A Triumph for Scotland and Sweden
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 mens
and womens 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 Mens 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 mens Elite draw, with the most notable absentees being Stefan Adamsson (last years runner-up) and Mats Källberg, due to injury. This resulted in four of the eight top seeds coming from outside Scandinavia - Struthers, Reid, ODonnell and tournament director Marcel Weigl.
Eliassons path to the final was certainly a tough one.
In the first round he gave Austrias 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 hadnt 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 Germanys number one Holger Stamm, who shocked him 21-8 in the table tennis - Stamms 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 ODonnell 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 Helles 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 Mens 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 (Rickans 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 Finlands 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 Scots 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 weeks 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 couldnt 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 womans event were from 5 different countries and with Poland, England and Bulgaria also sporting a number of talented individuals the womens 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 years tour events will continue this trend.
The junior events were a new innovation at this years World Championships with the two top seeds meeting, as expected in the final of the Under 20s. Calum Reid from Scotland had an easy path to the final, as did local favourite Christoph Krenn. However the Mens 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 Englands Richard Whitehouse he was seen as the pre-tournament favourite, also featuring heavily in Swedens team event success on the Thursday. In the final he beat fellow countryman Janne Elmhag by +33; in fact Pars domination of this event was so great that he didnt 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 Swedens 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, Finlands Martti Vottonen.
Robert Wyszynski of Poland won the Amateur Event, defeating Austrias Walter Emsenhuber in the final by 10 points, Polands first World Championship medal - the first of many? The ladies amateur event was won by Austrias number 2 lady Susi Minichsdorfer who beat Sylwia Borek of Poland in the final.
The Mens 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 (lets be honest, some Brits), didnt 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 its 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 didnt notice it when playing and I dont 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 Austrias number one squash and badminton players playing each other at table tennis isnt 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.