With the first racketlon tournament of the season just around the corner, we analyse the Thailand Open Challenger draws to see who the frontrunners are to pick up the year’s first trophies.
World No.14 Jesper Hougaard is the highest seed in the Men’s Elite field, making his first return to competition since last year’s IWT Club La Santa Open. The older of the Hougaard brothers finds himself holding most of the racketlon experience in the top half of the draw. Two debutants and a player competing in just his second tournament are the others in his half, making Hougaard the favourite to progress to the final.
In racketlon however, you should always beware the unknown. Hougaard’s first round opponent is Vikramaditya Chaufla, a badminton specialist from India who has represented his country in the World University Badminton Championships.
The second match in the top half pits Thailand’s Sathid Sujittapiban against Hong Kong’s Chun Cheung. While Sujittapiban is making his racketlon debut, Cheung returns to play his second tournament. In fact, his only previous event was in Thailand two years ago, where he finished as the runner-up in the Men’s A, a result which moved him to 146 in the world.
The bottom half of the draw boasts a selection of more familiar faces with all four players having played a tournament before. Arnaud Genin is the standout name in this half after the World No.24 had an incredible breakout season last year, winning the World Tour Finals in Austria.
His opponent, Steven Wai Kit Cheng, is all too familiar with the Thailand Open, having previously competed here in 2017. The Hong Kong player impressed in his maiden tournament, narrowly finishing as runner-up in the Men’s B and stepping up to the A grade this time around.
The other match sees the return of Australia’s Leigh Sands to the World Tour having last played in the 2017 Czech Open whilst living in the UK. He takes on Sweden’s Gustaf Moller in the opening round, with the Swede taking part in just his second A grade event.
While nobody in the draw has ever played each other before these two will get a chance to assess each other’s game as they meet in the doubles on Friday afternoon.
Genin is the heavy favourite in this section after his incredible title run in Austria which included victories over European World Champion Rav Rykowski and current World No.7 Luka Penttinen. Were the Frenchman to reach the final in Thailand he would enter the top-20 in the world for the first time in his career.
The men’s draw may have an air of unpredictability about it, but the women’s is at another level. The tournament is a five-player box-league with every player competing against each other.
Ho Ching Chan and Annette Kleiber are the only two players with rankings so naturally take the two seeds. That does not mean that they do not face a threat from the three unranked players.
Hong Kong’s Sin Ming Cindy Ho has history in the sport having won the Women’s B category at the 2009 English Racketlon Open, defeating Britain’s Dianne Baker in the final and dispatching several excellent squash players along the way.
The other two players, Elif Wong and Glenda Ong, are making their racketlon debuts although Ong boasts pedigree on the tennis court. Ong currently holds a ranking just inside the top 300 on the ITF W35 Tour so will be a dark horse given that the box-league format at the Thailand Open requires all matches to complete their entire tennis set.
Good luck to all players competing at the Thailand Open this weekend. You can keep up to date with the tournament throughout the weekend by following the racketlon social media channels.
Sam Barker / FIR Media Officer
Photo Credit: Robert Wilde