The 22 national teams in the World, Nations and Challenge Cup are barely a dent in the number of teams at the 2019 FIR World Team Championships. 43 further sides will compete in U13, U16, U21, +40, +45, +55 and +65 events, with 11 nations represented.
The different categories have subtly different formats, but one thing is for certain. Whether young or old, they will leave everything on the court. The passion is the same whether pensioner or school kid!
U13’s – Can Austria Upgrade from Silver?
It was silver last year in Zurich for Austria in the U13s event and they will have to come past last year’s bronze medallists, Germany and a brace of French sides to claim the World Title in 2019. As this is a round-robin, the two French sides will meet for added intrigue! The matches feature 2 singles and a doubles match, with the singles players usually also playing the doubles leg.
U16s – Can Anyone Stop the British Dominance?
Great Britain has dominated this event, winning the gold medal every year they have entered since a young Piers Boden and Leon Griffiths joined forces in Poland in 2014. It is a truly phenomenal record that is unmatched by any team! Another phenomenal record is the number of British teams, four, that will line up at the start of this eight-draw monrad.
The four GB sides cannot meet in the first round, so they were kept apart in the draw, each facing one of the other national sides taking place. The top seed, Great Britain 1 features two rising stars of the racketlon world, Luke Griffiths and Matthew Davidson. Both are also named in the GB1 and GB2 teams respectively in the World and Nations Cups. They will face Germany who name Cornelius Reid in their team, a youngster who has enjoyed great success at the recent German National Championships.
The winners of that tie will face either Austria 1 or Great Britain 4 in the semi-final. The Austrians are also displaying great depth in the U16s category as this is the first of two teams. Meanwhile, GB4 are the first brother-sister outfit to compete as a UK Racketlon team on their own, as James Vincent and Claudia Vincent put sibling rivalry to one side in search of glory.
In the bottom half of the draw, second seeds Czech Republic name David Ersil in their team. Ersil is also named in a Nations Cup squad and has been the form player on the junior tour this year with two junior titles and six silver medals to his name across U16 and U21 events, including two World Doubles silvers back in Belgium. Ersil is one to watch and, along with teammate Lukas Dvorak, will provide a stiff test for the Great Britain 2. Finally, it is Great Britain 3 against Austria 2 for the right to play the winners of the Czech Republic-GB2 tie. The format for this event is the same as the U13s event.
U21s – Boden’s Last Junior Bow?
In 2017, it was agony for Piers Boden as he suffered a horrific injury while competing in a GB jersey at the European Championships in Vienna. It has been a long road back, but Boden has been dedicated yet careful with his body and returns to the World Championships captaining the second-seeded GB U21 first team.
It is his last chance in the junior categories, and he’ll be keen to add another World Title to his collection. This year he is reunited in a GB squad with sister Hannah Boden and his first-ever partner, Leon Griffiths. That trio is joined by British U21 champion Ross Wilson and Wales’ Cherisse Lau.
He will first lead his side against France and Switzerland in the group stages, hoping to set up a final against top seeds, Finland. Intriguingly Boden currently lives in Finland, but even if he didn’t, he will know all about their side. The Finns, runners up last year to Austria, boast a bagful of talent, none less so than Luka Penttinen. Another in the myriad of immensely impressive juniors rising rapidly through the ranks, Penttinen is the fifth seed in the Men’s Elite Singles draw. Also in their side is Anna Wall, who is also in the Ladies Elite Singles draw, highlighting the talent this side can call on.
Initially in the Finns way is the Great Britain U21 second team and a debut nation in the Racketlon team championships, Afghanistan. The Racketlon community is delighted to welcome the Afghani team into the fold, and for those (like this author) who follow Cricket, you will know never to underestimate the Afghan national side!
While this will be a highly competitive event, nothing would be better than to see a ding-dong battle between Finland and Great Britain in the final as the finest juniors in the game face off on the court. The U21’s is contested using two men’s singles and a Women’s singles.
+40s – Switzerland Looking to Defend Their Title, Germany Hunt Home Glory!
On home turf in 2018, the Swiss +40s defeated Germany to claim the World Title. 15 months on, can Germany claim revenge? This event is a three-team round-robin, but it is stacked. The first, second and fourth-placed teams from the 2018 event will face off for the title in what is going to be a belting event!
All three sides contain some well-known names, with the likes of Esther Dubendorfer, Silke Altmann, and everyone’s favourite shirt-ripper, Graham King. But will it be a bare-chested victory again for Switzerland? The format is two men’s singles, one men’s doubles and a women’s singles. Teams consist of four men and one woman.
+45s – Defending Champions on Home Turf, But the Chasing Pack Looks Strong!
Oh, this will be an event and a half. A five-team round-robin filled with all the big guns in recent years, Czech Republic (who field two sides in 2019), Great Britain and defending champions Germany. They’ll be joined in the hunt for the medals by Sweden.
With five teams, this event will be a brutal battle and one that will test not just the skill and experience, but also the stamina of the players and the strength in depth of the squads. Certainly, looking through these squads the skill and experience of these players is not in doubt, with World Champions and World Tour winners plentifully scattered around. This will be one of the events to watch! This event has the same match format as the +40s.
+55s – Nine Teams Line Up, Can Great Britain Retain Their Title?
Nine teams will take part in the +55s event in 2019. There will be three initial groups of three, with each group winner coming together to decide the medals between themselves in one final group of three.
Each group is headed by a seed, with Great Britain, Germany and Hungary the top three seeds. With Britain and Germany also fielding second teams in this competition, there was a need to ensure that first teams couldn’t face second teams initially. Fortunately, the draw went smoothly and both second teams ended up in Group C with perennial achievers in this category, Hungary. That left four first teams for Great Britain and Germany to face in the group stages, with Great Britain facing Austria and Finland, while Germany drew Denmark and Czechia. For this event, matches feature two men’s singles and a men’s doubles with four players needed per team.
+65s – Denmark Looking to Retain Glory in a Growing Category
Admittedly, we are getting older as a population in western Europe, but it is more due to the hard work of the FIR that the +65s is growing both in events on the World Tour and as a team competition. For 2019, the event expands from five to six nations as Czechia join the five teams who competed in 2018.
Denmark claimed the title in 2018, going undefeated. They were pressed all the way by Sweden though, with just 12 points between them in their match that decided the title. Denmark are top seeds in 2019, but with Finland, the second seeds, the fate of the draw has ensured that Sweden and Denmark will meet in the group stages, they are joined in Group A by Germany.
Group B is headed by second seeds Finland and they are joined by Great Britain and newcomers Czechia. Once again, these matches feature two men’s singles and a men’s doubles, but the singles players may also play the doubles.
That concludes our rapid round-up of the seven World Title events in the Junior and Senior events. For me, these events are some of the most enjoyable, featuring the players who have given so much to the growth of Racketlon to date and the players who are our sports’ future. Without a doubt, none of the rest of us could be here without either of these groups of players. Good luck to all!
James Pope / FIR Contributor
Image Credit / Rene Zwald