Returning Champions Show Their Class
Two of the best Racketlon players who have ever played the sport returned to the FIR World Tour in Malta last weekend to take the Men’s and Women’s titles. Calum Reid from Great Britain (world champion in 2011) and Zuzana Kubanova from the Czech Republic (world champion in 2011 and 2014) came through strong fields to both triumph at the 4th Malta Open.
5 of the current world top 7 ranked players in the Men’s Draw plus the returning 2011 world champion, meant the Malta Open provided a high class 16 draw in the Men’s A. With the fast improving Arnaud Genin from France recording a very solid +17 win over world no.3 Dan Busby and Calum Reid coming passed world no.4 Kresten Hougaard with a +14 win, they joined the no.1 and 4 seeds Morten Jaksland and Beni Graenicher in the semi finals.
Great Setting for the Saturday Night Semis
Played out in front of large, enthusiastic crowds and in fantastic conditions (after some earlier storms during the day ) the two Saturday evening semi finals showed competitive Racketlon at its best. Beni Graenicher put favourite Morten Jaksland under real pressure early on with a 21-7 win at TT followed by a half time lead in the badminton, but couldn’t quite close out the badminton set meaning he went to the squash only +12 when it looked at one point like it could have been +16 or 17. These are the fine margins which make a real difference at the top end of the sport, as Morten was now able to play with a little less pressure which certainly helped him then record emphatic 21-7, 21-4 wins across squash and tennis for a +19 win and a second consecutive place in the Malta Open final.
Morten would face a legend of the game in Calum Reid who had overcome the spirited challenge of badminton specialist Arnaud Genin from France in his semi final. Reid’s all-round skills and hard-nosed Racketlon experience were too much for the Frenchman whose expected 21-5 victory in the badminton was easily cancelled out by 21-5, 21-7 wins in the TT and squash.
This left Reid needing just 8 to win at tennis which he did with limited fuss in the perfect evening floodlight conditions in front of the Marsa club house.
Reid Too Good in the Final
It shows just how accomplished a Racketlon player Calum Reid is when Morten Jaksland, world no.2 and multiple world tour winner this year, starts the final as a big underdog. Morten needed to play out of his skin in the first 3 sports just to get Reid to the tennis court which was where his best chances were to do some damage. But after a 21-12 TT loss, the final
was all but done. Reid then ended up taking a tight badminton set 21-18 and a +12 lead to the squash (where no-one had even got close to double figures against the Scot all tournament). Another accomplished, tight and physical squash performance on the squash court led to a 21-8 win, a +25 victory and a first Malta Open title.
Kubanova Reminds the Racketlon World of Her Strength
Meanwhile in the Women’s event it was fantastic to see the returning multiple world champion Zuzana Kubanova back at a world tour event. After an emphatic victory over Switzerland’s world no.4, Nicole Eisler, not dropping a sport, it was Germany’s Silke Altmann that she would face in the final.
Silke Altmann Fights Hard in Competitive Women’s Final
Silke Altmann, a very solid, all-round, physically strong player and previous Malta Open finalist would be a real test to Kubanova – would the years away from the Tour leave the Czech player vulnerable? Altmann started the TT set very aggressively clearly wanting to attack at every opportunity against Kubanova’s pimples and although this did lead to some mistakes it proved the right strategy, with Altmann taking the TT 21-17 to record her first ever TT win against the ex world champion.
This meant that Altmann now had the chance to exert some real pressure as badminton probably represented her best chance in the match. Realising this threat, Kubanova really dug in and used her amazing physical strength and stamina to grind out long, gruelling rallies leading to an impressive 21-16 win. With a +1 lead going into her strongest sport, Kubanova was now in charge and a clinical 21-4 squash win (from being 4-4) meant that she was now within touching distance of the Malta Open title – needing just 4 points to win at tennis.
However, Altmann had not given up all hope as she started very strongly in the tennis building a good early lead which she then extended to take an 11-2 half time lead which instantly piled the pressure on. Kubanova responded to this pressure like the true champion that she is and prevented the tennis set getting any more tense, winning the first two points after the break to reach 4-11 and in doing so claiming yet another world tour title.
High Class Fields in Malta
It added to the list of impressive Malta Open winners since 2015 which includes 4 world champions and 2 world championship finalists across the men’s and women’s game showing that the Malta Open continues to attract the very best players in the world each year.
Amke Fischer also made her return to the Tour, pairing up with Silke Altmann to comfortably win the Women’s Doubles, with Altmann also taking the Mixed title with partner Dan Busby. Busby and Graenicher took out top seeds Hougaard and Jaksland in the Men’s Doubles final. All other results across all the other classes can be seen HERE
Duncan Stahl / Tournament Director
Pics by Robert Wilde