The World Championships is always special, but one thing it really brings out is the full spectrum of Racketlon, players competing in the Open Singles, the Vets classes and also the junior classes. All the events are full whether you are over 70 or under 13 there is competition in your age group.
2019 saw six junior categories, Boy’s U13, U16, U18 and U21 with Girls events in the U16s and U21s. Some of these draws contained players already mixing it with the best and most certainly a batch of names we all will come to know as easily as we say Ratzer or Seehofer.
Before this piece reviews these six events, it seems right to add how impressed I was by the temperament of the juniors. They played with passion and a desire to win, but they also did so in such calm and clinical ways. Similarly, you do not have to look far for stories of parents behaving badly at their child’s events, yet at the 2019 World Championships, I saw none of that. The players and their families deserve a lot of kudos for that.
Anyways, enough waffle, lets talk Racketlon!
U13 Boys: Wagner Composes the Tune
The U13s team event had been all about France and Austria, with the French coming out on top in that one. As we reached the semi-finals of the Boys U13s Singles, it saw two French, an Austrian and a Czech go for the medals.
The top seed, Lukas Dvorak (Cze) faced Axel Diet (Fra) in the first semi-final. The young Frenchman was however not intimidated by his opponent’s status in the draw. Dvorak won the TT, but Diet nicked the badminton before doing heavy damage on the squash court. Dvorak led by eight into squash but trailed by 12 into tennis. Diet was scintillating on the squash court. The tennis finished 9-9, and Diet was into the final.
The second semi-final pitted second-seeded Austrian Alexander Wagner against France’s Jules Monnaye. Wagner was in a rampant mood with victories in the first three sports paving his way to the final.
Even in the U13s, they know how to have a classic Racketlon match. Wagner won the opening two sports 21-14 & 21-13, to lead by 15 into squash. Diet, however, did another high-quality job on the squash court winning 21-4. He led by two into what was now a game of tennis for the World Title. Wagner, however, was not troubled. He weathered the storm and then delivered his own, 21-5 in the tennis, the perfect riposte and a World Title secured in style. Lukas Dvorak recovering from his semi-final defeat to secure bronze.
U16 Girls: Ogram Shows Her Tiger Spirit
Two Brits, an Afghan and an Austrian formed the four-girl round-robin in the Girls U16s. Top seed was Austrian Clarissa Steiner who won silver in Zurich and she was joined by 2018 bronze medallist Claudia Vincent and her fellow Brit Alexandra ‘Lexie’ Ogram with Afghanistan’s Shaghyegh Tabatabaie completing the set.
From the get go, it was all Ogram. She dominated the event, winning all the matches with ease built on a bedrock of her squash, dropping just five points over her three matches. With good backing from her tennis, she cruised to the World Title in some style. With Steiner and Vincent both defeating Tabatabaie, it left them with a shootout for silver, just as it was in Zurich in 2018.
Back in Zurich, Steiner came out the victor by a solitary point, so both youngsters knew this would be a competitive match. Despite Steiner taking the first two sports, an exceptional squash set from Vincent gave her the lead and despite a closely fought tennis set, Steiner couldn’t overcome the deficit and the girls swapped places, Vincent the silver medallist and Steiner the bronze.
U16 Boys: Griffiths Signs Off in Style
It was 2014 the last time Luke Griffiths was defeated in the U16s and he was determined to finish his career in the U16s category in the style befitting his status. The “Smiling Assassin”, as he is commonly referred to, eased through the draw with a subtle smile on his face. From the last-16 to the final, Griffiths was not required to use his tennis racket in a thoroughly dominant performance. Even second seed David Ersil (Cze), himself in fantastic form in 2019 could not get close to Griffiths as the young Brit romped to an 11th World Title in the U16s category (singles, doubles or teams) completing a third triple crown (singles, doubles and teams) in the process.
It has been some career in this category for Luke Griffiths, and he now moves onwards and upwards with some big-name players in his sights for 2020. Austria’s Florian Harca bronze.
U18 Boys: Andrey Crowned the Maiden Champion
The Boy’s U18s event was run for the first time ever at the 2019 World Championships with a mixture of U16s and U21s players battling it out for the new title. While U16s finalists, Luke Griffiths and David Ersil were the top seeds, they would both fall in the quarter-finals. Griffiths was felled by Swiss Yannic Andrey, while Ersil lost to Matthew Davidson. Having knocked out the top seeds, both boys seized their opportunities. Davidson defeated fellow Brit Ross Wilson in the semi-finals, while Andrey saw off Austria’s Florian Harca.
In the final, Andrey did all his damage early doors. A 21-6 victory in table tennis, meant that he was always in the driving seat. The boys exchanged 21-15 victories in the badminton and squash, leaving Yannic a target of 7 on the tennis court. He knocked it off with ease and became the first-ever U18s Racketlon World Champion. Ross Wilson defeated Florian Harca for the bronze medal.
U21 Boys: Griffiths Wins the Battle of the Men’s Elite Juniors
The Boy’s U21’s event was, as expected, the battle between two of the rising stars of the Men’s A events. Top seeds Luka Pentinnen (Fin) and Leon Griffiths (GB) both reached the semi-finals with easy wins apiece. They were joined there by Piers Boden (GB) and third seed Joel Pennanen. Griffiths made light work of the Finnish third seed, sliding past his opponent without any alarms. It was tougher work for both their compatriots, as Penttinen took on Boden.
It was a closely fought match but Penttinen just kept having that vital edge. He grabbed the TT 22-20, the badminton 21-15 and the squash 21-16 and those small victories, the points we always talk about in Racketlon as being vital, meant that in a tight tennis tussle, he was always only going to need a handful of points, which he duly achieved.
Into the final and it was the top seeds, who had also both lost to Jesper Ratzer in the Men’s Elite singles, who would contest the final. Griffiths, second seed and defending champion, Penttinen the top seed. While Penttinen was able to grab the TT 21-19, the rest of the match was one-way traffic. Griffiths dominated the badminton and the squash, meaning he needed just three points on the tennis court. That small target was mopped up quickly and calmly to defend his title. Boden defeated Pennanen to sign off from the U21s with a bronze medal, not bad at all for a man who two years previously had been stretchered away with a severe knee injury from the European Championships.
Severinova Caps a Brilliant Year
The Girls U21 event was once again a shootout between top seed Zuzana Severinova (Cze) and defending champion and second seed Hannah Boden (GB). They both progressed into the semi-finals, where Boden quickly dismantled the game of Switzerland’s Dara Ladner, the badminton and squash heavily in the favour of the young Brit. Severinova was made to work a bit harder by her French opponent, Flore Allegre, but needing nine on the tennis court was a simple task for the Czech. This set up a repeat of 2018 final, with Boden once again taking on Severinova.
There was just a point between them after the first two sports, Severinova winning the table tennis, Boden the badminton. On the squash court though, Severinova shone. She dismantled the Brit, 21-11, meaning she needed just 13 points on the tennis court. This was simple work for the Czech, who sealed victory 13-3 and claimed the Girls U21 World Title.
It completes what has been a fantastic year for Severinova, who has risen to No.2 in the World Rankings and consistently competed in the Elite semi-finals and finals. Not to mention, a bronze medal in the Women’s Elite Singles at this World Championships.
There you have it, some well-known names, such as Griffiths, Pentinnen and Severinova saw the names etched into the record books once more, while a number of names, such as Ogram and Wagner made the rest of the Racketlon world aware of their presence. One thing is for sure, there is a lot of talent in the junior divisions, and it won’t be there for long!
James Pope / FIR Contributor