The Champions League is back for the 2017 season in a new exciting format. For 2017, the Champion’s League will feature a franchise system with squads selected by captains from a pool of registered players, a move FIR President Kresten Hougaard believes will revolutionise club Racketlon. This players pool was open to all Racketlon players to enter and players will be selected by each team captain using a draft system, which will be broadcast live on Sunday 22 nd January at 18:00 GMT (19:00 CET).
The 2017 Champions League will feature 8 franchise teams with each captained by a top player on the international circuit. Each team will play each other once in a league format, with 3 rounds played at the Swedish Open (24 th February) and the final 4 rounds played at the German Open (28 th July). Matches will feature 3 Men’s Singles, 1 Ladies Singles, 1 Men’s Doubles and 1 Mixed Doubles, with players having the option to play both singles and doubles.
A new format with new franchises raises a whole host of questions, especially surrounding the draft. The pressure is on our 8 captains, they have put themselves forward and their decisions firstly at the draft on the 22 nd January, but later at both events will go a long way to securing glory or infamy in the Racketlon community for seasons to come.
Does the captain go for the big star player or look to build a team with few weaknesses? With the draft approaching, we took it upon ourselves to find out why they signed up and what they plan for Sunday’s draft.
Berlin Berghain Boasters (Captain: Amke Fischer)
Amke will be leading a squad with a core philosophy based around the key principles of Racketlon, achieving the perfect mix of sport and fun. The Triple B’s plan to be “Rocking it” both on and off thecourt, through a great team spirit and atmosphere. Amke expects a lot of tight matches but is demanding nothing less than victory for the Triple B’s in all encounters. Her draft tactics are focussed on a solid all round team as she expects a late pick in the first round of the draft.
Klosternebberg Racketlonshop Austria (Captain: Lukas Windischberger)
For their captain Lukas, the Klosterneuburg Racketlonshop Austria franchise is all about the history. Klosterneuburg was home to the very first Racketlon team and as the winners of the 2016 Champion’s League, they desire the chance to become the first winners in this new format. To that end, Lukas believes that the key to victory is to unite a core of Austrian players, but crucially to keep open the possibility of a sport specialist to deliver a knockout blow! Fittingly, for a side with the historical ties, Lukas is looking north to Viking foes as being his main rivals for the crown. The Klosterneuburg Racketlonshop Austria franchise wish to thank the generous support of racketlonshop.at.
KoR Oudenaarde (Captain: Lieselot De Bleeckere)
Lieselot is aiming to bring the biggest event on the FIR tour to the Champions League with her team, KoR Oudenaarde, which as she rightly says is a brand all by itself within Racketlon. Team-wise, Lieselot believes it would be unwise to pick her team focussing on a star player, instead she wants to select a squad who will bond to ensure that her team will be pushing each other forwards and that will be her plan in the draft. She will be hoping that her team will follow the doctors’ orders and defeat all the others!
Technifibre Copenhagen (Captain: Morten Jaksland)
One Viking with the Austrian’s in his sight is Morten Jaksland, captain of the Tecnifibre Copenhagen team. Morten is also aware of his history as he arrived to Racketlon at the time of peak Austria/Denmark competition (with Denmark dominating in the recent World and European team championships). Morten is a big fan of the team format, enjoying the opportunity to take the (usually) solo nature of Racketlon and make it a team event. He believes in the importance of strong team spirit and will be basing his squad mentality on this as he aims to lead Tecnifibre Copenhagen to victory (especially over the Austrians!). Within the draft, he is focussing on a strong consistent team across the board, but particularly players with good doubles skills as he feels doubles will be crucial to success within this event. Tecnifibre Copenhagen are grateful for the backing of Tecnifibre Denmark and FK Nordic Sports.
Three Percent Malta Magic (Captain: Kresten Hougaard)
Kresten see’s this team as a way to build up the profile of Racketlon in Malta, who are the newest FIR approved member after the AGM in November 2016. The Magic will be going for the overall win and Kresten is aiming to select a squad from the draft with the grit, determination and fighting spirit that is synonymous with Malta. Victory for Three Percent Malta Magic could mean more than just a trophy for their captain, but also act as a catalyst for developing Maltese Racketlon further. The team are grateful for the backing of Three Percent Sport Event Management.
Helsinki Hawks (Captain: Marko Valimaki)
Marko also believes this is a great way to build something new in the Racketlon community and was keen to get involved straight away. In the draft Marko is looking for a solid team who will help each other develop through coaching during the event. For the Finnish team it is a shame that their natural rivals, Sweden, are merely hosts for the event, and so is turning his sights to their nearest rivals, the Danes. The Helsinki Hawks wish to thank their main sponsor, Flow Drinks, a natural sports drink from Finland.
Swiss Army Knifes (Captain: Nicole Eisler)
Nicole’s motivation is all about helping the development of the sport she loves, and as she is passionate about team Racketlon, it really was an easy decision for her to make. For the draft she is keeping it simple, focussing on player’s world rankings and her intuition to help her select her squad. Her approach may seem laid back, but Nicole is a fierce competitor and her team will be anything but laid back on the court.
iPro London (Captain: Duncan Stahl)
Finally, we come to the iPro London team and the brains behind the new Champion’s League format in their captain Duncan Stahl. The motivation behind both the revamp and the iPro London team for Duncan is ensuring the UK has representation within the Champion’s League given how many British players feature on the World Tour these days. While Duncan is very public about the revamp, he is very cagey about the draft, fearing that revealing his secrets to the public will lead to other captains stealing his plans. He was willing to reveal he has entrusted data analytics and statistical insights to ensure he has the lowdown on the best picks for him in each round of the draft, especially with respect to how they match as potential doubles pairings. As for the result, well only one will do for Duncan, he wants to bring the Champion’s League title to Britain for the first time.
We have heard from the captains with their tactics, but how will the draft work? The draft will consist of five rounds, with each team captain getting to pick one player from the player’s pool, resulting in squads of 6 players. The order of each captain’s pick changes in each round, to ensure that the selection is evenly distributed. Captains are free to pick any available player they wish from the player’s pool, but they must ensure that they meet the minimum team requirements of four players with one women for both* the Swedish and German events. The player’s pool has attracted 84 players (57 men and 27 ladies) ranging from number 2 to number 732 in the world, highlighting that the new Champion’s League really was an event that was open to all to enter. However, with most players clustering between 50 and 150 in the world choosing wisely will be key for each captain!
The draft itself takes place on Sunday 22 nd January and will be broadcast live to the Racketlon community via Facebook Live. In Denmark, Jepser Hougaard and world no.1 Jesper Ratzer will present the Draft live from 18.00 (UK time), 19.00 (CET) as each captain selects their teams.
Meanwhile in London, UK Racketlon have gathered their finest Racketlon experts and maths guru’s into one apartment to discuss and analyse the Draft as it happens, using an analytical model developed by Johnny Bispham to test how effective each captain’s pick is! Johnny will be joined by Dave Ridout, Alex Du Noyer and Jack Bishop. You’ll be able to get involved by commenting on the Facebook Live feed or by tweeting Johnny through the @ukracketlon Twitter Account. We look forward to you joining us on Sunday evening 18:00 GMT or 19:00 on the continent and sharing your thoughts on each pick.
* Should a squad member get injured and be unable to play in Germany resulting in a team being unable to meet these requirements, the Champions League Arbitration Panel will allocate a new player to that team that best maintains the standard of the team.