There were three junior team events, the U13s, U16s and U21s at the 2019 FIR World Team Championships. Six different nations secured the nine spots on the podium, a wonderful diversity that highlights how the growth of the sport at junior levels is spread across the Racketlon nations. The juniors also saw a debut nation, Afghanistan who played with passion making plenty of friends as they competed in the U21s.
U13 Teams: French Youngsters Hold Their Nerve!
The U13 juniors team was a three-nation, four-team round-robin with two French sides, an Austrian side and a German side in the mix. The medals were actually decided in the first round of matches, although we could not be sure of that when play got underway at 8am on Saturday morning.
First up Germany (Tom Sach and Toni Bohm) defeated France 2 (Jules Monnage and Jules Roy) in a match that was only decided in the final tennis rubbers. The U13s team event features two players who play a singles each and then combine for the doubles. In this match, each side exchanged sports, Germany would win a TT rubber, France would strike right back and so on. This pattern continued until the final two tennis matches, where Germany broke free of the French grasp, an 11-1 and 11-4 victory in these final two matches securing a 12 point win.
Amazingly, however, this was not the closest match, as side by side the Austrians (Alex Wagner & Francesco Izzo) faced France 1 (Lucas Steyer & Axel Diet). Despite Austria racing into a 20 point lead after the table tennis, the French dominated the badminton and the squash, clawing 15 points back in the badminton and then a further 23 points back in the squash to turn a 20 point deficit into an 18 point lead as they headed to the tennis court.
The Austrian juniors roared back in the tennis. 11-0 to Wagner reduced the lead to 7 points, but with Axel Diet grabbing four points back for the French 1 side, the lead was back to 11 points and despite the best efforts of the Austrian doubles pairing, they couldn’t prevent the French from claiming a thrilling victory.
Through the remaining matches, France 1 and Austria were dominant, recording solid victories over France 2 and Germany. So, at 10am on Sunday morning, a result determined 24 hours was confirmed, France 1 were U13 World Champions as they completed victory over Germany in their final match. Austria defeated France 2 to secure silver while the Germany side finished with the bronze.
U16 Teams: British Domination Continues!
In November 2014, a young-looking Leon Griffiths and Piers Boden secured the first U16s World Team title for Great Britain. Since that day, no side has beaten the Brits and in 2019 it was to be no different.
Currently enjoying an embarrassment of riches in this age bracket, the Brits fielded four teams, who were all kept apart in the first round draw. As in the U13s, the fixture featured two singles and a doubles, with usually the two singles players combining for the doubles. Only two British sides, top seeds and favourites GB1, and GB3 made it through to the semi-finals, overcoming Germany and Austria 2 respectively. They were joined in the semi-finals by Austria 1 and second seeds Czech Republic. The Czechs came through a thrilling match with the GB second team, youngster Lukas Dvorak pulling the trigger on an immaculate straight backhand passing shot to seal the victory and avoid facing a gumi-arm, belaying his young age with immense composure to hit a clinical winner.
Into the semi-finals, and the Czech’s (David Ersil and Lukas Dvorak) dispatched their second set of GB opponents, dismissing the GB3 side (Cameron Leighton and Freddie Whitfield) with ease. That set them up for another set of British opponents, as the GB1 side (Luke Griffiths and Matthew Davidson) defeated Austria (Florian Harca and Leon Sam).
In the final and it was not to be three out of three for the Czech juniors against the Brits as the GB1 side produced an inspired performance. Aware perhaps of the potential danger of their Czech opponents on the tennis court, they ensured they got the job done early. Winning every rubber, they secured GB a fourth consecutive World Title in the U16s (plus 2 European titles). A Griffiths brother, Leon or Luke, has been involved in each of them. The Czechs claimed a hard-fought silver, while a Florian Harca inspired Austria defeated GB3 to claim bronze.
U21: Finally, Victory for the Finns
Finland, despite calling on talented players such as Luka Penttinen and Anna Wall, have to date failed to top the World U21s Team podium. In 2019, they were top seeds. The U21s features three rubbers, two boys singles and a girls singles.
In the group stage of this six-team event, the Finns got off to a great start dealing swiftly with the threat posed by the GB second team and debutant nation Afghanistan. The GB2 side also defeated Afghanistan to join Finland in the semi-finals.
The simplicity shown in this group was far from replicated in Group B… In the opening round of fixtures, Switzerland defeated France by 23 points, before the GB1’s defeated Switzerland by 41 points. So far, so simple. However, Racketlon is rarely simple! In singles, different player profiles massively impact on the outcome of matches. As such the logic of “Player A beats Player B, and Player B beats Player C, therefore Player A defeats Player C” can quickly break down. In team matches, throw in the number of rubbers being played and the logic can unravel even quicker.
France stunned the GB side with a six-point victory, meaning that all three sides finished with one win each. Therefore, it went to the countback of points in these matches. GB had won by 41 and lost by 6, so at +35 they were through. Switzerland had won by 23 and lost by 41 so finished on -18. France having lost by 23 points and won by 6 points finished on -17 points and by virtue of that one point difference, they qualified for the semi-finals in second place behind the Great Britain side.
France had won fewer points than Switzerland, so if they had both tied on -17, then Switzerland would have made the semi-finals by virtue of points won. As is always the case in Racketlon, every point counted both in defeat and in victory!
The semi-finals were a more conventional affair, Finland (Luka Penttinen, Anna Wall and Joel Pennanen) defeated France (Martin Abrami, Flore Allegre and Valentin Haas) with relative ease. Meanwhile, in the battle of the Brits, GB1 (Piers Boden, Cherisse Lau and Ross Wilson) defeated GB2 (David Bennett, Alexandra Ogram and Ryan Bezer) comfortably.
In the final, the Finns continued their domination. They eased past the GB side, the squash and tennis rubbers doing the damage against the Brits. France then defeated GB2 to secure the bronze medal, and end their roller-coaster ride through the tournament.
Congratulations to all the juniors winners, with some nations losing players up the age ranges in 2020, it will be interesting to see how all these sides come together in Rotterdam next summer. However, one message that came from this event is that there is an exceptional amount of young Racketlon players who have both the talent and temperament to go far in this sport. Older players should take note, because these kids are coming through quickly, be ready!
The full results from the FIR World Team Championships Juniors Categories are available here.
James Pope / FIR Contributor