Austria wins European Team Championships

Host nation Austria (credit: euro.racketlon.at)claimed the 2017 European Racketlon Teams Championship as they defeated defending champions Denmark in the final. Great Britain claimed their first medal in 13 years, as
they defeated Sweden in the Bronze Medal match. Away from the centre court arena, the remaining teams, a staggering 24 in total, competed in a raucous environment of the affectionately named “Basement Dungeon Arena”. Here, Belgium claimed the Division 1 title and promotion to the Championship division for the 2019 European Championships, at the expense of Finland, while Hungary dominated Division 2. All results are online on fir.tournamentsoftware.com

Championship Division – Hosts Handle Home Pressure

Within each division of 8 teams, there were two initial groups. In the Championship, Group A, the designated group of death, included reigning World and European champions Denmark, home favourites Austria as well as the potential banana skin for both these teams in the shape of Germany in addition to the Czech Republic. Group B featured Great Britain, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland. The top two from each group would play the semi-finals and hope to contest the medals, those in the bottom two, would have to fight for their right to remain in the Championship Division for the 2019 European Championships. Group B progressed smoothly with Great Britain dispatching their opponents with relative ease, in particular a crushing defeat of Sweden to ensure that GB would win their group. Sweden were not too perturbed by that result against the Brits and they knocked off Switzerland and Finland to claim second place.

In Group A, it was as expected a three way fight for the top spaces in the group, with all three sides seeing off the Czech challenge to condemn them to fight for their survival in the Championship division. Denmark began their campaign against Germany and they were to be thankful to their old campaigner, Kasper Jonsson, as he pulled off an 18 point victory over Thorsten Lentfer to carry the Danes to a 7 point win over Germany. It was to be another seasoned campaigner who would prove to be vital for Austria as they faced the German challenge, as world number 1, Christine Seehofer rattled off a 14 point victory over Amke Fischer to underpin their 10 point victory, Jorn Sultrup having contained Lukas Windischberger with a narrow 2 point defeat to cause Austria some worries. The defeat left Germany in third, while Austria and Denmark fought it out for top spot in the group. With home favourites Austria taking this win, they topped the group and would face a semi-final against Sweden, while Denmark would play in the second semi-final against Great Britain.

However, we first turn our attention to the bottom of the table, Germany faced Finland and Switzerland the Czech Republic, the winners would be safe, the losers faced a final match to decide their fate. As expected, the German’s cruised through their play off match to ensure their safety, a plus 26 victory that was sown up prior to the final two tennis rubbers. For Switzerland and the Czech Republic, life was far nervier! With both teams incredibly evenly matched, each sport produced rubbers with only a couple of points between each player, Ben Hampl and Patrik Zak finishing with a 19-17 tennis rubber, the extreme example. Ultimately, the entire match came down to a game of tennis between Patrick Lorenz and Marek Hruza as 1 point separated the teams before they began. Patrick held his nerve and an 11-4 win handed Switzerland a 6 point victory in the whole match, for the Czech’s it was a battle with Finland to stay in the Championship. In the end, Zuzana Severinova was the hero for the Czechs, her monumental +32 victory in the ladies singles proving to be a mountain too much for the Finn’s to conquer and they were unfortunately handed the dubious distinction of being the first ever Racketlon nation to be relegated.

With relegation drama sorted, it was now to the top end and the main business of deciding who went home with the medals. In the first semi-final, the Austrian’s progressed with ease, dropping only one rubber, the TT between Windischberger and Sebastian Hedlund in a dominant performance against Sweden, which Lukas wrapped up victory for Austria during the first tennis rubber. The second semi-final was a titanic tussle, between Denmark and Great Britain. The first 5 rubbers (four TT and one badminton) each reached 9-9, however as the match progressed, the tide seemed to swing towards the Brits, particularly as Dan Busby (vs. Kresten Hougaard) and Hannah Boden (vs. Jannie Eriksen) handed out two big squash defeats. The Brits led by 7 into the tennis and with Dan into an early lead against Kresten in the tennis, it was not looking too great for the defending champions. From somewhere deep, the Dane found the composure to handle the pressure and with more depth on his forehand he was able to force a few errors from Dan. Making 10-10 from 7-10, Kresten nicked the win and while the Brits still held the lead, he brought some momentum back for Denmark. Jannie then defeated Hannah, 11-6, meaning that into the final two rubbers the scores were tied. 14 rubbers and 264 points played, it came down to two games of tennis. Denmark were however able to call upon their trump card in the tennis, with Morten Jaksland in the doubles partnered by an exceptionally pumped up Jesper Hougaard edging a cagey affair against Luke Barnes and Leon Griffiths. Both nations’ supporters launching into vocal cheers at each winner, the very best of national teams Racketlon. However, an 11-7 win for Denmark, left Kasper Jonsson needing 8 points against Duncan Stahl in the second men’s singles to put Denmark back into the final. Despite Duncan’s best efforts, Kasper made his target of 8, ending an exceptional match and keeping the defending champions hopes alive, for GB the wait for a place in the final goes on.

Into the final and it was in the end one way traffic. Led by the impressive Windischberger and Seehofer in the opening singles rubbers, Austria proved to be just too strong for the Danes and ran out comfortable winners, to secure their first European Teams title, Seehofer stroking home the title winning point in her tennis rubber. The battle for third was dominated by the Brits, however to the credit of the Swedish team, they pushed as hard as they could, forcing the tie into the doubles tennis rubber, before Luke Barnes and Leon Griffiths secured a first medal in 13 years for the GB side!

Division 1 – Belgium Triumphant as Britain the Best of the Rest

Eight further teams in Division 1, Belgium and France looking for a shot at promotion to the Championship, while a number of national second teams were looking to be the best of the rest. In Group A, there were no shocks as Belgium dominated, but the surprise to all involved was the victory of Great Britain 3 over Germany 2, allowing the Brits to come second in the group. In Group B, it was another set of Brits who dominated, as GB2 overcame the challenges from Sweden 2 (by 3 points!), France and Austria 2, to top the group. France, finished bottom of the group and left Belgium as the only side who could be promoted to the Championship. In the division 1 semi-finals, GB2 managed to defeat the challenge of their compatriots in GB3, in a match that was far closer than GB2 would have liked! Belgium defeated Sweden 2, led by a huge win for Lieselot De Bleeckere over Therese Malmberg and a solid win for Peter Duyck over Ola Emriksson. With Belgium the only nation who could be promoted, they played a Division 1 final in place of the Championship Promotion/Relegation contest, and Belgium 1 completed their perfect run in the event with victory over GB2, the Brits maintaining their status as the best of the rest in teams Racketlon.

Division 2 – Hungary and Austria 3 Dominate

Hungary dominated Group B in Division 2, defeating GB4, Austria 3 and Switzerland 3 in the group stages. Austria 3 won their contest with third placed GB4 to seal second place. These sides faced opposition from Group A, with Austria 4 delivering one of the first shocks of the day, as they defeated Germany 3 on a gumi-arm in their opening group match, Christian Wagner holding his nerve against Fabio Leibig. However, it was not all plain sailing for Austria 4, who lost heavily to Slovenia and as a result had to settle for second place in the group. In the semi-finals, Austria 3 delivered another shock victory, seeing off the challenge posed by Slovenia, largely due to a large Elizabeth Seehofer ladies singles victory, one of a number she produced for Austria 3. In the second semi-final, Hungary crushed Austria 4, winning all four rubbers in the first 3 sports to seal victory before the tennis, ensuring they and Austria 3 dominated Division 2.

Final Remarks

Change is never easy, and the new, three divisions format, still needs some further tweaking, something no doubt the FIR are already thinking about. It certainly produced additional pressure matches, especially in the Championship, the match between Switzerland and the Czech Republic standing out in this regard. It also ensured that there were more nations playing each other through the initial group stages, ensuring that there was more high quality Racketlon played, but also the tactical decisions about team selection in each match up becoming more important, with teams not wishing to always show their best hands against potential knockout round opponents. Huge credit should be paid to Christoph Krenn and his volunteers who worked hard to ensure the team matches ran smoothly and the tight schedule was maintained. However, it is difficult to hold a perfect event, and there were a few negatives. Firstly, with four matches on the first day, it was very hard to support your other national teams, especially for those with teams playing the “Basement Dungeon Arena” and the Centre Court Arena. Hopefully, this can be avoided at future events as the interaction between different teams and their fans is a great element of Team Racketlon. Secondly, it also really was a pity that the vast majority of the team event went without streaming or coverage from the hosts. Team Racketlon is in my opinion one of the best formats of our sport and deserves the best possible coverage, yet much of the open team’s event and all of the junior and vets teams events went uncovered, bar some dedicated work from some UK Racketlon parents and fans. Playing for your country is a huge honour and an ambition for many Racketlon players, it is important that team events are shown as widely as possible, for all levels, to encourage more people to take up the sport, with the hope of representing their country.

 

James Pope
UK Racketlon