match on the Saturday was a great idea in theory although to be honest, watching Austria’s number one squash and badminton players playing each other at table tennis isn’t that interesting! However, we did get to see each of the specialists play in the main draw against someone fairly good in their discipline which made for good viewing, and there is a lot of potential in attracting top players to these events, especially if they can play an exhibition match e.g Jurgen Koch v Mathias Fagerstrom, so well done to Marcel for getting them to take part!

All in all it was a fantastic tournament, the biggest on the World Tour so far and I have a feeling that many other tournament organisers will want to try and copy or even better the efforts of the Austrians last weekend. Well done Austria and I hope to see everyone at a tournament next season. Back in Vienna next year? Who knows!

The author. English racketlon journalist and
table tennis specialist Raymond Jordan.