Quite a few of you were there in Belgium to see/play the Doubles World Championships, others watched the games online or saw the pics, but yes, we ended up with Silver in the Elite category. This definitely deserved an article to explain how this could happen, and I thought this might be a good opportunity to also describe how Doubles work in Racketlon and its particularities.
First of all, good pairs are always about friendship. And this story starts with some great proof of friendship : my friend Arnaud Génin had now become one of the World Tour superstars (winning 3 tournaments & making his way to #8 in the Singles rankings), I had retired at the Single World Champs 8 months ago, wasn’t training anymore, but still he asked me to team up with him for the biggest competition there is. It’s true we had always been very good together (just one defeat in the 3 events we had played together), but for sure, he could get a better partner than an out of shape old-timer who had no time to train. But 3 months before the tournament, he told me: “Either you play with me, or I don’t play it at all”. When you hear this, you get two mixed signals :
- Heart: Big surge of love and pride and self-confidence at being “the chosen one”.
- Brain: ALERT: you’re overweight and out of practice, try not to make a fool of yourself!
But of course, that’s an offer you cannot turn down, especially as the physical aspect is very secondary in a Doubles competition so there I was registered for the Elite Double World Champs.
As I was registered, I received a couple of propositions from good female players to play the Mixed Doubles at the same time, but as flattering as that was, I had to turn them down as I would need to use wisely every piece of energy not to be a burden for my own partner.
Two main differences between doubles as played in Racketlon or as in each of « the individual sports » :
- In Racketlon, the singles players also play the doubles at every tournament, there is no «single/double» specialization and so the best are always there.
- Whereas in the individual sports, both players have approximately the same level, in Racketlon, you have to be as complementary to each other as possible, and not all sports are equal in the possibility to compensate for your partner.
Let’s see that into more detail :
I’m a very good TT player but it’s definitely Arnaud’s worst. And as in this sport, both players have to hit the ball in turn, my ability to compensate for him is very limited. As we are also both right-handed, we have to turn around each other if we want to hit more forehands which is not optimal. As a result, I cannot bring as much to him as I would like to on my strong sport. The part where you can bring a lot is by giving advice between the points on what the less experienced player could/should do as it’s probably the most technical-tactical of all sports.
Very good (Cédric) + Average (Arnaud) = Just above average (Team)
My worst sport and Arnaud’s best, he who won pro international tournaments. In this sport, there are tactical options so as to use efficiently the weaker half. Basically, I was sticking to the net, and taking only the rare short shuttles coming to me while my world-class partner was hammering everything from behind, playing all the hardest shuttles. It’s a sort of Mixed doubles configuration (with me in the woman’s role) except that I deliberately play fewer shuttles because my partner is so much better than any other player on the field. Even playing no more than 30% of shuttles, it’s extremely stressful and I was often shaking before serving, because whether on serves, returns or the shots at the net, you have to be perfect: your partner does all the job, you can’t give away easy points. I must admit that, prior to the competition, I had taken 2 private lessons on “How to be a good girl in Mixed Doubles” with my previous badminton coach as it’s not really intuitive. Actually, my relative weakness in this sport was an asset as I concentrated on doing little but doing it well. Had Arnaud teamed up with a better player, the team probably would have been weaker because he would have taken more space, more shuttles and hindered him.
Average (Cédric) + Sensational (Arnaud) = Sensational (Team)
In Racketlon squash, the doubles is a relay; when a team reaches 11 points, the second players come on to finish the set until 21. This means that you normally put your best player in second position so he has a chance to overcome an initial deficit, in a second half that should last longer. Therefore it is essential in a good team to have at least a very good squash specialist to possibly turn things around, and totally make up for his partner’s weakness. There was, of course, no discussing that I was going to start, and in that position, I just had to battle for the duration of a regular squash set to 11, my body could handle that. This also means that I play the weaker of the two opponents, and against a non-specialist, I would always give a few points of a head start to Arnaud, who then had to fight on every ball against the other team’s specialist to keep the lead.
Quite good (Cédric) + Good (Arnaud) = Good (Team)
A performing tennis pair is usually about players’ abilities with serves & volleys. That’s exactly Arnaud’s profile, and though more of a singles player, I can also be a pain in doubles due to good returns and touch. In case there is a huge difference between the 2 players, one can try to cover a lot of ground, move a lot at the net, but still, tennis is a sport where you cannot compensate as much as the middle two. And as in single’s Racketlon tennis, the most important skill is the mental one, as this is the deciding sport where one can totally crack under pressure.
Good (Cédric) + Good (Arnaud) = Good (Team)
First Round and Quarter-Finals
Though we hadn’t played together since the last Team World Championships in 2018, everything felt innate as soon as we started our first games. The Elite Doubles draw starts in the Round of Last 16 where we had a lucky draw for our first match to get our acts together, and we charged through victoriously without even having to use our tennis racket. In the Quarters awaited a British pair of TT (Jordan) and Squash (Stahl) specialists, which could have proven a tough match. However, after managing to lose only 19-21 in the table tennis, we knew that the biggest part of the job was done, and indeed, we were so much in front after squash that our opponents conceded before tennis where we just needed 4 points. That first day had been like a dream, and we were now in the semis, but the 3 teams still in the competition were tough ones, and no one wants to come home with the Chocolate medal (as we say in France)!
The night was full of tossing & turning for both of us, as we knew our opponents in the semi-final were „the real deal“. A newly formed duo composed of a former Singles World Champion (Reid) and of one of the upcoming best players (Radermacher), they were the clear favourites, and half the pre-tournament bets had designated them to become the new world champions. It’s an understatement to say we were tight and even slightly grim when warming up, and we actually started 5mns late because Arnaud was nowhere to be found… except if you looked for him evacuating tension in the bathroom.
Once the game started, however, all fear and negativity went away as we managed to pull out „the perfect game“. It almost never happens that you end a Racketlon game feeling that you did the best score possible in all 4 sports, but what better moment for this to happen that here and now ?! Winning the Table tennis 21-15 and the badminton 21-10, we were now up +17, and things started to look possible! Playing a good first half of squash, I came up with an 11-7 lead for Arnaud to try and scrape a few points against Calum Reid, arguably the best squash player of the field. Fighting magnificently and managing to grasp 7 points, he just surrendered at 18-21, thus putting us +14 before tennis. We were still pumped and concentrated but we quickly saw on the tennis court that our opponents were not in the same mood, probably wondering what had possibly gone so wrong. So 8-3 for us in tennis, not much of a fight, but just a huge relief, we made it to the final!!
World Doubles Championship Final
Now there was no fearing the chasm, we had silver at worst, but there was a World Title just one game away, and we felt we really had nothing to lose against the top-seeded pair Jaksland (#1) and Hougaard (#2), who the other half of pre-tournament betters had favoured!
We knew they were not a good profile for us as their weakness was badminton which was where we (Arnaud mainly…) were unplayable, and as Squash & Tennis were their best, we would need to come out of the first 2 sports with a big lead to have any chance. However, the TT didn’t go as hoped for us, after an interesting start until 7-7, they completely overwhelmed us to win 21-9. I feel I should have done better as a TT specialist, trying to be more active, but truth be said, they played unbelievably well, being aggressive on every ball and missing nothing… Going -12 into the badminton felt like it was already over, even if of course we were not going to admit it and tried to pump ourselves back up from the big blow suffered. Clawing back to +1 after badminton, but back to -7 after squash, our opponents just needed 15 in tennis, and they deservedly got there at 15-12 without us being able to push them to the last points where they might have felt the tension of winning.
“Achievements in Doubles bring something totally different”
Though not playing as well as in our morning’s major upset, we hadn’t missed our match, you have to admit when your opponents are simply better.
But the disappointment didn’t last for long, especially by seeing who was accompanying us on steps #1 and #3 of the podium, and on a personal note for giving something back to Arnaud for coming back to get me. Had he told me in March that 3 months later, we’d be vice-world champions, I’d have told him he was nuts… the beauty of sport.
Achievements in single are the strongest it can get because it’s harder: it only depends on your mental skills, your talent and the work you’ve put in. It quiets your personal doubts, raises your self-confidence and rewards all those efforts you’ve made.
But achievements in doubles bring something totally different: it’s about technical, tactical and personal chemistry on the court, but it’s also about planning food, rest, warm-up, all together. And when it works well, sharing these unbelievable moments with someone else makes for a real human adventure, and creates bonds that will never fade.
Cedric Junillon / Racketlon France
As a small thank you to those who supported us, and those who read this until the end, here are some unreleased pics of my partner concentrating intensely during the competition…