Racketlon is back.
Well, it’s not fully back. We can’t have 200 players bouncing from court-to-court just yet – that will return in 2021. What we can have instead is a racketlon first.
For the first time, we have a truly professional racketlon tournament in the GRAWE sidebyside 14. Austrian Open. Elite players only, daily COVID-19 testing and every match livestreamed. It’s not what we’re used to but it’s going to provide a great weekend’s entertainment.
So it seems only fitting that this tournament has a wildly open Men’s Singles event. I’ve asked a few people now who they think is going to win and almost everyone has said a different name.
Could it be Magnus Eliasson? The four-time Austrian Open champion and Racketlon Hall of Famer stayed true to his promise over the summer to make a comeback. Might it be Emanuel Schoepf or Bernhard Pilsz? The top two seeds looking to fly the flag in their home country. Perhaps Sylvain Ternon or Nicolas Lenggenhager can pick up a first singles trophy at the elite level. Or maybe we’ll have a surprise run from someone else.
I can’t begin to predict who is going to win the trophy. I can lift the lid on a few of the first-round clashes to help you have an idea of what could happen.
Schoepf leads first quarter full of young talent
Top seed and world No.7 Emanuel Schoepf tops the draw and begins his campaign against fellow Austrian Philipp Patzelt. Schoepf is one of only three players in the draw to have won an elite singles title before and also boasts a 4-0 head-to-head record over his opponent.
Patzelt has never lost the table-tennis in their previous contests. However, he’s never won any of the other sports either. That being said, he did get much closer in badminton and squash when they last met two years ago, which should give him hope heading into this first-round match.
The second match in the draw is one for fans of the future. Martin Abrami and David Ersil are two juniors who are on a path to a big racketlon future.
Abrami already has scalps over Ersoy Korer and Patrick Moran while also reaching the final of the Men’s D Singles at the World Championships two years ago. Up until now, Abrami has only played the World Championships but he’s now stepping out to play his first other FIR World Tour event.
His opponent, David Ersil, is one of the most active juniors on the circuit and is currently No.6 in the junior rankings. Ersil has already found success in Austria this season, winning the Juniors U16 and Men’s C Singles during January’s IWT Vienna Classics.
Remember the names of these two because both certainly have the potential to be regular A grade players in the future. For now, make sure to tune into their match on Friday.
Ternon the seed in an intriguing second quarter
The second quarter originally features two French-Austrian matches before Anthony Duthille was forced to withdraw from the tournament.
Afghanistan’s Lotfullah Yusufi has kindly stepped in as a late replacement and will face Marcel Weigl in the first round. With two elite singles titles to his name, Weigl could see this tournament as an opportunity to grab a third. The +45 World Champion has had some rough draws at this tournament in recent years but his experience should see him through the first round.
The second match is the one remaining French-Austrian showdown with No.3 seed Sylvain Ternon facing Florian Harca. With wins over Rav Rykowski, Christian Wiessner and Christian Schaefer last year alone, badminton specialist Ternon is a real front-runner for this competition.
Florian Harca is not going to be an easy first-round match though. The youngster won the Men’s C and Juniors U16 singles at this tournament 12 months ago. He also lifted the Men’s B at this year’s Vienna New Year Classics and, like Ersil and Abrami, is one of the most talented teenagers on the Tour.
Eliasson begins comeback with tough match against Lenggenhager
If Magnus Eliasson thought he was going to have an easy start to his comeback then he’s got another thing coming. The former world champion begins against No.4 seed Nicolas Lenggenhager, who reached his first elite singles final in 2019.
It’s hard to look past this match as the best of the first round. It will be fascinating to see Eliasson’s level after so long away from the sport. If he wins the tournament on his comeback he’ll move to 39 career titles, one ahead of Jesper Ratzer and back to the top of the all-time list. This is a must-watch match so make sure you head to the livestream at 18:30CET on Friday, 20th November.
Who awaits the winner in the quarter-finals though? Well, that will be either Austrian Georg Stoisser, or Afghan champion Ahmad Jafari. A former U21 world champion, Stoisser might be the dark horse of this draw. While he hasn’t played many singles recently, he did reach the final of the Men’s Doubles here a year ago.
Jafari is in the early stages of his racketlon life and is making his debut at this level of competition. Stoisser’s career includes wins over Emanuel Schoepf, Leon Griffiths, Luka Penttinen and Marcel Weigl. How much will his lack of singles play over the last few years affect him though?
Can Koubaa upset the Austrians in the final quarter?
Mohammed Tarik Koubaa is the only non-Austrian representative in the final quarter but opens with a tough match against Bernhard Pilsz. Now up to No.12 in the world, Pilsz is the No.2 seed in the tournament but has not faced Koubaa before.
Pilsz got his first taste of success at the elite level at this year’s IWT Vienna Classics where he won the Men’s Doubles with Emanuel Schoepf. If he wants singles success then he’ll have to come past Koubaa in the opening round.
The final match was originally an all-Austrian affair between Stephan Schmutzer and Michael Moitzi. However, with Schmutzer withdrawing from the tournament, France’s Mandrin Mouchet has stepped in as a late alternate.
Mouchet is an established elite player and is an awkward alternative opponent for the Austrian. Moitzi is predominantly a B grade player but has played and secured wins at the elite level before. This bottom quarter might be the most unpredictable of the four – which also makes it the most fun.
Only one of these 16 players can walk away with the GRAWE sidebyside 14. Austrian Open title. Who will that be? You’ll have to tune in to find out.
Sam Barker / FIR Media Officer
Image Credit / rubinfoto.com