Seehofer and Rykowski new European Champions

Poland’s Rav Rykowski and Austria’s Christine Seehofer (credit: euro.racketlon.at) were crowned European Champions at the conclusion of an epic 10 day event in Vienna, Austria.  They were joined singles winners rostrum by Jörn Sültrup (Men’s B), Helene Lechemolle (Ladies B), Tommi Laine (Men’s C), Fritz Thausing (Men’s D) and Michael Wutzl (Men’s E).  Meanwhile in the doubles events, Michi Dickert & Lukas Windischberger (Men’s A Doubles), Natalie Paul & Christine Seehofer (Ladies A Doubles), Amke Fischer & Kasper Jonsson (Mixed A Doubles), Emmie Danielsson & Michael Persson (Mixed B Doubles), Jiri Egermaier (Men’s B/C Doubles), Julia Pabisch & Elizabeth Seehofer (Ladies B Doubles), and Christoph Gastinger & Philipp Schneider (Men’s D/E Doubles).  Across the unprecedented 10 days of action, in singles, doubles and team Racketlon for both juniors, seniors and the open categories, Great Britain finished top of the medal table, with hosts Austria in second and Germany in third place. All results are online on fir.tournamentsoftware.com

 

Rykowski Rises To The Top

It was almost a draw of two halves in the Men’s A, with Rav Rykowski and Kasper Jonsson meandering through to their semi-final against each other with relative ease, second seed Michi Dickert providing the stiffest test, against Kasper in their quarterfinal.  In the top half of the draw there was far more of the drama.  From the opening round, there were a few ooohs and ahhhs, but we will begin with the two quarter-finals, the battle of the wild cards Georg Stoisser vs. Janez Makovec and the battle of the youth, Lukas Windischberger vs. Leon Griffiths.  We start with Lukas (the most dominant player on tour in 2017) against Leon Griffiths (who had defeated Lukas at the same stage of this year’s English Open).  As Leon and Lukas slogged it out, it was a match of real quality and spirit.  Leon opened up with an excellent TT win, 21-10, and into his favourite sport, badminton, he looked in a great position.  However, Lukas’ 2017 form is not just based in his excellent skill and high fitness levels, but also in a mental toughness.  In the first half of the badminton, he put Leon on the ropes, taking a lead towards the turn.  While Leon fought back and nicked the set 21-19, it was not the sort of dominant score to put Lukas under pressure.  On the squash court however, there was dominance as Lukas produced a master-class in playing a sport in Racketlon.  Flawless and chanceless, Lukas handed out a 21-0 demolition that deflated the vocal British crowd, and leaving him needing 14 for the win.  If the squash was a master class from Lukas, then tennis wasn’t far away from it for Leon.  Lukas tried everything he could, but there was no way through the British wall, a 21-9 tennis victory for Leon and victory in an excellent match.  Lukas rightly received the plaudits of the British fans for his exceptional display, a match-up Racketlon fans will hope is regularly repeated in the future.  Leon would play Janez Makovec in his semi-final as he came through an even closer affair in the battle of the wildcards with Georg Stoisser.  Janez had dominated the TT, a 21-5 victory, but Georg had fought back through the middle two sports to take a lead of 6 into the tennis.  However, against a former Davis Cup tennis player, any large number of points was always going to be tough.  Georg threw everything at Janez, but it wasn’t to be and he went down to a 2 point defeat. 

Into the semi-finals where Kasper represented the last hope of the seeds and he started well against Rav taking the TT to 10. However, the Pole dominated the middle two sports and required only 12 on the tennis court for victory, which he achieved with relative ease. In the second semi, Leon faced Janez and headed to the squash court 13 points up. However, 3 hours earlier he had been bagelled on this very court. Combined with the knowledge that he had to take a big lead into tennis against Janez, the pressure was on. From somewhere Leon found the squash of his life and this match became a titanic tussle. Janez threw himself around the court like a man possessed, one dive gashing his knee and forcing a brief suspension in play. It reached 20-20, and every time Leon got 1 point ahead, Janez shut the door until Leon took his chance for 25-23. The Brit needed 7 at tennis, but the Slovenian has huge weapons at his disposal and it was far from a sure thing. Janez came out swinging, but Leon dug deep and found the inner strength to keep the ball alive and take his chances when they came. 7-7 it finish and Leon into the final.

 

To the final, Rykowski vs. Griffiths, on live TV and standing room only in the venue. Leon began well eeking out an early TT lead but Rav pegged him back, it finished 21-15 to the Brit. Into the badminton and it was Rav who did the early running, taking out a lead thanks to excellent work at the net. Leon roared back however, getting level then stealing a small lead, to win by 3, and the Brit was 9 up to squash. Leon needed another performance on the squash court similar to that from his semi-final, however only Morten Jaksland had got double figures vs. Rav, who owned that squash court all weekend. Leon got 6, Rav's dominance continued and he would need 16 to win. Leon had defended 14 vs. Lukas, could he do 16?  Both men headed to the tennis court without ever having won a Racketlon world tour singles title, only one would emerge the European Champion. Aware a passive "Racketlon Tennis" match suited Leon, Rav came out aggressively, pushing the Brit back and using the drop shot as an attacking weapon. Rav stole the early lead and effectively shut the door on Leon's chances. 16-12 and the Pole was European Champion, Leon defeated in his 10th day of Racketlon, leaving runner up in the Men's A but also U21s Champion. Janez Makovec finished with the bronze medal.

 

Seehofer Seals Her First European Title!

With Natalie Paul edging out 3rd seed Lieselot de Bleeckere in the quarter-finals by a 3 point margin, it was 3 of the 4 seeds in the Ladies A semi-finals: the first an all-Austrian affair, the second all-German. In the Austrian battle, top seed and firm favourite Christine Seehofer played Bettina Bugl, both players experienced in winning matches towards the business end of major championships. Christine however was not going to let her compatriot and team mate a sniff of a win in this match. A 21-11 TT win for Christine was as close as Bettina got and Seehofer finished her thoroughly professional job before the tennis.  The battle between the Germans was a much tighter affair. Second seed Amke Fischer got off to a great start vs. Natalie, 21-6 in the TT putting her ahead into badminton. A near flawless performance on the badminton court gave Natalie a 21-2 victory and a 4 point lead into squash. A tense affair on the squash court the match situation to tennis in the balance, but eventually Natalie emerged a 21-18 victory and she would need 15 points for a place in her first major final. On the tennis court, Natalie wrestled control of the match and took an early lead, which once she had she clung on to fiercely.  Dominating the court and her compatriot, Natalie achieved her target in style and set up a final against her doubles partner Christine.

 

To the final and again on live TV, could the home favourite deliver under this national scrutiny? Christine raced into an 11-0 lead, a great tonic for any nerves on her side of the TT table. Natalie though is made of tough stuff and fought hard in the second half going down 21-10, just 11 down, it could have been far worse! Natalie's resurgence continued and she took a highly competitive badminton set 21-18 reducing her arrears to just 8. The comeback was firmly on, could the home favourite Christine withstand the storm from (Hurricane) Paul?  Christine could, a 21-8 victory on the squash court left her needing a solitary point on the tennis court for her first European title. Natalie claimed the opening points but a smash winner in the third gave Christine the title. Amke defeated Bettina in an engaging match to claim the bronze medal.

 

Sültrup a man to be reckoned with

48 men began their Men's B campaign and the event whittled away at them until just 4 remained playing a brace of semi-finals: Thomas Knaack vs Joakim Hellgren and Jörn Sültrup vs Patrik Zak. Thomas and Joakim started tightly as they exchanged the first two sports, Joakim the TT 21-19 and Thomas the badminton 21-17. However, Joakim managed to break free during the squash and his 21-8 victory left him needing 11 at the tennis. Thomas resisted valiantly but in the end Joakim ran out the 11-8 victor and headed off to the final.  It was a different tale in the second semi-final, as Jörn (badminton) and Patrik (squash) comfortably won a sport each (21-9 in both). With Jörn winning the TT 21-13 he needed just 14 at the tennis to win. Patrik however was a long way from finished and while he edged an early lead he was never quite able to break free of Jörn who reached his desired 14 with Patrik on 16, just 5 points away.  Into the final and Jorn began brightly with two hard fought victories 21-15 in the TT and 23-21 in the badminton. However Joakim struck back in the squash and 21-11 victory gave him a slender lead into tennis. However, there was no nervy tennis finish for Jörn in the final. A comprehensive 21-8 victory sealing him the win and the Men's B title. Patrik Zak in third.

 

The Ladies B came down to two semi-finals with Jannie Eriksen facing Therese Malmberg and Julia Pabisch against Helene Lechemolle. Julia having earned her place in the semi-final after producing an exceptional tennis performance in round 1, needing to win 21-3 or better she nailed it for a nerve jangling 1 point victory over Adeline Kilchenmann. In the end, both semi-finals were won in similar fashions. Jannie and Helene both triumphing through dominating two of the opening three sports (TT & badminton for Jannie, badminton and squash for Helene) while only narrowly losing the third leaving simple efforts on the tennis courts to progress to the final.  In the final, Jannie got off to a great start, taking the opening sports 21-15 and 21-13. However Helene hit back with a crushing 21-5 squash win to ensure a winner takes all game of tennis. It was an edgy affair, neither lady able to deliver that knockout blow to take decisive command of the match, however deep into the set Helene was able to creep out into a small lead and that was enough for her to claim the Ladies B title. Despite narrowly losing the first three sports, another exceptional tennis performance (21-1) from Julia saw her claim Bronze ahead of Therese.

 

The tightest final of the tournament happened in the Men's C as Tommi Laine and Mandrin Mouchet could only be separated on a gumi-arm after a pulsating final. Tommi took the TT rubber 21-12 but Mandrin struck back with a crushing 21-2 badminton win. However Tommi dominated the squash and the 21-9 win put him up 2 into tennis. Through the tennis neither player was willing to give an inch to their opponent and the scores reached 20-20. Mandrin summoned the effort and grabbed the two final points for a 22-20 tennis win and after over an hour of play, to leave them back where they started, dead level. Having won a semi-final gumi-arm against Luke Griffiths, Tommi is possibly unique amongst Racketlon players, because for his second successive match he won the gumi-arm and with it the Men's C title. Luke came back from his gumi-arm defeat to take home Bronze in addition to his treble of U16s European titles!  The Men's D title went to Fritz Thausing as he defeated Dennis Fuhrmann in the final thanks to big wins in the TT and badminton, which combined with a tight squash defeat left a simple task on the tennis court for victory. Marek Hruza finishing in third place. In the Men's E, Michael Wurzl pulled out all the stops on the tennis court, as a 21-2 tennis victory earned him the title with a 1 point victory over Nikolaus Nadrchal with Michael Wieczorek claiming third place.

 

It All Started With The Doubles

It is testament to the ambitious scale of these European Championships that we are now only just getting to the doubles events (and I thank all of you who are still with me). After coming through a gumi-arm decider against fellow Austrians Georg Stoisser & Marcel Wiegl, Michi Dickert & Lukas Windischberger defeated Danish pairing Morten Jaksland & Kresten Hougaard in hard fought final to win the Men’s A Doubles. After sharing the opening sports, a comfortable squash win gave the Austrians a handy lead into the tennis, one they would not relinquish to the Danes. Stoisser & Weigl claiming third place after 4 point victory over Ben Hampl & Patrick Lorenz.  In the Ladies A Doubles it was a dominant performance in their round robin draw for Natalie Paul & Christine Seehofer as they dropped just 1 rubber across their four matches (TT against Barbara Capper & Amke Fischer if you were wondering). Nicole Eisler & Zuzana Severinova defeat all but Paul & Seehofer to finish second while count-back was required to determine who finished third. Ultimately it was Bettina Bugl & Lieselot De Bleeckere who claimed that third spot after 3 pairs tied on one win and three defeats. 

 

In the Mixed A doubles, Amke Fischer & Kasper Jonsson also only dropped one sport as they wrapped up the title in some style, although they were made to work for it by their opponents in the final, Christine Seehofer & Lukas Windischberger.  The Austrian pairing beat them in the squash but were unable to stop their opponents march to victory. Nicole Eisler & Patrick Lorenz claimed third place. Having seen off the star name pairing in the Men's B/C doubles of Christoph Krenn & Jurgen Melzer in the semi-finals, Pieter De Bleeckere & Marco Genzel couldn't claim the title as they lost to Jiri Egermaier & Michal Horacek in the final, French pairing Thomas Phillip and Nicolas Sene finished in third.  The Ladies B doubles, a three way round robin was won by Julia Pabisch & Elizabeth Seehofer with Esther Dubendorfer & Adeline Kilchenmann and Nicole Kamphues & Terhi Virtanen in third.  Meanwhile the Mixed B doubles was won in a similar vein to some other doubles events, Emmie Danielsson & Michael Persson also only dropping one rubber on their march to victory in the event, the defeated Terhi Virtanen & Otto Tennila in the final, Adeline Kilchenmann & Danijel Batinic finishing with the Bronze medal.  Finally, the Men’s D/E doubles was won by Christoph Gastinger & Philipp Schneider as they defeated Dennis Fuhrmann & Tobias Hausen in the final.  A father and son pairing, Ray & Daniel Ryan claimed the bronze medal.
 

Final Medal Table and Award!

Such was their dominance at the junior & senior events, Great Britain topped the medal table after the completion of the event without adding to their Gold medal haul. Austria by contrast had an excellent second half to the event, winning 7.5 Gold medals to finish second in the medal table and secure the most medals by a single nation at the Championships. Germany remained in third place while Hungary slipped off the podium. All in all, 14 nations picked up a medal with 13 of them coming home with one of the 48 available titles to their name, excellent diversity and an encouraging sign for the development of Racketlon. 

A final award should go to Christoph Krenn and his team of pink shirted volunteers who undertook the mundane tasks necessary to run any event in good cheer. Christoph himself climbing a colossal number of stairs everyday as he kept a keen eye over both the centre court and basement dungeon arena's. A huge thank you to you all for your efforts, the event ran extremely smoothly and to time even during a decent thunderstorm on Friday which stopped outside tennis play!


James Pope
UK Racketlon