Since its rebirth in 2017, very little can match the drama and excitement that the FIR Champions League brings! But for Racketlon fans, it feels like an interminable wait since the Berlin Berghain Boasters dramatically snatched both titles from the grasp of both iPro London sides on a hot and sultry evening in Germany last August.
As we return to the scene of their triumph, can the Triple B’s retain their titles? Will iPro London strike back? Or will it be a third name in as many years taking home the Division One title?
In a twist for 2019, the five group match rounds will provide a final Champions League table. But, the final standings will be decided by the teams finishing 1st and 2nd, 3rd and 4th and 5th and 6th. They will battle it out in a final playoff match to determine our final placings. As such, each captain in the draft knew that a balanced squad across both the first leg in Germany and the second leg in France would be vital to ensure they had the best chance of taking home the title.
So, with the Draft completed and the fixtures released, how does it look for each side in the 2019 Champions League Division 1?
Berlin Berghain Boasters – Captain: Amke Fischer – 2018 Result: Champions
Retained: Cornelius Radermacher (G+F), Thorsten Lentfer (G+F).
Drafted: Alex Du Noyer (F), Adarsh Narayanaswamy (G+F), Steven Kit Wai Cheng (G)
For Berlin, it is hard to top the events of 2018, sealing the titles in their home country. It was even sweeter for Captain Amke who had to take a back seat for the second leg, trusting her main Lieutenant, Cornelius Radermacher. Cornelius returns to the Triple Bs in 2019 and they will field a very settled squad across both events.
With a German core, they will call on the first Indian – Adarsh Narayanaswamy – and Hong Kong – Steven Cheng – players in Champions League history in Germany, with Alex Du Noyer arriving for France. Amke is very pleased with her picks, the newcomers all fitting into the Triple B ethos of playing hard but fun, describing both Steven and Adarsh as “infected with the Racketlon bug”.
However, in true style, she is unwilling to declare her side as favourites, this year depositing that tag on Sportyfriends Copenhagen.
Sportyfriends Copenhagen – Captain: Morten Jaksland – 2018 Result: Runners Up
Retained: Zuzana Severinova (G+F), Arnaud Genin (G+F).
Drafted: Korbinian Heim (G+F), Ed Harvey (G+F), Natalia Prado (F)
As the iPro London challenge collapsed in a dramatic evening last year, the Morten Jaksland juggernaut got going. Having been scrambling for points in the first leg in Sweden as injuries abounded, they rocked up in Nussloch and blew sides away, a trend that Morten has personally been following with his singles career ever since.
Morten also has a really solid set of picks. He has huge firepower with Zuzana Severinova who, much like Morten, has been on a hot streak this season. Them almost certainly linking up as a mixed pairing in the Champions League will be a devastating combination. Behind Morten, the breakthrough player of the last 12 months is Frenchman Arnaud Genin. He has raced up the singles standings picking up titles along the way.
With Korbinian Heim and Ed Harvey in both events and the addition of Natalia Prado for France, Morten has assembled a squad which gives him options across the board. Unlike rival Amke, Morten is happy to accept the mantle of favourite, but he sees Berlin as his biggest rivals for the title. Can anything stop the Danish juggernaut?
iPro London – Captain: Duncan Stahl – 2018 Result: Third
Retained: Christian Wiessner (G+F), Natalie Paul (F)
Drafted: Silke Altmann (G), Anders Fyrst (G+F), Jack Bishop (G+F)
He devised the format, he lead his team to glory in 2017, and he was on course in 2018 only for injury to strike. As Duncan Stahl’s elbow gave way, so did his teams challenge for the title. It was heartbreaking to watch, but you can be certain that in 2019, Duncan will personally be out to reclaim the title for London.
He has re-secured some useful services in the shape of Christian Wiessner and, with longstanding partner in crime Natalie Paul back for France, the iPro London side has bags of Champions League experience. Anders Fryst and Jack Bishop round out their male contingent with Silke Altmann their lady in Germany. Perhaps only one side considers London a likely winner, but with a brace of strong ladies, CL experience, and tactical awareness, you just can’t write them off.
Swedish Vikings – Captain: Anna-Klara Ahlmer – 2018 Result: Fifth
Drafted: Ray Jordan (F), Loic Cencig (G+F), Damien Andre (G+F), Marco Genzel (G+F), Roland Pichler (G+F)
Cruelly unfancied by 2018 draft review “expert” Johnny Bispham, the Swedish Vikings caused several upsets in the 2018 event before eventually finishing fifth in a very competitive debut showing. Back to 2019 and they are keen to continue their form from last season.
Anna-Klara had first pick and that pick probably caused the biggest shock (on Jack Bishop’s face) as she selected Ray Jordan. After what some commentators (Jack) considered an odd aberration, she then opted for the excellent Loic Cencig. In addition to Loic and Ray, Anna-Klara has a wealth of Racketlon talent (and personalities) with Damien Andre, Marco Genzel and Roland Pichler rounding out her squad.
While it is tempting to suggest they will struggle in 2019, you can never write off a Viking, especially now that Anna-Klara is returning to fitness after a torrid few years on the injury front.
C&C Racketlon Union Austria – Captain: Lukas Windischberger – 2018 Result: Sixth
Retained: Stephen Schmutzer (G), Bernhard Pilsz (G+F*)
Drafted: Margaux Randjbar (G+F), Luke Barnes (F), Anthony Duthuille (F) [Steffen Neumann (G*)]
It was a chastening second weekend for the Austria side in 2018, but Captain Lukas Windischberger was still happy to find the positives from their performance. Lukas was happy with his draft picks, knowing he was likely to be pipped to Stine Jacobson as his woman, but in Margaux Randjbar was able to get a more than useful squad member.
Unlike many of their rivals, the Austrian side will feature quite the change between legs with only Lukas and Margaux Randjbar consistent across both legs following Bernhard Pilsz’s injury. They are able to call on some exciting talents for France though, especially the mercurial and dangerous Brit Luke Barnes alongside Anthony Duthuille. Lukas is the captain who considers iPro London among the favourites, but he also sees Sportyfriends Copenhagen as the side to beat.
Three Percent Malta Magic – Captain: Kresten Hougaard – 2018 Result: Seventh
Retained: Hannah Boden (G)
Drafted: Joerg Kanonenberg (F), Stine Jacobsen (F), Markus Klement (G+F), Jon Spinks (F)
Oh, if it could go wrong, in 2018, it went wrong for Malta Magic with injuries. In particular one to Captain Kresten Hougaard in the run-up to leg two in Germany. Despite a heroic fight, they were unable to build on what had been an excellent opening leg in Sweden. But, that is all in the past and Captain Kresten is looking only forwards.
He was delighted to secure the services of Stine Jacobson for both legs and with the addition of Markus Klement, he has a solid Racketlon all-rounder. Joerg Kanonberg and Hannah Boden will join Kresten in Sweden, Joerg being something of a steal as Kretsen assumed he would be snapped up by Anna-Klara and Sweden. Finally, needing a man for Germany, Kresten opted for Jon Spinks, who he knows will give very little away on the TT table and leave little else on-court (as well as being something of an expert on the 5th Racketlon sport!).
For Kresten, there is however only one side who can win in 2019. Copenhagen who with “a World No.1 and No.6 male in addition to the woman in red-hot form, Zuzana Severinova, for both weekends, they are the strong favourites”. As for his own chances, Kresten acknowledges his side will be stronger in Germany, so will need a strong start to be competing in France.
So who is going to win?
That is the squads, and clearly, the Captains see Sportyfriends Copenhagen as the side to beat. However, as the 2018 edition showed, injuries, fitness, form and the inevitable unpredictability of Racketlon itself mean that any of our sides could be the victor.
The fixtures are now live and looking instantly ahead to leg one which features some big-hitting ties, especially the third set of matches with iPro London vs Sportyfriends Copenhagen. As ever the FIR Facebook page will be the place to be to follow all the action as it unfolds and a comprehensive report will appear here on Racketlon.net.
James Pope / FIR Contributor