It is time! The Karakal sponsored British Racketball National Championships in association with Digital Office is back, and we have a bumper draw of players across all the categories! Let's get right down to it to see who could potentially do the damage across the events...
In the Men's and Ladies Open events both reigning Champions are returning once more. Mike Harris in the Men's and Amber Marshall in the Ladies. Harris will have Scotland's Matt Bedwell as the 2nd seed in his draw, the pair met already this season in the Scottish Open Final with Harris taking a tight 2/0 win. If both make it through this could be a tough battle. In the Ladies Marshall faces opposition from the likes of Elspeth Edwards and Rebecca Symmonds, both regulars in the UK Racketball Series and will be looking to try and cause an upset!
A strong O35s draw will have a new Champion at the end of the event, as current holder Chris Hall is out injured. Yorkshire's Mike Tolman is top seed, with southern opposition from IOW's Callum Arnott in the bottom of the draw. Arnott potentially facing a tricky semi final vs Series regular and crowd favourite Paul Knocker Norton! Norton will also be looking for an O40s title, as he is 2nd seed there to Bournemouth's Alexis Smith. The pair recently played in Leamington with Smith coming out on top but let's see what happens on the day! Both won't have an easy way through though with the likes of Dan Soar, Colin Griggs and Paul Holdway all capable of causing upsets in early rounds!
The Ladies Over 40s has Elspeth Edwards as its top seed and she will have to battle her way past local players Sarah Roberton and Myra Price if she is to have a chance to clinch a first National title. A very punchy Men's Over 45s line up has at least 4 players all very capable of coming through as winners. Matt Lowery and Adam Giles sit as top two seeds, but with John Dewis, Barry Talbot and others all waiting in the wings, there could be some serious showdowns in the latter stages of this one.
The above however pales in comparison to the Men's O50s draw, which on paper is one of the strongest entry lists we have ever had for a Nationals age group. Last year's finalists Chris Morris (reigning Champion) and Chris Wase (runner up) are only 3/4 seeds in the category they so regularly dominate, as last year's O45s Champion Mike Gregory comes in as top seed, and then ex Squash world number 3 and previous Racketball Nationals Open Finalist Simon Parke as number two! Chuck top Irish player Nick Staunton, and current O50s Nationally ranked No 1 player Phil Hall in as two of the 5/8 seeds, this is really going to be a massive scrap to the title! Keep an eye out for these games!
In the Over 55's previous National Champion Jim Lord returns from injuiry as 1 seed in his first event back for a number of years. Last year's Champion Jonathan Edwards slots in at 2, with Charlie Journeaux and Paul Dodds as two very tough 3/4 seeds. Patrick Osbourn leads the Over 60's draw, looking to extend his period of dominance over the age group, but with the likes of John Cordeaux, Martin Greenslade and Neil Baldwin also competing this could be the hardest draw he has had to face down yet.
Due to some smaller draws in the other Ladies Masters categories we have combined them into a one group of matches, with the winners of their respective age groups then coming away with titles. Nationals multiple title winner Lesley Sturgess is one of the favourites to come away with the O55s and O60s wins, but there will be some great matches across the days, and it all depends on who can come up with the goods on the spot! In the Men's O65s, Edgbaston stalwart Collis Sheik sits on the top of the draw, but Devon's Graham Holmes, himself a regular feature in this and other Series events will be gunning for him, if both can make it through.
It has been really great to see increased uptake in the older Masters categories, no more exemplified than by the O70s and O75s where we have had 13 and 11 entries respectively. In the O70s Graham Greensall looks to continue his form from winning several Series event titles in 2023 already, but he faces a challenge in Scotland's Colin Cruickshank as the 2nd seed, whom he lost to in the Scottish Open earlier on this year. Howard Thompson and Peter Hamlett will renew their O75s rivalry in this year's event having done battle in the final last year. However with Adrian Groves and Hans Billson as their 3/4 seeds they have a tough taskl ahead of them.
Finally we have two box draws for the Junior event and the Over 80s, where all those competing are doing so for the first time in these categories! A chance to have two completely new Champions for 2023 which is really great to see.
Patrick Osborn has done some research and created the below graphic to highlight where the British Nationals players have all come from (according to their Sporty HQ player info.) It is really interesting to see where the big pockets of Racketballers hail from! Would love to see those purple patches really dotted all over the map over the coming seasons...
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