The 16th Singles FIR World Championships took place at the fantastic Vitis sports centre over 5 days of highly competitive action in Zurich.
Fantastic Line Up in the Men’s World Championships
With a draw that consisted of 13 of the world’s top 15 players plus the current European champion and the most successful Racketlon player of all time, this year’s Men’s championships was always going to be highly competitive.
In the top half of the draw, the world no.1 Lukas Windischberger secured his place in the semi finals where he faced European Champion Rav Rykowski from Poland. With badminton and squash being both players best sports this was always going to be a very physical encounter and also a fascinating clash of styles.
Rykowski is famous for his amazing hand skills, unorthodox technique and deception, able to make players continually go the wrong way, whereas Windischberger’s game is based around a classic technique, discipline and unrelenting physical stamina. The talk around the venue was that Rykowski was favourite.
It was difficult to predict who would have the edge at TT and the 21-19 wining margin to Rykowski bore this out. Onto the badminton and eventually it was Rykowski’s unpredictability, his holds, flicks and work at the net which proved too much for Windischberger. 21-14 to the Pole and a 9 point lead.
Any thought that Rykowski’s shot making and unpredictability could do similar damage on the squash court, however, were quickly dismissed. Windischberger has been focusing on his squash game for a few years now and his improvement, in particular his movement and shot consistency, has been amazing to see – resulting in a recent call up to represent Austria at the European Squash Championships. Whatever Rykowski tried, Windischberger ran it down, returning with interest and keeping the ball in areas of the court that nullified Rykowski’s weapons. A 21-9 win to the Austrian and the match had been turned around – 19 points needed at tennis for the world no.1.
Windischberger maintained the momentum onto the tennis court and his superior technique off the ground combined with his willingness and ability to attack the net proved too much, running out a 19-8 winner to record probably his most impressive victory of the season.
Return of the Ratzer
Meanwhile in the bottom half of the draw, the questions were all about the return of Jesper Ratzer – has he been sat in Copenhagen for the last 2 years drinking Carlsberg and eating too much bacon? His two Danish opponents: world no.2 Morten Jaksland and long-time training partner Kasper Jonsson both knew that this unfortunately wasn’t the case. Ratzer has in fact been concentrating on his squash – leading to a call up to play for Denmark and combined with his ultra-aggressive, 3 ball attack TT game and imperious badminton, it was enough to see him through to the semi finals where he faced Racketlon’s rising star from Great Britain, Leon Griffiths.
The TT was always going to be crucial and after leading for much of the early stages and at half time, Griffiths was disappointed to lose 16-21. This meant that the young Brit would have to do something that no-one other than Kaspar Jonsson (on one occasion) has ever done in Racketlon: beat Ratzer at badminton. At 19-17 up, Griffiths was on the verge of doing it, but the sheer will of the Dane saw him to a 21-19 win which effectively sealed the match.
And so to the final: Ratzer vs Windischberger. History said it would be difficult for Windischberger to even be competitive such has Ratzer’s dominance over the sport been.
21-16 to Ratzer at TT and Windischberger was facing a tough Sunday afternoon. Anyone who knows their 70’s music will understand why Lukas was listening to Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” as he approached the badminton court. With the lyrics “I believe in miracles” blasting through his headphones, Windischberger prepared for the most important badminton set of his career. Fantastic court coverage coupled with all out aggression from Windischberger started to pressurise Ratzer resulting in some uncharacteristic mistakes. Windischberger maintained his form, maintained his unshakeable belief and duly delivered the miracle with a 21-18 win. Game on.
With both playing squash at a national level, this was always going to be a high quality, very physical grind and at 11-10 at half way it was also a very tight encounter. However signs started to appear that Windischberger’s heavy schedule (10 matches across Teams and Singles) was beginning to take its toll leading to a few unforced errors and loose shots which Ratzer (looking fresher after not playing Teams) clinically cleaned up at the front of the court leading to a 21-16 win to the Dane and meaning he now needed 15 at tennis to win the match and retain his title.
Ratzer made no mistake winning 15-8 and in doing so retained his title and further enhanced his reputation as the greatest Racketlon player who has ever played the sport. Under the pressure of a world championships, Windischberger had played maybe his two best ever Racketlon matches in the semis and the final – for which he should take great credit – and thoroughly deserving of his silver medal.
Meanwhile the 18 year old Brit Leon Griffiths continued to prove he is the future of the sport coming 3rd after another titanic battle with Rav Rakowski, eventually falling over the line with a +3 win (his 13th match of the tournament across Teams, u21’s and the elite draws).
Seehofer’s Title To Lose in the Women’s Championships
In the Women’s draw, the big question was whether anyone could trouble world no.1, defending champion and the totally dominant Chrissie Seehofer from Austria. Not dropping a sport on her way through to the semi finals, the early signs looked ominous for her competitors. However, Stine Jacobsen from Denamrk now stood in her way after a dramatic quarterfinal win over 3rd seed Natalie Paul.
Stine is one of the few players on tour who might expect themselves to be able to win two sports from Chrissie (badminton and tennis) and as such is certainly a tricky opponent for the world no.1. It looked like an intriguing match. However, Stine’s epic quarterfinal had taken its toll, rolling her ankle towards the end of the tennis set and it immediately became obvious that she had struggled to recover with her movement severely impeded as she started the biggest match of her career. Unfortunately the match quickly became a formality, with Stine’s injury not allowing her to be competitive and Chrissie proceeded through to the final.
If the top half of the draw had been a bit of a formality, the bottom half was where all the drama unfolded.
Silke Altman (Germany) squeezed passed another fast improving young Brit, Hannah Boden, which all came down to the final point of tennis and a +1 win to the German. Silke was not done with exciting finishes however, as her quarterfinal against 2nd seed Bettina Bugl (Austria) then also went right down to the wire.
After losing TT 7-21, Silke’s famed movement and stamina enabled her to hit back strongly against Bettina in badminton and squash with wins to 17 and 10, setting up a very tense finale on the tennis court. It was the young Austrian who eventually prevailed finally seeing off Silke’s tenacious challenge with a dramatic 22-20 win to seal the match by 1 point.
Waiting in the semi finals for Bettina was the squash and tennis specialist Astrid Reimer-Kern who had successfully seen off Kirsten Kaptein (Netherlands) and Nicole Eisler (Switzerland). This match was always going to be one of two halves: could Bettina build up a big enough lead in the first two sports to enable her to hang on during the inevitable squash and tennis onslaught from Astrid?
Bettina started very strongly with 21-5 win at TT, however on the badminton court Astrid started to pick up valuable points, scrapping her way to a 15-21 loss, resulting in a +22 lead to Bettina. Stepping into the very comfortable, familiar surroundings of the squash court, Astrid began the process of overturning those 22 points and after a clinical 21-4 win, the lead had been reduced to just 5 points before a tennis set that would decide who would take on the world no.1 in the final.
A performance on the tennis court that was every bit as clinical as the squash set, saw Astrid stroll into her first ever world championship final with an overall +11 win.
The final against Chrissie was always going to follow a similar pattern to her semi final: scrap for every point in the first two sports and then turn things around in the second half. Chrissie opened up the expected lead with 21-5, 21-11 wins in TT and badminton allowing her to take a +26 advantage into the squash. It was going to take something dramatic from Astrid to overturn such a large deficit, but an incredibly disciplined squash performance and a 21-2 win kept the match alive. Chrissie still needed 15 points at tennis to win the match and retain her title.
In normal circumstances, Chrissie might be a slight favourite at tennis but with the pressure of a world title on the line, anything could happen. However, Chrissie Seehofer is world no.1 for a reason and under such pressure she simply excelled producing an incredible, faultless game of tennis to storm to the world title with 15-1 win.
The Future Looks British as GB Dominate the Junior Classes
With British players Angus Howard (boys u13), Luke Griffiths (boys u16), Leon Griffiths (boys u21), Hannah Boden (girl’s u21) all winning gold it was a truly dominant performance by the British juniors. With Hannah Boden and Leon Griffiths now firmly established among the sport’s elite players (and with 14 year old Luke Griffiths reaching the semi finals of an incredibly strong Men’s B draw in Zurich) the impressive conveyor belt of British juniors look like they could dominate the sport for many years to come.
Switzerland’s Lina Straessle (girl’s u13) and Rachel Xu (girl’s u16) both won gold for their home country to cap off an impressive junior competition.
GB Also Dominate the Seniors
The competitive “junior vets” class of the 40+ was won by Duncan Stahl, 50+ by Richard Middleton, 50+ women by Jo Shelley, 55+ by Martyn Langston, 60+ by Bruce Shepherd to leave GB with an impressive haul of 5 golds.
The Men’s 45 is particularly worth noting for the incredible performance of India’s Ashutosh Avinash Pednekar, who’s incredibly strong badminton and squash took him to the title after a fantastic, high class battle with Racketlon legend Petr Vesely from the Czech Republic.
In the women’s seniors classes, Anita Voelkel (Germany) won the 40+, Esther Dubendorfer, tournament director of a fantastic tournament somehow found time to win the 45+ and the USA’s Katrin Maldre triumphed in the 55+.
The men’s vintage classes saw Steen Hesselbjerg of Denmark finally triumph over Graham Cain in the 65+ final and it was the legend Lennart Eklundh of Sweden who saw off the determined challenge of “the Terminator” Alan Cornish to take home the 70+ title.
High Quality Lower Classes
All the results of the remaining classes: Men’s B-F and Women’s B&C can be seen HERE.
Particular notice should be given to the Men’s B which may well have been the strongest B event ever held, which saw experienced campaigner Sebastien Plancon from France play newcomer Philip Pawlowski Pedersen from Denmark in a fantastic final which saw the Dane win by just 4 points 21-9, 21-18, 13-21, 15-18.
Huge credit and thanks should be given to Esther Dubendorfer and her team for hosting a fantastic world championships where the attention to detail, fantastic organisation and superb live TV coverage mark this out as one of the best showpiece events Racketlon has seen for many years.
The World Tour now continues with stops in Helsinki, Malta and Vienna – ENTER NOW
Words by Duncan Stahl
Pics by Racketlon.net