The Greatest Ever Racketlon Festival!
The 6th ever World Racketlon Championships took place in
Belgium last week, resulting in the most professional and
impressive tournament that the sport of racketlon has seen to
date. Mikko Kärkkäinen (Finland) and Linda Jansson (Sweden) are
the 2006 World Champions in the men's and women's categories,
with Sweden team champions (again) and Pär Carleke (Sweden)
& Calum Reid (Scotland) taking the veteran's and junior's
Mikko v Magnus - 3 World Championships each!
The men's event was once again a contest between the two biggest names in Racketlon - Magnus Eliasson & Mikko Kärkkäinen, and Mikko's victory means the two Scandinavians have now shared the 6 World Championships with 3 wins each, a fact that highlights their complete dominance of the sport. Neither player has lost to anyone apart from each other for over a year now and neither player was truly tested this time round until the final. There seems to be a pattern in matches between these two players - if Magnus reaches double figures in the table tennis then he wins the match; if he doesn't then Mikko wins, and this time it was no different with a 21-7 table tennis victory for the Finn, who had no problems with Magnus' new pimpled rubber, serving long and fast with third ball topspin shots. Into the badminton, and if anyone had thought the match was over after the table tennis was proven wrong here - Magnus took it 21-15 quite simply playing the better badminton and was the faster of the two around the court. As the World number 1 then took a 6-0 lead in the squash it looked as though the momentum of the match had turned, but Mikko fought back to lose 13-21 and leave it completely level before the tennis - "it's the scoreline the fans wanted" some spectators were heard to cry. Nobody could predict the winner between these two very strong tennis players, indeed, one anonymous (though often reliable) source was quoted as saying "Magnus is a better player on clay" - how wrong that man was as, despite winning the first point, Magnus slumped to a 21-11 defeat outdoors with the 26 year old Finn impressing with an array of excellent passing shots and baseline winners, Magnus was quite magnanimous in defeat, later saying of Mikko "he was better than me today" and at 3 World Championships each the burning question is who will win the next one?
Hard to beat on clay. 21-11 against Eliasson.
Mikko Kärkkäinen, Finland. The Racketlon World Champion 2001, 2005 and 2006.
Neither player had great difficulties in reaching the final, although Magnus had to reach 8 in the tennis against Calum Reid in the first semi-final, Mikko breezed past a disappointing Stefan Adamsson before the tennis in the other one. Calum had a chance in this match - his table tennis was poor and although he managed to win 21-19, he had been down for most of the set. After getting 16 in badminton and leading 7-2 in squash, there were signs that on the right day he can take Magnus (and anyone else for that matter) close, but perhaps victory in the mixed doubles and several junior matches on the Sunday were too much for him in the end. Having worked hard on his squash (which is still improving), the young Scot is now focussing on badminton to bring his weakness up to strength with his other sports, and feather ball victories over Mats Källberg(!) and Christian Wall prove that it's working.
There were some interesting match ups in the quarter finals -
Christoph Krenn (Austria) was leading at the halfway stage
against Eliasson in the table tennis playing the best he has ever
done, and knowing that he has beaten Magnus at badminton
recently, the match looked finely balanced - although, in the
end, he lost before the tennis. Calum finally beat Mats Källberg
(Sweden) at the third time of trying - the crucial difference was
this time a badminton victory and solid tennis from the start -
after Mats had taken out England's hope Doug Struthers in the
last 16, a result Doug was disappointed with after a poor tennis
performance. More woe for the man from Thame as he lost a 5 Euro
bet with the author on the outcome of the Calum - Mats clash.
Stick to basket weaving, Doug... Stefan had no troubles with
Finland's Pekka Kainulainen (conqueror of Rickard Persson), a
21-4 table tennis thrashing setting up victory before the tennis,
and although Mika Hasmats (Sweden) took the table tennis against
Kärkkäinen and forced them to go to the tennis court, the
result was never in doubt. Mika reached the last eight somewhat
fortunately - when the match was roughly level towards the end of
the badminton set with John O'Donnell, the burly Englishman
twisted his ankle making a lunge and had to pull out injured.
Mika had earlier featured in one of the best games of the group
stages, when he beat the seeded Michi Dickert in one of the last
matches of the day, an excellent tennis performance seeing him
Other exciting group matches included Elmar Schaub (Germany) gaining revenge over Mathias Fagerström for Prague 2004, beating the Swede to go into the last 16 where he lost against Christoph Krenn. Perhaps the most surprising and certainly the closest match in the Elite class was surfer boy Alex Köpf's 1 point victory against Henrik Håkansson. After losing the table tennis he went on to win the next three by very close margins - he has clearly improved even more in tt and badders. Christian Wall's one point victory over Manuel Repa was just as close, tournament director Gert Peersman's win against Volker Sach will send him back up the rankings, home favourite Peter Duyck couldn't upset the odds and beat IRF President Marcel Weigl, and as mentioned earlier, QPR fan Rickard lost out to Finland's number 2 Kainulainen - a result not entirely unexpected.
Jansson clinches first individual world title!
The 2006 women's event was probably the most open it had ever been before. With the emergence in the past 6 months or so of very strong players such as Kati Kraaving of Estonia and Martina Kakasova of Czech Republic, as well as established players such as Druve (Sweden), Miestamo (Finland), Buchanan (Scotland) and Altmann (Germany), this event was always going to be wide open. Indeed, only 3 ladies in the top 18 on the World Ranking list were missing - one Canadian & one Hungarian who had both only played one tournament before, and 2004 champion Sarah Mcfadyen (Scotland) who is still suffering with a back injury.
New World Champion and World No.1 Linda Jansson, carrying Sweden's flag at the opening ceremony.
The final itself was between Hanna Miestamo (runner-up in 2003) from Finland and winner of the recent Czech Open, Linda Jansson, the tennis specialist from Sweden. Looking at their respective profiles before the match, it was clear that Hanna would win thes quash comfortably and Linda the tennis, so the title would be decided in the table tennis and badminton. Linda took the tt 21-16, she has a much more attacking game than Hanna so when she was able to open up she generally controlled the point to take victory - proof perhaps that attacking play rewards better than cautious play? The badminton could have gone either way in the end, with Linda snatching that 21-18. After reaching 10 points in squash, the two ladies were almost level before the tennis, which is not something you want to hear if you are an opponent of Linda Jansson! The best lady tennis player in racketlon promptly won 21-5 and with it took the title of 2006 Racketlon World Champion. After here recent success in the Czech Open and at the Swedish Championships, it is clear that Linda is the player to beat on the ladies tour. After several good performances including her recent victory in the Czech Open this title was enough to propel her to the top position on the World Ranking - after just over a year's racketlon competition(!)
The two semi-finals were quite close games and both of them
required the tennis to be played to a finish. Hanna beat
England's Natalie Lawrence by a mere 10 points - a good badminton
and tennis performance from the Finn saw her through after
Natalie had won a very nervous and tight table tennis game to
take an early lead. Natalie though, will be pleased at having
taken out the recent Finnish Open champion Kati Kraaving in the
previous round; a demolition at squash helped in this instance.
The other semi-final saw Linda beat the Czech newcomer Martina
Kakasova by 13 points. Again, tennis and squash cancelled each
other out so Linda clinched her place in the final by taking both
table tennis and badminton by close margins. Perhaps the most
interesting, or surprising results came in the group stages of
this event. The World Numbers 1 & 2 Lilian Druve and Silke
Altmann both went out at the group stage by losing one match each
- Lilian by two points against Polish lady Krystyna Szwajkowska
(who lost to Hanna in the quarter finals) and Silke to 3rd placed
Martina Kakasova by 4 points. These results simply highlight the
improving standard of women's racketlon, especially as a lot of
eastern European nations emerge, and can only serve to improve
the standards further.
Pär still reigns supreme!
It was widely reported before the tournament that Pär Carleke had never lost a veteran's match in racketlon. He still hasn't. The giant from Karlskrona was up against his strongest ever veterans opponent in the final, but against World Number 1 Ulf Bredberg he won before the tennis. In fairness to Ulf that would have probably reduced the deficit slightly, but it was irrelevant. Although Ulf looks the better tt player, Pär started off by winning the table tennis 21-19, having been down for most of the set, and that set the precedent for the rest of the game. 21-9 at badminton and 21-3 in squash meant they didn't have to battle out at tennis. You do get the feeling though, that if Ulf can win the table tennis and perform much better at badminton he may have a chance going into the last discipline - maybe we'll see next time. One thing of note happened at the group stage of the vets - against Kevin Lawlor Pär controversially walked off the squash court at 15-16 to the Scot after having disagreed with several decisions and moved straight into the tennis. He was then forced by tournament management to finish the squash set in order to avoid an over-all walk-over (an approach that was later confirmed by the IRF Council meeting held on the following Monday).
Never lost. Never even close. Veteran Pär Carleke, Sweden.
(Photo: photing.com )
Richard Whitehouse (England) faced Ulf in the semi-finals once
again, and once again he lost. There are signs of improvement
though, and Richard has the ability to beat Ulf if he can just
improve his table tennis a bit more and increase his margin of
victory in the badminton. He finished third in the end, beating
Portugal's Jakob de Vries in the play off for bronze, after Jakob
had been beaten very comfortably by Pär in the other semi-final.
Nonetheless, it was a very good racketlon debut for the man from
Portugal via Holland!
More and more veterans competing
The men's over 55 category took place again after having first emerged at the Vienna World Champs last November and a brand new veterans' category for women emerged for the first time. The men's over 55 event was very hotly contested and it boiled down to a final group of 3 between Andy Petersons of Latvia & Yorkshire (!), Ken Bound of England and racketlon co-founder Lennart Eklundh of Sweden. The three matches between the three 'super veterans' were all quite close, but the eventual winner was Ken Bound who provided England with their only gold medal of this year's World Championships, Andy was second and Lennart was third. The ladies veterans was one group of 3, and in a milestone result for racketlon, Amy Chan Lee Chee of Hong Kong took Asia's first ever gold medal at the World Championships, with Diana Gillen-Buchert of England and Claudine Bazior of Belgium finishing 2nd and 3rd.
Junior standard increasing
The Junior events were once again very popular and last year's winners retained their title. There really was no stopping Calum Reid in the men's under 21 event, which he duly won without too much effort. Scotland's badminton expert Alistair Hogg took the silver in a very tight encounter with Antti Tyyskä of Finland, the young Finn shows excellent technique and at only 16 has a good racketlon future ahead of him. Austria's Johannes Schubert took the under 16 event with two convincing wins in his final group - another player for the future?! Sylwia Borek of Poland retained her ladies' junior title by winning all the games in her group - however she only beat compatriot Magda Gaminska on a gummiarm after she had won the tennis 21-2!! An incredible end to the final. Belgium's Inge van den Herrenwegen took bronze.
Sweden still undefeated
The winners of the team event this year came as no surprise - Sweden dominated against everyone and duly retained their title. None of their matches were close - indeed not one of their players lost an individual game in the three matches they played against Scotland, Belgium and then Austria. The more exciting contests came in the bottom half of the draw. Unfortunately Finland had to default their first match because they had no lady player when the match was due, which made Germany's quarter final against Portugal much easier. England lost out to Austria who then defeated Germany for a place in the final in what was probably the most interesting match of the team event. Austria were never in with a chance against Sweden though, who played their strongest team in the final. Germany had no problems against host nation Belgium to finish third and take the bronze.
Undefeated. The Swedish Team at the reception in the Oudenaarde town hall.
(photo: www.racketlon.at )
Strong doubles events
Persson/Fagerström, Sweden. Doubles World Champions.
(photo: www.racketlon.at )
The doubles events were very well represented with some
interesting pairings - in the end the men's doubles final was an
all-Swedish affair between Persson/Fagerström and
Wall/Håkansson. Rickard and Mathias had too much 'juice' for
Henrik and Christian in the first three events and they only
needed one point in the tennis to clinch the title to become the
first ever men's doubles World Champions. In the semi-finals
Håkansson/Wall had beaten top seeds (by virtue of their world
ranking) Krenn & Dickert from Austria - although I didn't see
it myself apparently Christian Wall absolutely dominated the
tennis in that match to send the Swedes through to the final. In
the other half the eventual winners defeated Weigl & Kudicke
(Austrian/Germany) in a very close match - the Swedes winning the
match at 8-19 in tennis. In the mixed doubles Scotland won
another gold medal when Katy Buchanan & Calum Reid combined
to beat Lilian Druve and Joachim Nilsson (Sweden) in the final.
Although they were only seeded 3, they were many people's
favourites to win the event which they duly did. They despatched
surprise semi-finalists Greatorex and Lawrence (England) in the
semi-final before the tennis and Lilian and Joachim beat the
German brother-sister pair of Elmar and Jutta Schaub in the other
semi-final, again without playing the tennis. Neither of the two
finalists was tested until the final, in which the Scots won
three of the four disciplines, with the Swedes taking the
badminton. It was an excellent final, played in excellent spirit.
In the men's B event, the standard of the knockout stages was extremely high. The winner, Gregor Puchas, is certainly strong enough to play in men's A, as were most of the other competitors. He beat Sweden's Niclas Larsson (good to see him back on the scene) in a very closely fought final. They were roughly level before the tennis but Puchas is a very strong player and beat Niclas 21-12 to win the men's B category. He had a tough semi-final against Geert Blomme, the Belgian running machine, who he eventually beat, but Geert went on to take third place against Finland's Marko Antilla 'the hun'. There was a gold medal for Hungary in the men's C class when tennis specialist Zsolt Szalay won against Belgian Peter Raes, good squash and very strong tennis helping him through the draw. The men's D category was won by Germany's Werner Seel, who beat England's Rich Clark in the final, and Tom Van Hee won the all-Belgian class E event.
Can anyone match this racketlon display?
It was another superb show put on by all concerned, a big thanks to Jan Vercammen and Gert Peersman and all their helpers for organising the best racketlon tournament in the history of the sport. It will be very tough to match that, whoever decides to host the next World Championships. Who is ready to take on the mantle?? It just leaves me to say, here's to a superb football World Cup over the next four weeks and my prediction? England to beat Germany 3-1 in the final
See you all over the next year - don't forget the 2006 English Open in Birmingham in October!
A growing sport. Hong Kong, China, and Portugal entered teams for the first time.
(photo: www.racketlon.at )