It seems only right that, on International Women’s Day, we present the 10 best women’s racket sports nations. Producing a deep dive into the greatest female players currently competing in racket sports is the perfect way for us to celebrate this day.
In case you missed last week’s men’s list and are not sure how we put our list together, this is how it all works.
We take each nation’s strongest player at each individual sport and get them to play that leg in a racketlon match. For example, Naomi Osaka would represent Japan but only in the tennis leg. The table-tennis, badminton and squash legs would be played by Japan’s highest-ranked players. Nour El Sherbini would play just the squash for Egypt and be joined by teammates. You get the idea.
Then we’ve combined the rankings of these players and put the 10 nations with the lowest combined ranking onto our countdown. We should add that all rankings are correct as of March 7th 2021.
On the Men’s list, it was France that emerged victorious, seeing off Germany and Great Britain to clinch the No.1 spot. Will France top the women’s countdown as well? Could we see some new names in the top-10? You’re about to find out.
10. Czech Republic
Combined Ranking: 229
Star Woman: Karolina Pliskova (Tennis)
So our list begins with the Czech Republic. The team’s combined ranking of 229 was just enough to hold off Egypt and Ukraine who both totalled 231. The team itself centres around strength in both table tennis and tennis.
Karolina Pliskova is the key to Czech success. Her ranking of No.6 is the 3rd-best among our 10 tennis players. Boasting one of the WTA’s most potent serves as well, she would be a ferocious weapon in a tense racketlon tennis set.
Joining Pliskova in the squad is Hana Matelova, Katerina Tomalova and Anna Serme. Matelova is a handy table tennis player, with her No.51 ranking seeing her emerge as the 5th-best player in the tournament.
Badminton and squash are certainly more of a weakness. Tomalova is the lowest-ranked badminton player at No.107, while Serme is just the 8th strongest squash player. Pliskova would be doing a lot of heavy lifting in this fantasy tournament.
Combined Ranking: 200
Star Woman: Belinda Bencic (Tennis)
The first team to include players all ranked inside the top-100 is Switzerland. In truth, this is a solid team but one that is lacking a truly standout talent within the confines of this competition.
Tennis’ Belinda Bencic is the highest-ranked at No.12, but the strength of the qualified tennis players means that she is only the 6th best. Supporting Bencic is Rachel Moret, Sabrina Jaquet and Cindy Merlo.
An unwanted bit of symmetry in this team is that Moret, Jaquet and Merlo are all the 8th-best players out of 10 in their respective sport. What does that mean in racketlon terms? In truth, it means that in most of their matches they are struggling to reach tennis.
However, the Swiss women have done something that the Swiss men weren’t able to do and that is make the countdown in the first place. That’s certainly some bragging rights for Moret, Jaquet, Merlo and Bencic.
Combined Ranking: 177
Star Woman: Nele Gilis (Squash)
Continuing the trend of European nations, next on our countdown is Belgium. Home of the King of Rackets on the FIR World Tour, the nation also boasts a high-quality array of female talent.
Leading the charge is squash star Nele Gilis. Her ranking of No.12 makes her the 4th-strongest player in our tournament, a real weapon in Belgium’s arsenal. Table tennis is a weakness though. Lisa Lung, ranking No.110, is the lowest in the competition, making a slow start for Belgium almost guaranteed.
Badminton is a little better. Lianne Tan is No.39 in the world but the 7th best in our countdown. The fourth and final member of the squad is Elise Mertens. She is a really interesting case. Despite being ranked No.16 in the world, she is actually the 3rd lowest-ranked tennis player in our tournament.
With the No.11, No.12, No.15 and No.17 ranked tennis players also featuring, a tonne of the tennis sets would be extremely close. Belgium could certainly spring a surprise or two.
Combined Ranking: 172
Star Woman: Carolina Marin (Star Woman)
For the first time in the countdown so far we have a real standout star. Carolina Marin is a trailblazer for Spain. The No.3 badminton player in the world, Marin is one of only three top-10-ranked badminton players to qualify for our competition. She would dish out a lot of heavy defeats.
Her supporting cast is not too shabby either. Maria Xiao and Garbine Muguruza are both the 6th-best players in their respective sports – table tennis and tennis. Muguruza also falls into the same bracket as Mertens from Belgium. The slender ranking gaps between the tennis players mean that she could beat pretty much anyone in the tournament – as her Grand Slam titles could tell you.
Marin’s domination in badminton is very handy when you consider an obvious weakness on the squash court. At No.82 in the world, Cristina Gomez is no slouch. However, in our tournament, there is only one player ranked below her.
With captain Marin at the helm, this Spain team is a real danger and one that could cause an upset or two over higher seeds.
Combined Ranking: 170
Star Woman: Camille Serme (Squash)
The French women couldn’t replicate the success of the men and come out top of the pile. They do land on our list though, narrowly ahead of Spain and Belgium and continuing the trend of European domination.
There is a definite similarity with the Spain team that came before it as well. Camille Serme is the best squash player in our tournament, with her ranking of No.3 outshining all her opponents.
The two opening sports are also fairly impressive. Laura Gasnier is the 7th best table tennis player competing, with Qi Xuefei as the 6th best badminton player. With Serme dominating the squash, France is in a solid position heading to tennis.
Unfortunately, there is a weakness here. Fiona Ferro is a very exciting young tennis player, as her No.46 ranking demonstrates. Unfortunately, within the confines of this tournament, she is the lowest-ranked tennis player by some distance, with the second-lowest ranked player coming in at No.17. France suffers because of the standard of tennis players competing.
5. Great Britain
Combined Ranking: 144
Star Woman: Sarah-Jane Perry (Squash)
Another team that featured in the top-3 of the men’s countdown is Great Britain. This time they fall a little, but still remain in the top-5.
Tin-Tin Ho is on table tennis duty for Team GB. Her ranking of No.93 is the second-lowest in our competition. Not the fast start that GB might have hoped for.
In fact, table tennis and tennis are both weaknesses for GB in this competition, with Johanna Konta’s No.17 ranking amazingly also the second-lowest. However, unlike Ho, Konta is ranked so close to the other players that you would expect plenty of extremely tight scores.
Kirsty Gilmour takes over in badminton and, as the 5th-highest ranked, is likely to win slightly more often than not. The real star of this team is in squash and it comes from a face very familiar to racketlon players: Sarah-Jane Perry.
Not only is she No.6 in the squash rankings and the second-best in our competition, but she actually has a history of playing racketlon herself. Perry has won the British National Championships in the past and also represented England in the World Team Championships. Could that history within the sport give her an advantage over her opponents? It seems very possible.
4. The Netherlands
Combined Ranking: 141
Star Woman: Britt Eerland (Table Tennis)
Now here’s a nation I bet you didn’t expect to see this high up the list. Coming in at No.4 – and the highest European team on the list – is the Netherlands.
Britt Eerland is the star of this Dutch show, with the table-tennis players ranking of No.27 good enough to make her the second-highest ranked player. That’s a lovely head start for the Dutch in almost every match.
Joining Eerland is Soraya de Visch Eijbergen, Milou van der Heijden and Kiki Bertens. As the second-lowest ranked badminton player in the competition, de Visch Eijbergen is perhaps the team’s weak link.
Van der Heijden and Bertens are both very middle-of-the-pack players when it comes to the rankings in their individual sports. That puts them firmly in the mix in racketlon matches against other nations, with Eerland getting the team off to a flying start.
Combined Ranking: 93
Star Women: Mima Ito (Table Tennis) / Naomi Osaka (Tennis)
Strap in because we’ve arrived at the tournament’s real heavy-hitters. On the Men’s list, only France was able to boast a team whose combined ranking was under 100. On the women’s list we have three teams, and each of them is blockbuster.
Japan boasts not one, but two of the highest-ranked players in their sport. Mimo Ito is the top table-tennis player at No.3 in the world, coming in 24 ranking places above her nearest rival, Britt Eerland. Imagine the leads Ito would give Japan in every single game! Naomi Osaka is also the highest-ranked tennis player at No.2. That’s a hell of a way to start and end a racketlon match.
Japan’s badminton isn’t too shabby either. With world No.4 Nozomi Okuhara, they boast the second-best badminton player in the competition. With the greatest table tennis player and second-best badminton player, Japan is consistently carrying a heavy lead into the squash.
They’ll need that lead because, unfortunately, Satomi Watanabe is the lowest-ranked squash player in our competition. The one frailty in an otherwise near-perfect squad. Aged 22, Watanabe still has plenty of years to climb those rankings and carry Japan to No.1 on this countdown. You just know this Japan team would be right in contention for the title.
Combined Ranking: 77
Star Woman: Michelle Li (Badminton)
It seems only fitting that an actual Racketlon Ambassador makes the list at some point. Michelle Li is flying the flag for racketlon in North America and also captaining Team Canada in our competition. At No.10 in the BWF rankings, she is the 3rd-strongest player of our 10 teams.
The rest of her team are all top-5 talents in their sports as well. Zhang Mo (table tennis) and Bianca Andreescu (tennis) are both the 4th-highest ranked while Hollie Naughton is the 5th-best squash player.
While this team perhaps lacks the out-and-out star power of the Japanese team at No.3, it is unquestionably the most consistently impressive team across all four sports so far. We always say the way to win at racketlon is to be solid in all four sports and this team is exactly that.
Combined Ranking: 57
Star Woman: Sofia Kenin (Tennis)
It’s a North American 1-2 as the USA takes the crown for the best women’s racket sports nation in the world. Quite rightly so as well.
USA’s team setup follows a similar pattern to Canada but is just a little bit stronger in three of the four sports. Lily Zhang kicks things off on the table tennis and is the 3rd-highest-ranked player in our tournament at No.30.
Her namesake, Beiwen Zhang, is up next for the badminton set. Zhang is the No.16 in the badminton world rankings and the 4th-highest on our list. The Zhang duo are getting the USA off to a clinical start.
Next up is Amanda Sobhy. Her massive improvement over the last couple of years has seen her move up to No.7 in the squash rankings, again making her the 3rd-best squash player in the tournament.
By this stage, you would have expected the USA to have a commanding lead against any of our other nations, apart from perhaps Canada and Japan. Well, who better to clean up the victory than 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. Currently No.4 in the WTA rankings, Kenin sees off the likes of Serena Williams to qualify for Team USA and bring the win home.
A clinical team from start to finish. Congratulations to the USA on being crowned the greatest of the women’s racket sports nations.
Big Names That Missed Out
If you were paying close attention then you will have noticed that not a single World No.1 from any individual sport made our countdown.
China’s Meng Chen currently tops the world at table-tennis. So why didn’t China make the countdown? Like the men’s team, it was the absence of a ranked squash player that cost the Chinese team. Otherwise, with the No.1 table tennis player and No.2 badminton player, China was looking like a ferocious team.
It was exactly the same fate for badminton World No.1 Tai Tzu Ying. Representing Chinese Taipei, she was let down by not a single ranked squash player from her nation. China and Chinese Taipei both unavailable to compete in our fantasy competition.
The squash world rankings are dominated by Egypt, with Nour El Sherbini at the top of the rankings. Egypt was agonisingly close to becoming the only African team to make either countdown but missed out by just two ranking spots, coming in at No.11.
Ashleigh Barty is top of the tennis charts but that couldn’t guide Australia into the top-10. An absence of anyone in the top 150 of the table tennis rankings cost Australia as it finished at No.15 in the list of nations.
Germany and India are two nations that you might expect to make the top-10 but both missed out. Germany had table tennis, badminton and tennis players all ranked inside the top-30 of their sport but in squash could only manage a high of No.170. That cost the racketlon powerhouse with Germany ending up at No.30 overall.
India also had badminton No.7 and squash No.11 but a tennis ranking of No.168 cost it dearly. In the end, India finished at No.16, just below Australia but still only 20 ranking points from making the top-10.
USA Brings the Depth
In the men’s countdown, it was France that brought a sensational amount of depth. This week it is the USA that boasts that achievement. In fact, the USA’s 2nd team is so impressive that it actually boasts a combined ranking of under 100. Yue Wu, Iris Wang and Olivia Clyne make up the first three sports, with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams captaining the team. Just to put it into perspective, the USA’s second-team would have come third on the original list. Incredible.
USA’s depth doesn’t stop there. We also built a second team for the other top 15 nations, just to see if anyone else could boast one as impressive as the USA. They could not. France was the next best second team. Their lineup of Stephanie Loueuillette, Marie Batomene, Coline Aumard and Caroline Garcia racking up a combined ranking of 228, which would have put it at 10th in the original lineup. France still has an element of depth like it had with the men.
However, we also decided to create the USA’s 3rd team and, with a combined ranking of 219, it produced a better racketlon team than any of the other second teams. Hats off to Amy Wang, Crystal Pan, Sabrina Sobhy and Jennifer Brady for demonstrating that the USA has the ultimate depth in female racket sports.
So congratulations to the USA’s women and France’s men on being officially crowned, by us at the FIR, the best racket sports nations in the world right now.
Sam Barker / FIR Media Officer
Image Credit / Peter Menzel