People like to play around with racketlon’s format. It’s a sport that lends itself to discussions and debates about who would beat who and which racket sports nation would beat which nation in an array of different types of match.
One question that sprung into life recently on the Racketlon Community Facebook Group saw players debating which is the strongest racket sports nation. This was then put into the style of a racketlon match.
Take each nation’s strongest player at each individual sport and get them to play that leg in a racketlon match. For example, Roger Federer would represent Switzerland but only play the tennis leg. The table-tennis, badminton and squash legs would be played by Switzerland’s highest-ranked players. Ali Farag would play just the squash for Egypt and be joined by his teammates. You get the idea.
Now obviously the ideal way to sort all this out would be to get all the stars of table-tennis, badminton, squash and tennis to compete in what would be the greatest racket sports tournaments in history. Sadly, we couldn’t find a venue. (And, of course, it would be impossible).
So, in the spirit of a fantasy tournament, we’ve done a lot of number crunching to discover which nation can actually say, “In professional racket sports, we are the best nation – and would win this strange, unconventional racketlon tournament”.
So without further ado, here are the 10 best racket sports nations made up of male players.*
Combined Rankings: 288
Star Man: Denis Shapovalov (Tennis)
Narrowly pipping Hungary and Denmark to No.10 is Canada. It has to be said that Denis Shapovalov is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in getting this ranking as low as it is. His current ranking of No.11 in the world makes up for the fact that Canada’s table tennis player, Jeremy Hazin, is No.156 in the world.
Canadian tennis is in a superb state at the moment with Milos Raonic and Felix Auger-Aliassime joining Shapovalov in the top-20 of the ATP rankings. Joining Hazin and Shapovalov in this racketlon dream team is Jason Ho-Shue and Shawn Delierre, playing badminton and squash respectively.
Despite being ranked No.42 in the Badminton world rankings, Ho-Shue is actually the third-highest ranked badminton player in this list of 10 nations. That would repair any damage suffered in table tennis. Delierre is on the lower end of the squash rankings but it’s a solid team, led by captain Shapovalov.
Combined Ranking: 270
Star Man: David Goffin (Tennis)
Much like Team Canada, Belgium’s team is headlined by tennis, with David Goffin the man for the job. At No.15 in the rankings, he is by far the highest-ranked member of this Belgium team, with none of the others ranked inside the World’s top-70.
Table-tennis player Cedric Nuytinck is the next best, coming in at No.72 with Maxime Moreels and Jan van den Herrewegen at No.91 and No.92 in the badminton and squash rankings respectively.
With the 9th best table-tennis and badminton players and the lowest-ranked squash player, it’s hard to argue that this Belgium team would even make it to tennis in a racketlon style encounter. David Goffin’s racket would be staying in his bag.
Combined Ranking: 199
Star Man: Todd Harrity (Squash)
There’s a big number jump between Belgium and USA with a total of 71 ranking places separating the two. In fact, the USA can feel a little hard done by as, if it had a better ranking of only four points, then it would have landed at No.6 instead of No.8.
But there is a reason that this team is at No.8 and that is because it is solid if unspectacular. John Isner is the highest-ranked player at No.25 in the tennis rankings but that only makes him the 7th best tennis player on our list.
In fact, the USA’s squash player, Todd Harrity, is the best player compared to his opponents, with his No.54 ranking making him the fifth-best. Table-tennis player Kanak Jha is the 6th best at No.28 but badminton is a big weakness for the USA. Timothy Lam’s No.92 ranking is the lowest. Even so, John Isner’s serving would come mightily in handy during a gummiarm.
Combined Ranking: 198
Star Man: Dominic Thiem (Tennis)
They’re a giant on the racketlon circuit and so it’s little surprise to see Austria land in the top-10 of the best racket sports nations for male players. As with the three before, it’s tennis that is key to this team. With his US Open trophy in tow, Dominic Thiem leads the charge for Austria at No.4 in the ATP rankings, the second-best tennis player featuring in our fantasy tournament.
Preceding Thiem in the Austria squad is Robert Gardos in table-tennis, Luka Wraber in badminton and Aqeel Rehman in squash. There’s a good chance that Thiem would be coming from behind in tennis.
At No.24 in the table tennis rankings, Gardos is the fifth-best player out of the teams and would do a solid job. The middle two sports would be a problem though. With Wraber (No.82) and Rehman (No. 88) among the lowest-ranked players at their sport, Thiem is going to have to do a lot of recovery work late on. No problem though for a Grand Slam champion, I’m sure.
Combined Rankings: 196
Star Men: Srikanth Kidambi (Badminton) / Saurav Ghosal (Squash)
India may only land at No.6 on the list but they are a team you could argue is a real dark horse in this fantasy racketlon competition. Why? Because of their ferocious strength over the first three sports – especially badminton and squash.
Sharath Kamal leads the Indian team out at table-tennis and, at No.32 in the world, is a really solid player. Their true strength comes in the next two sports though. With Srikanth Kidambi and Saurav Ghosal both ranked No.13 and the second-ranked player in their respective sport, India is building a hell of a lead before tennis whoever it is playing.
That is probably a good thing because, with Prajnesh Gunneswaran on the tennis leg, India needs a big lead. The Indian has ranked nearly 100 spots below any of the other tennis players in this fantasy tournament so is clearly the weak link in this otherwise eye-catching India team.
Combined Rankings: 145
Star Man: Rafael Nadal (Tennis)
They say that mentality is the fifth sport in racketlon so who better to captain your team than Rafael Nadal? Similar to Austria and Belgium before it, Nadal leads a Spain team that is solid if unspectacular in the other three sports.
Alvaro Robles’ No.64 table-tennis ranking is the third-worst among the 10 teams while the badminton and squash are only a little better. At No.54 in the world, Pablo Abian is the sixth-best badminton player and Borja Golan’s squash ranking of No.25 makes him the fourth-best squash player.
Is this Spain team likely to win this fantasy tournament? No. Would you get some epic Nadal comebacks and fist-pumps? Absolutely.
Combined Ranking: 121
Star Man: Kento Momota (Badminton)
Japan really signals the start of the heavyweights in this countdown. For the Asian nation, it all comes down to table tennis and badminton. Among the ten teams on our countdown, there is only one badminton players and two table-tennis players ranked inside their own’s sports top-10. Two of them play for Japan.
Kento Momota is the current No.1 in the badminton world – and the only No.1 in the world to feature in the list. Momota is likely to make light work of all of his opposition and would almost certainly be building on an already-established lead. Tomokazu Harimoto, World No.5 in the table-tennis rankings, is also the highest-ranked table-tennis player in the countdown. It doesn’t matter who Japan are facing, they have a huge lead after badminton.
The squash is the biggest weakness for Japan. With Ryosei Kobayashi at No.72 in the world, he is largely playing damage limitation as the seventh strongest player of our ten. Knowing that a severely under-ranked Kei Nishikori is closing the match out in tennis leaves Japan looking like the most dangerous team so far. But could they beat any of the top three?
Combined Ranking: 106
Star Man: Timo Boll (Table-Tennis)
Missing out on No.2 in the list by just one ranking spot is Germany. In fact, had Simon Rosner not recently retired from professional squash, then Germany would be pushing for No.1
Alas, the squash star has hung up his racket which leaves Raphael Kandra to take his place as squash’s world No.28. Kandra is joined in the team by Alexander Zverev, the third-best tennis player in our ranks.
Timo Boll is the real star of this Germany team. Boll is the second-highest ranked table tennis player involved at No.10 and would get Germany off to a fast start against any nation – apart from Japan.
The one weak spot is badminton, with Max Weisskirchen only the 7th best of our bunch. Even so, this is an impressively well-rounded team that could challenge almost anyone. That sounds an awful lot like the actual German Racketlon team.
2. Great Britain
Combined Ranking: 105
Star Man: Joel Makin (Squash)
Edging out Germany for the No.2 spot is Great Britain, with a team dripping with talent. Joel Makin is the star of this team as the highest-ranked squash player in this fantasy tournament. The Welshman is supported by a trio of Englishmen; Liam Pitchford, Toby Penty and Dan Evans.
At No.15 in the table-tennis rankings, Pitchford is the third-highest ranked player and, despite being only No.53 in the badminton rankings, Penty is still the fifth highest.
Dan Evans is perhaps a weak spot in this line-up, not quite providing the grand finale that this team could use. Did someone call for 2013 Andy Murray? Regardless, Evans has a backhand slice that most racketlon players could only dream of – and is a pretty handy squash player as well.
Combined Ranking: 82
Star Man: Gregoire Marche (Squash)
As predicted by many people in the Racketlon Community discussion about these dream teams, it is France that emerges victorious.
Not only are they the only team to have every player ranked inside the top 50 of their respective sports, but the lowest ranking is only No.35. That honour belongs to Brice Leverdez and, despite having the “worst” ranking of his teammates, he’s still the third-best badminton player in our competition.
A real-life friend of Racketlon, Simon Gauzy opens things up in the table-tennis as world No. 20. On the other side of Leverdez, Gregoire Marche takes up the squash mantle as the third-highest ranked player.
If the French team hadn’t won their match already before tennis then the great showman Gael Monfils would be there to close it out in the tennis set. Undeniably, France has the strongest all-around team in the competition, even if it doesn’t have one of the very, very best athletes.
Now it makes a lot of sense that France is becoming one of Racketlon’s biggest powerhouses in real life.
Big Names That Missed Out
It was mentioned earlier that Kento Momota was the only World No.1 to make the list. So where were the others? Table-tennis No.1, Fan Zhendong, would have formed a lovely opening pair alongside badminton No.6, Long Chen, for Team China. Unfortunately, their team collapsed in the second half with their highest-ranked squash player outside the world’s top 250. In the end, China was only the 22nd highest-ranked nation.
Ali Farag was closer to carrying Egypt into the competition. The squash No.1 was joined by Omar Assar, the No.41 in the table tennis rankings. Unfortunately, with badminton and tennis players ranked outside the top 100, Egypt ended up as the 14th best-ranked nation. No joy for Farag as Egypt missed out on the top 10.
What of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer? Two of tennis’ big three nowhere to be found. Federer, like Farag, was not far away. His Switzerland team was too weak across the first two sports and finished No.16. Djokovic, unfortunately, couldn’t even field a team. No Serbian players are ranked in squash which meant the world No.1 couldn’t even get a sniff at the countdown.
A final word for Denmark. The strong racketlon nation had a fierce team through the opening three sports – spearheaded by Viktor Axelsen – but a low tennis ranking left them at No.12, agonisingly close sneaking past Canada for the No.10 spot.
France Bringing the Racket Sports Depth
Another question that was raised was about who had the best strength in depth and our research produced some eye-popping results. France was the only nation whose first team all had rankings below 50 in their respective sports. Incredibly, their second team also achieved this remarkable feat.
Emmanuel Lebesson, Toma Junior Popov, Mathieu Castagnet and Benoit Paire combined for a total ranking of 141. That was better than every other nation’s first team apart from Great Britain, Germany and Japan.
Want to hear something even more impressive than that? France’s third team – Can Akkuzu, Thomas Rouxel, Gregory Gaultier and Ugo Humbert – was also better than all but four other nation’s first teams. Their combined score of 194 puts them above everyone apart from Great Britain, Germany, Japan and Spain.
Not only is France’s strength across all four racket sports unrivalled, but its depth is jaw-dropping. Right here, right now, at the start of 2021, all we can do is crown France the strongest racket sports nation for male players.
Does France’s strength translate on the women’s side of racket sports? You’ll have to come back next week to find out.
Sam Barker / FIR Media Officer
Image Credit / Yann Caradec
*All rankings are accurate as of 28/02/21.