A third day of glorious sunshine greeted competitors at the Hector Sports Centre in Prague with a host of titles to be decided across the Men’s and Women’s Open Single Classes. However, all eyes were on the elite classes. Could Christine Seehofer extend her exceptional unbeaten streak in singles and could Morten Jaksland secure a second consecutive Triple Crown?
Steely Seehofer Once Again Unstoppable
The Women’s A semi-finals concluded yesterday afternoon with top seed, Austria’s Christine Seehofer, facing home hopeful Zuzana Severinova. Since defeat to Zuzana Kubanova at the 2016 Czech Open, Seehofer has been unbeatable in the Women’s A singles. Her undefeated streak rivals that of Danish legend Jesper Ratzer as she creates her own piece of racketlon history.
As Zuzana Severinova was to find out, there is a good reason for this run of results. Severinova knew she needed to start brightly, but Seehofer also knew. From point one of the table tennis, Seehofer set out to make herself hard to beat. A solid defence and expert consistency made her almost impenetrable. Even when it seemed that Severinova would catch some luck, Seehofer darted around the table to pick up a net cord centimetres from the floor, winning a point she seemed destined to lose. You might imagine this was a vital point, 19-19 for example, but this was when the score was 3-2, such is the Austrian’s resolve.
She ran out a 21-8 winner and quickly continued to work on the badminton court. The pressure was now huge on Severinova. She valiantly tried to get back into the final, but Seehofer’s experience was on clear display. Similarly to when she bossed her semi-final against Anna-Klara Ahlmer, the Austrian refused to let her opponent get any traction. A 21-6 defeat in the Badminton left Severinova in a huge hole.
There was no escape for the young Czech. She made a breezy start to the squash, finding a good length and decent width. But Seehofer was keen to avoid tennis. She utilised the drop shot to good effect and a 21-16 victory sealed the title for Christine Seehofer.
Anna-Klara Ahlmer won the battle of the Swedes to finish third ahead of Emmie Danielsson.
Rykowski Puts on Squash Masterclass in Semi-Finals
For the men, it was semi-finals before the finals, so Morten Jaksland began his day with a potential banana skin against Benjamin Graenicher. In the second semi-final, Rav Rykowski faced Luke Penttinen.
For Penttinen, this was to prove quite the uphill struggle. The reigning European Champion from Poland had arrived in Prague with a real determination, which was evident by the way he dismantled second seed Dan Busby in Saturday’s quarterfinal. Penttinen took the table tennis, winning 21-15, but Rykowski was displaying an exceptionally aggressive approach and while it did yield a few errors, it was also bringing him some stunning winners and the pressure was telling on the young Finn.
Into the badminton and Pentinnen might have been mistaken for thinking he was already playing squash. No matter where he hit the shuttle, it pinged back at him, almost as quickly as it had left. He battled hard, but a 21-7 victory was no less than what Rykowski deserved for his performance.
The arrival at the squash courts was going to make life no easier for Luka. He has a very solid base game and the potential to develop into a very handy Racketlon squash player, but even that will be far below the standard of Rykowski. Rav took few risks and even turned on the flair with a few exhibition shots towards the end, leaving Luka with nothing but a wry grin and hands on hips.
Nervous Jaksland Battles Through Semi-Finals
Jaksland against Graenicher was a different affair. The latter could cause the top seed some problems but needed a strong table tennis to do so. Perhaps feeling the pressure of chasing the double-triple, Jaksland looked out of sorts and Graenicher was making him pay. The true test of a champion though is not just winning when you are playing well but finding a way to win when you are not. The Dane managed this.
It wasn’t pretty, but somehow he eeked out the points and battled to 11. This left Graenicher leading by 10 heading into badminton. A similar pattern followed. Graenicher led with his opponent not looking entirely confident and an upset was on the cards. But once again Jaksland dug deep, as good shots mixed with his unique array of grunts, tuts and yelps, saw him level the score.
As Jaksland fought back, it was Graenicher who started to struggle. After losing his feet in one rally, he was left questioning whether he could remember how to walk let alone play. Jaksland won 21-18 and carried this momentum into the squash. Feeling more like his usual self he was able to assert his dominance and Graenicher began to feel it. Pushed around the court, it was brutal for the Swiss, and Morten secured a 21-10 victory, to lead by 4 into tennis. Now truly at home on a tennis court, it was one way traffic and an 18-5 victory meant Morten was into a final, that had looked a long way away an hour or so earlier.
Jaksland Wins Second Straight Triple Crown
The final was beautifully poised. A pre-match Instagram poll had Jaksland a slight favourite. The mood in the Prague stands though was that Morten needed a single figure table tennis win or it was game over. With Rykowski having displayed a highly aggressive approach to date, it seemed a tall ask.
In his semi-final, Jaksland had appeared tentative and under-pressure. Come the final this seemed to have shifted to his opponent. The Pole turned passive and the World No.2 seized his chance. He took on the ball and, while he undoubtedly got the rub of the green with a few table edges, was earning them through his offensive style.
A 21-7 victory was very much game on, but as the badminton began it was clear Rykowski wanted to eradicate that lead. Much as he had done against Penttinen in the semi-finals, he made himself into a wall with no way past. 11-2 at half time was converted into 21-5 and Rykowski carried a +2 lead into squash.
Into the squash and the maths was simple, whatever Jaksland scored on the squash court, Rykowski would need that amount in tennis to seal the title. The question, therefore, was what could Morten defend on the tennis court?
This is perhaps Racketlon at its purest. The numbers in each players mind become the psychology. Each mistake feels like a hammer blow while each winner feels like it is worth double. Jaksland ran his compression socks off and managed to get 10 points, comparatively a huge win, but still a huge ask for the Dane, even at his favoured sport.
What followed was nothing less than an exhibition in how to win big at tennis in Racketlon. It is so easy to make a mistake on the tennis court, but Morten had the determined look in his eyes that many opponents have come to recognise and fear. Any nerves or tension he had felt earlier in the day had evaporated, and he deconstructed his opponent to win 21-5, sealing his third title of the weekend and a second consecutive clean sweep. He now heads to Berlin boasting six gold medals in six events in 2019.
Parslow Breaks Through While Sweden Tastes Success
It would come as no surprise to British readers or followers of the UK Tour that Matilda Parslow came through to triumph in the Women’s B. The talented squash player is rapidly developing other strings to her bow and transferred her UK Tour form to the World Tour in style.
She faced down any challenge, from exceptional Austrian badminton in her semi-final against Irina Olsacher to an ankle sprain in the final against Hana Rabova. Hana put in a gutsy performance of her own, but Matilda was too strong. She added the Women’s B title to the Mixed B Doubles title and Women’s B Doubles bronze she won on Friday.
The Men’s B final was an all Swedish affair, as Erik Stenfelt dominated his compatriot Alexander Lipczynski. The Swedish fans, however, enjoying their 1-2 dominance in this category. Finally, in the banded singles, the Men’s C title was won by a Czech as Marek Hruza defeated Germany’s Tim Vaclahovsky in the final.
There were also age group titles to sort out on Sunday morning and these were shared around the nations as Czech Republic, Hungary, Holland, Denmark, Austria and Great Britain all earned final golds.
The evergreen (or golden) Peter Sakovics showed his brilliance by claiming both the O45s and O60s singles titles on Sunday morning. This included wins over Richard Hobzik and Bruce Shepherd respectively. Tomas Kuban (O50s) and Martin Sopko (O40s) both defeated the top seeds (Volker Sach & Thomas Wagner respectively) in their finals. Meanwhile, in the O65s Steve Rayson from Holland defeated Britains John Dewar in the final.
Finally, two junior titles were concluded on Sunday. Austria added the U16s title to the U13s claimed on Saturday, as Florian Harca defeated Csongar Molnar to secure the victory. Finally, David Bennett defeated Joel Pennanen to claim his first U21s title on the World Tour.
Until Next Year Prague
Once again, the Czech Open delivered a big event featuring a lot of players from a diverse range of Racketlon nations. Excellently run by the Czech team, a smooth event unfolded with a lot of excellent, very close Racketlon and a number of gumi-arms.
Our thanks to the whole team for putting on a great show.
As for playing more Racketlon, the World Tour crosses the Atlantic next, with the Massachusetts Racket Masters taking Racketlon for its only visit to the USA, entry for this event is still open on Tournament Software, while our next European stop is a new event in Berlin and the start of the Victor Racketlon Series.
James Pope / FIR Writer
Image Credit / Czech Racketlon Association