It's been a while now since Finland won both elite events at a Racketlon World Championship. But today they are back in the position they had at the first World Champs in Gothenburg 2001 (Guess who won the Men's Elite back then? - see results for the answer). As the elite finals ended in Germany a few moments ago these were the results:
Mikko Kärkkäinen (FIN) - Magnus Eliasson SWE) +24 (tt:21-6 ba:21-16
Michaela Björnström (FIN) - Martina Kakosová (CZE) +16 (tt:21-15 ba:21-12 sq:21-19 te:5-6)
Mikko Kärkkäinen and Michaela Björnström. The king and queen of the games.
Vintage Racketlon.com journalist Ray Jordan reports below.
Also, to get a good feel for this year's Racketlon World Championships be sure to check out the video linked from immediately below. It's probably the best 4 minute video introduction to Racketlon ever made! The message is clear; Racketlon - it's fun and it's popular! Featuring "der beste Schlägertyp Deutschlands" Alex Köpf!
"So sieht er also aus; der beste Schlägertyp Deutschlands!" Click here for the 4 minute video presentation on ZDF - a national public service TV channel broadcast throughout Germany - and also available on satellite in the rest of Europe.
Finland catching up!
Firstly, the main events. For Michaela it was her first World Championship win, but for anyone who has seen her improve over the past few months, it won't have come as a surprise. She has one distinct advantage over the other players - regular practice available with the current (and now 5 times) world champion, and boyfriend, Kärkkäinen. In the final she took out last year's winner Martina Kakosová, winning the table tennis 21-15, which made all the difference - one year ago that score may well have been reversed. After strong badminton and especially squash performances Michaela only needed 5 in the tennis, and that was game over. It certainly seems that tennis is the strongest of the four within the women's game at the moment with tennis specialists Björnstrom, Jansson and Kakosová the best 3 women in the world. Michaela's run to the title also included an impressive win against Silke Altmann - beating the German at the middle 2 with good margins. If she continues in this form there will be no stopping her next year.
And so to the men's final. More on the earlier matches later on in this report, but as we reached the Sunday afternoon of a World Championships, did we really expect to see anyone else warming up for the table tennis other than Mikko (now 5 times winner) and Magnus (3 times winner)?
There were of course hopes and chances for others, such as Adamsson and Struthers, but the sheer consistency of the two protagonists meant we had the same final as the past 3 years. It has been said time and time again, but the winner of the match between these two can always be determind by the table tennis. If Magnus gets 12 points or more, he wins. Anything less and Mikko wins. (I hope the statistics bear out this point!) On this ocassion the score was 21-6 to Mikko, 2 better than in Rotterdam last year. Mikko knows only one way to play and that is to attack, and he does it very well. Magnus is (and was) able to block one or two forehand topspins, but if you give him three or four, he struggles, and that's what happened. The Swede seemed to be very tentative on the backhand, hesitating over certain shots and losing the point as a result. There is no doubt though, that his table tennis has improved.
Onto the badminton and this was a relatively poor set, considering what both players are capable of. Magnus gave away several cheap points, only to have the favour returned by Mikko. In the end Mikko crawled to a 21-16 win and they moved onto squash. A few years ago suggestions that Mikko would beat Magnus at arguably the Swede's favourite sport would have been laughed at. But now, following earlier squash victories over O'Donnell, Struthers and Adamsson, Mikko looked the sharper and better player. He can play a patient game when it is asked of him but would much rather not. His trademark shot is the kill drive - more often than not into the nick - leaving his opponent hurriedly lurching forward as though gasping for air after a bout of Scuba Diving. Certainly on this ocassion Magnus seemed to be drowning in Mikko's attacking play and had no answer to the Finn's brilliance - for the second year in succession no tennis was needed and Mikko was once again World Champion.
I am scared.
It was bitterly cold in Nürnberg - hardly surprising as it had been bitterly cold in England when I had left - and there was a distinct frost on the fields as we approached 'Sport Park', a real 'hoare frost' as an old Englishman (well, Struthers at any rate), might, and did, say. It was time to survey the venue, very impressive certainly and similar in many ways to Rotterdam last year.
The Centre Court area was certainly of a very high level. The four courts were laid out in order, including the promised glass squash court, and were surrounded by extensive seating for all players and spectators. There was also plenty of space around the venue for a further 5 table tennis tables, 4 badminton courts, 5 squash courts and 5 tennis courts. This was supplemented by two dining areas with trade stands and plenty of open space.
Friday saw the beginning of the singles events, and in particular the first round of the Men's A. With a 48-strong entry 16 ties were scheduled for the first morning. Players arrived for various early starts from all the different - and excellent quality - hotels. With plenty of pull-outs in Men's A the draw completely changed, resulting in some cracking matches. Surely the best ever table tennis contest took place in centre court's first match - Mats Källberg (regarded as Racketlon's best table tennis player and top Swedish competitor) against Horatio Pintea (former professional and World number 87). The author was particularly annoyed that he arrived as the two players were moving onto badminton, but the vacant table tennis scoreboard confirmed what many of us had always thought - 21-11 for Källberg cements his title as Racketlon's best pingis exponent. Rickan defeating Tyyskä, Twisterling beating Alte and a gummiarm victory for Stefan Jezler over Pekka Kainulainen were the other highlights of the morning. Unfortunately for the Swiss player, illness prevented him from challenging JOD in the next round.
The rest of the day saw in-roads made into the solid B, C and D draws for both men and women. A common complaint among players not featuring on centre court - which was the majority of players - was that the conditions were nowhere near as good and that A players received preferential treatment. A serious point that was hard to argue with. I am certainly someone who is in favour of giving responsibility to the players - they should be filling out their own scoresheet and know the state of play in their match (indeed, the sight of one Women's A match where they didn't know when in the tennis to stop and cast annoying glances towards the tennis umpire for also not knowing (!), was nothing short of pathetic). But at the same time the players need some direction over which court to play on, who is next, how long they have to wait and so on. Every player pays the same entry fee and deserves the same kind of treatment, even at a World Championships! I sometimes get the impression that A players are treated a little like professional players and spoilt somewhat...this could lead us down a dangerous path. It also creates unrealistic expectations at other tournaments who choose to treat all players fairly. However, I digress....
The time schedule throughout the whole tournament was without doubt the biggest problem. It was foolish of the organisation to not ask for any help (even though it was offered) with the scheduling and draws - something that is genuinely impossible to do accurately if you have no experience of it. The situation perhaps came to a head on the Saturday night when one match began at 2.20am!!!! Peter Bittár was warming up to play against Peter Sákovics and I naievely thought he was jogging around to keep himself awake - he was preparing for a match that reportedly finished around 3.30am....ludicrous.
Incidentally, Sweden took the team event after good performances from all players, especially Magnus who defeated Mikko, and we never did find the google phone...
The schedule for Saturday looked incredible. 3 rounds of matches in Men's A with the last round around 11pm. Only 2 rounds of matches for Women's A, with the last one nice and early at around 9.30pm...and of course plenty of games in the other categories running long into the night (as previously discussed...). The main contenders in the ladies' event progressed quite comfortably, as did the main veterans, but there were some interesting games in Men's A. The highlight was surely Doug Struthers v Mikko Kärkkäinen. For Doug, perhaps the biggest contrast in abilities between two consecutive opponents, having defeated Michael Heldsdörfer in the first round... The table tennis saw Doug reach 9, this was followed up with a 21-16 badminton victory for the Englishman. A win at squash and the game was anyone's. But of course Mikko's squash - as already mentioned - has been taken to another level and after a 21-14 win he faced no problems in the tennis. Frenchman Plançon showed his real calibre in beating Alex Köpf - winning the tennis was the stand out performance here. Källberg played some amazing table tennis shots to keep Magnus to 7 but after a narrow badminton loss the party was over. Marco Deeg narrowly edged out Peter Duyck, with the Belgian looking out of sorts and Joey Schubert impressively beat Samonek after losing the first two sports.
Racketlon drinking games! A novel idea, and one that could only have been thought up by a group of Englishmen. A Men's D last 16 clash at 11pm was livened up by a crowd of around 10, watching expectantly. Yes, they were cheering for Stuart Millman, but for the most part they were hoping not to see such things as the ball leaving the court area, shuttles being tested for speed, back wall boasts and double faults, for these all resulted in drinking forfeits of varying degrees. "Ollie, he's hit it in the tin, that's half a litre!!" could be heard around the squash courts around a quarter to midnight on Saturday evening. Certainly something that we will see again...
Matches were also continuing late into the night on centre; some words on the glass squash court - of course it is an excellent idea, but it did take some getting used to for many players. It also introduced the novel concept of 'floor nicks'. On several ocassions players were completely baffled by the ball nicking off the small areas where the floored matting met! (One unnamed player referred to the matchbox court as a 'boite de merde'!!) Ballooning the squash ball out on to the tennis court was also something that hadn't been seen before, and believe me it happened plenty of times! The squash continued to be an issue as it came to the subject of marking. Without wanting to offend anyone in particular, one or two of the local players called upon to mark were nothing short of awful. And that is being kind. No names need be mentioned here as it was fairly obvious who. Tournament organisers please note - every player who enters a Racketlon tournament agrees to also umpire or mark one game in a sport that they are competent so use them! Full marks go to superb squash refereeing from Marc Veldkamp, John O'Donnell, Jacques Van Leewen & Richard Whitehouse. I'm sure there were many others (myself included) who took one or two games, but the above examples really commanded respect with their knowledge of the game and in particular the way in which they communicated to the players. Not a surprise that they were free of criticism. Excellent work gents.
The Sport Moves on towards Official Recognition
The End Game
I would like to briefly mention the passing of Volker Metz. I played against him a couple of times and he was a very fair player, a fun opponent who was in good spirits whether he won or lost. He found the time to have a chat with anyone and everyone and shared in plenty of good humour. There was a period of silence for him during the opening ceremony. Let's hope we have no need for another of those for some time to come.
And so the tournament came to an end. The sports centre gradually emptied, save for the frantic organisation of the 'shuttlers'. I am sure that everyone who was at the tournament will agree with me, that they were without doubt the highlight of the event. So thank you very, very much indeed and 3 cheers for Stefan, Mark and Daniel, and organiser Gunnar:
Hip Hip - Hooray!
So, final reflections on another World Championships I hear you ask?
Mikko's squash has improved once again, Weizen Bier tastes just as good, Nürnberg is a wonderful city, squash markers have to be looked at, I'd like more southern Europeans to play now Italy have joined (Spanish Open in Barcelon? I'm there!), the number of Germans competing is becoming a worry (!), women are much better at tennis than men(!), Stuart Foster still snores, Graham Norton still moans and I still love Racketlon. Some things never change, do they?
All the best
(Sorry for not listing all the winners of the various categories but I wanted to give it a different slant this time.)
Champion Country Count:
Results in summary (see www.resultreporter.com
for full results)
MEN'S JUNIOR U21
MEN'S VETERAN O45
2008-11-30: First version. Published on Breaking News.
2008-11-08: Added pictures and more results + a Ray Jordan report.