Germany vs Britain, Berlin vs London, Men vs Women, Amke Fischer & Jenny Schmitz vs Duncan Stahl & Johnny Bispham; in the end the 2018 Champions League boiled down to the same equation in both Division 1 and Division 2: a winner takes all tie between the Berlin Berghain Boasters and iPro London. Played in baking conditions, ultimately it was the Berlin sides that were able to keep their cool and secure both the Division 1 and Division 2 titles, the girls beating the boys! But how did this happen?
Division 1 – iPro London’s Defence Wilts in the Heat
iPro London were heavily backed by their opposing captains, none willing to state they would fail to defend their title as they headed to Nussloch with a 3 point cushion after the first leg in Sweden over second placed team, the Berlin Berghain Boasters.
After their opening round of matches it was also no change, with both Berlin and iPro London collecting bonus point victories (1 bonus point for winning a match +40 or more) against Three Percent Malta Magic and the Swiss Army Knives respectively.
Into the second round of matches and the mid-afternoon start saw all our sides exposed to the furnace like heat as the temperatures peaked at just less than 38C. As the temperature rose, disaster struck for the iPro London team, as they slipped to an 8 point defeat to Sportyfriends Copenhagen. Although they collected a losing bonus point (1 bonus point for losing by -20 or less), it opened the door for Berlin. The door may have been open, but Berlin smashed their way through regardless, a crushing defeat of an injury weakened KoR Oudenaarde with Berlin winning 17 of the 24 sports on their way to a bonus point victory and in the process ensuring that iPro London’s cushion had evaporated, from a lead of 3 down to a solitary point.
The third round of matches would also be the final round of matches for Friday, who would strike the crucial blow? Berlin maintained their perfect run of form for the day, a third victory and a third bonus point to go with it, sealed by dismantling the C&C Racketlonshop Austria side, Berlin taking 18 of the available 24 sports. iPro London also claimed victory, defeating the Swedish Vikings, however only by the narrow margin of 8 points. As a result, with no winning bonus, their lead from Sweden was gone, both Berlin and London went to bed, level on points, with just their head to head match to come on Saturday evening.
While all the attention had been focussed on the top two, one side who were coming up on the rail was Sportyfriends Copenhagen. In addition to their critical victory over iPro London, they had also picked up two bonus point wins and had jumped up to third place, just 2 points behind London and Berlin. Copenhagen couldn’t win the tournament, but a bonus point victory in their last match could see them claim second, having started the day in seventh place!
Champions League Title Decided During Saturday Night Thriller
Saturday evening arrived and so did the final matches. First off, Sportyfriends Copenhagen faced KoR Oudenaarde, aiming for the comprehensive victory that would give them a chance of second place, while 45 minutes later, our title decider would begin with Berlin Berghain Boasters against iPro London. With Copenhagen strengthened into Germany with Dan Busby and Zuzana Severinova in addition to captain Morten Jaksland, they were able to deliver the crushing victories they needed. Dropping just 6 sports, they ran out the heavy victors and claimed the maximum three points. It was now, for Morten and his Copenhagen team, an anxious wait.
Berlin vs London, the big Champions League decider began and it had everything you could want from a team Racketlon match. Berlin raced away in the table tennis winning 5 of the 6 ties to lead by 25 points. iPro London, however were not about to roll over and they claimed 4 of badminton ties. Of course, being Racketlon, what matters is points and London were unable to make a big dent in the Berlin’s lead, claiming just a solitary point back. Squash was all about iPro London, they again dominated and were able to claim a big victory, 21 points reducing Berlin’s lead down to just 3 points. As such, it was all about the tennis. The winners and the podium make up would all rest on the outcome of the 6 tennis ties.
First up were the doubles rubbers, with Berlin dominating and with 4 singles rubbers left, they were up 14 points in the match. But, more importantly, London captain, Duncan Stahl was no longer able to manage a mysterious elbow injury. Having appeared during the morning German Open matches, Duncan had been just about coping, however during the Men’s Doubles tennis, it flared up with truly awful timing. However, the match was far from over, as Christian Wiessner then won 11-4 for London vs Elmar Schaub to bring the deficit back to 7 points while at the same time Natalie Paul (London) & Christine Seehofer (Berlin) continued to play out their quite epic encounter. In their personal duel, the TT, badminton and squash had all reached 9-9, and the tennis was no different. Natalie trusting her hands and reactions at the net, asked the questions of Christine to pass her, and both ladies showed some exceptional stroke play as this battle unfolded. Crucially, Christine found the passing shots when she needed them most and won, 12-10 meaning that the overall lead was now 9 points for Berlin.
Back to the men’s singles and team captain Duncan Stahl was suffering. Unable to apply any force to his shots and only able to serve under-arm, he was slicing his way around the court hoping to get something off Thorsten Lentfer. Thorsten however was not going to make a mistake and after the first 5 points, Duncan was forced to retire in a lot of pain and give Berlin a crucial 11-0 victory and an unassailable 20 point lead.
The Berlin Berghain Boasters were the champions, but iPro London now needed to win the final tennis rubber to secure a losing bonus point and second place on the podium. Max Plattenburg was tasked with this, however this was always a big ask against Cornelius Radermacher. Max threw everything he had into the match, but with Copenhagen looking on from the side-lines, he couldn’t stop the victory for Cornelius.
Berlin Berghain Boasters claimed the 2018 Champions League title, Sportyfriends Copenhagen finished second, having started the weekend in seventh place and favourites iPro London were forced to settle for third place.
Swiss Army Knives & Swedish Vikings Both Finish Well
Elsewhere, it was two of the lesser fancied teams, Swiss Army Knives and Swedish Vikings, who both backed up their strong opening legs, in Germany and claimed fourth and fifth places in the final standings. It was however a chastening weekend for our bottom three, C&C Racketlonshop Austria, Three Percent Malta Magic and KoR Oudenaarde. All three were hampered by injuries before and during the event severely weakening their teams and as a result none were able to make the impression they would have hoped for in the 2018 Champions League.
Division 2 – Scavenging Berlin Pip London to the Post
A week before the second leg in Germany, Berlin Berghain Boaster 2’s captain Jenny Schmitz was still hunting down a lady to replace her in the Triple B2’s, whereas iPro London 2’s captain Johnny Bispham had a stable line up and his plans all worked out weeks in advance. For Michael Pedersen, his best laid plans and confident predictions were also thrown into turmoil, as Three Percent Malta Magic called players from the second team into the first team, including Michael himself.
But ultimately, London 2’s started the day 2 points ahead of the Triple B2’s and simply hoped to stay there. After the first round of matches it was the status quo, both London (vs Swiss Army Knives 2) and Berlin (vs Malta Magic 2) picked up convincing bonus point wins. The status quo remained as we entered the second round of matches, this time, Berlin played the Knives, while London played Malta. Both Berlin and London were desperately seeking the bonus point that could sway the balance of power in their title shot, but both also knew that defeat now would be fatal. Maybe this second thought played on their minds, as neither side dominated in the way they had in the first match of the day. Berlin claimed a narrow victory, while London fared better, but they too fell agonisingly close to that bonus point. London led by 2 points, but Berlin had the better points difference, therefore, iPro London 2 needed to either win, or claim a losing bonus point to secure the Division 2 title – Berlin Berghain Boasters 2 needed a 21 point victory.
It was an edgy start to the decider. iPro London won 5 of the 6 TT ties, however a bagel victory for Johannes Heise limited the damage, London led by 1 into the badminton. It was however through the badminton and then squash legs that the damage was done. London would only win two of the next 10 sports. Five of these ties reached 9 all, and crucially Berlin won 4 of them, and thanks to this 12 point swing, Berlin headed to the tennis, 23 points in the lead.
Whilst Berlin were almost certain to win the match from this position, there was no guarantee that London wouldn’t win the tennis by the 3 points they needed for the losing bonus point and the Division 2 title. Despite getting the perfect start winning the men’s doubles, it proved to be a bridge too far for iPro London. The London side left everything on the court, in the case of captain Johnny Bispham, who had played 8 of a maximum 9 rubbers in the day, this resulted in him collapsing on the floor with cramp throughout his quads, needing the attention of (sports physio/team mate) Lindsay Johnson-Farge to get back on his feet. It all came to an end at the conclusion of the second men’s singles, and when Johannes Heise sealed an entertaining 11-9 tennis victory over James Pope, that earned Berlin Berghain Boaster 2’s a winning bonus point and securing the Division 2 title by 1 point ahead of iPro London 2.
Three Percent Malta Magic 2 lost their final match of the weekend to the Swiss Army Knives 2, however the defeat was small enough to ensure they claimed third place in Division 2.
Tight Tussle for Division 1 Most Valuable Player Award
The Most Valued Player award recognises that a player has been vital to their side across both legs of the Champions League, including the time, effort and energy that requires. The players who finish in the top three will have played in as many rubbers as they can and have become a player that their side can not succeed without. As in 2018,. the Division 1 MVP award was keenly contested with 21 points (out of a possible 616) covering the top 5. However, it was Cornelius Radermacher (Berlin Berghain Boasters – 529 points) who held off the challenge of Morten Jaksland (Sportyfriends Copenhagen – 524 points) and Christian Wiessner (iPro London – 514 points) to claim the Division 1 award. It was less close in the Division 2 MVP award, players able to play in 1 singles and 2 doubles rubbers per tie, should a captain decide that was the plan. It is therefore, no surprise that a captain was the winner, with Johnny Bispham (iPro London 2 – 588 points) finishing 148 points ahead of second placed Thomas Olsson (Three Percent Malta Magic 2 – 440 points) and 175 points ahead of third placed Dara Ladner (Swiss Army Knives 2 – 413 points) to claim the Division 2 MVP award.
That is that for the 2018 edition of the Champions League. Berlin defeated London in both Division 1 and Division 2 earning that city the bragging rights for the months ahead. The Champions League will return in 2019, with full details on the event and timings available later this year, but I can highly recommend putting yourself into the Draft in 2019 in order to be selected by one of our teams, to take part in a highly enjoyable and keenly contested team Racketlon event.
Pic credits: Duncan Stahl