#rediscovered: The Final in Men’s Alternating Doubles at the 2011 German Ringtennis Ch’ships

Yesterday, I rediscovered on my hard drive two old videos that show the final in men’s alternating doubles at the 2011 German Ringtennis Championships. Christian Kämpfer and Sebastian Weber of RTG Weidenau—who won their semi-final against Timo & Rainer Hufnagel—played against Alexej Ermak and me (TSV Neubiberg), after winning our semi-final against Tobias Höfelmayr and Julian Sauck. It was the first time alternating doubles were an official competition at German championships and Alexej and me ultimately became the first to ever win that title.

In Ringtennis, two different kinds of doubles are played. The traditional way—or “free style” doubles—is played like in tennis, i.e., every player can catch and throw the ring at any time. Alternating doubles—also called “WTF1 style”—are played internationally, e.g., at world championships, and have been introduced in Germany in 2011. In alternating doubles, players have to catch and throw the ring—you already guessed it—alternately, like in table tennis.

By the way, the day after the alternating doubles final, Alexej and I also made it to the final in free style doubles. Unfortunately, we lost against Timo & Rainer Hufnagel at extra time, which was the second time in a row for me. In 2010, I lost against the same opponents, also at extra time. However, I played with ex–national coach Peter Meyer then, who had been my Ringtennis coach since 1998. Side note: It was actually the first time Peter made it to a final in the highest category at German championships.

P.S.: Thanks a lot to Roland Funk for filming the final!

1 I know, I know … But in fact, this means World Tenniquoits2 Federation, not What The Fuck 😉
2 Tenniquoits is a different word for Ringtennis.

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I’m back … and I’ve been playing some Ringtennis

DM2015 Bronze Medal

It’s been quite some time since my last post, but now that my PhD thesis is almost finished (like, really, 99% finished), I’m gonna make some more time for blogging again :). For a start, I’ll write about this year’s German Championships in Ringtennis, which I played three weeks ago in Recklinghausen.

Statistically, it was my worst performance in 6 six years with only a single medal—bronze in men’s singles. The last time I secured only one medal was at the German Championships in Siegen in 2009 (an event nowadays known as “the battle in the rain”). Yet, it was probably the singles competition with the best line-up I’ve ever participated in. In the group stage, Jürgen Öttel (former national player; 3rd place in mixed doubles at last year’s World Championships) and Andre Katzberg (former national player and German champion) were eliminated! After an expected loss in the semifinal against Alexej Ermak (I also lost the semifinal at this year’s tournament in Siegen and the final in Konstanz against him), I secured a victory against the defending German champion Timo Hufnagel in the match for third place. In fact, Timo had won the last 4 championships in men’s singles (2011—2014). Therfore, I consider the bronze medal to be way more valuable than, e.g., my 2nd place in men’s singles in 2012. Considering all players’ performances over the past year, that 3rd place was really the absolute optimum for me. Ultimately, the current World Champion Fabian Ziegler became the first to also win the German Championships and hold both titles at the same time. As for the mixed doubles and doubles competitions … let’s just not talk about those 😅

Up to now, 2015 was not that bad for me when it comes to Ringtennis, despite my rather poor performance at the German Championships. I made it to the singles final at the Konstanz tournament (Alexej was simply better than me this year—never had a real chance against him) and as I explained above, the bronze medal was pretty satisfying. Also, I won the men’s doubles competitions at the tournaments in Siegen and Konstanz (with Hendrik Freitag and Jürgen Öttel). In Konstanz, we even won the final against the old and new German Champions Fabian Ziegler and Christian Herzog. Finally, I’m still no. 3 in Germany with over 1,000 ranking points overall.

Rank before +/- Name Club Points
1 (2) +1 Alexej Ermak SG Suderwich 1414
2 (5) +3 Fabian Ziegler ESG Karlsruhe 1094
3 (3) 0 Maximilian Speicher TSV Neubiberg 1061
4 (4) 0 Jürgen Öttel TSV Neubiberg 765
5 (1) -4 Timo Hufnagel TV Kieselbronn 593
6 (8) +2 Christian Herzog ESG Karlsruhe 424
7 (7) 0 Michael Kaiser TV Heddesdorf 418
8 (12) +4 Andre Katzberg RTG Weidenau 394
9 (15) +6 Sebastian Posiadly TuS Rodenbach 326
10 (10) 0 Thomas Tregel SKG Roßdorf 185
11 (6) -5 Julian Sauck SG Suderwich 158
12 (13) +1 Tobias Höfelmayr SKG Roßdorf 120
13 (14) +1 Tim Elsner TG Groß-Karben 111
14 (18) +4 Stefan Edelmann PSG Mannheim 100
15 (16) -1 Hendrik Freitag TG Groß-Karben 79
16 (9) -7 Volker Herrmann TuS Rodenbach 79
17 (17) 0 Sebastian Weber RTG Weidenau 67
18 (34) +16 Samir Issa RTG Weidenau 66
19 (31) +10 Pascal Wagener VfL Wehbach 47
20 (20) 0 Thorben Goth SG Suderwich 45

But still, 2015 is far behind last year, which was probably the best year in Ringtennis I’ve ever had, with a World Team Championship, a 3rd place in the World Singles Championships, a victory in men’s singles at the Siegen tournament (against Alexej), a South German Championship in men’s singles and a German Championship in men’s doubles (with Alexej). Let’s hope 2016 will be more like 2014 than 2015!

2014 in Review: World and German Champion!

Now that 2014 is almost over and there are only some league matches left, let’s have a look at my past year in Ringtennis. All in all, it was a way better year than 2013. First, my fellow teammates of TSV Neubiberg-Ottobrunn and I came in second place in the German premier league (Bundesliga), only losing to the defending champions of SG Suderwich. This was my best result in the national league since 2011, when I myself played for Suderwich and we beat PSG Mannheim in the final.

World Champion!

In March, I participated in the 3rd World Championships as one of the team captains of the German national team. That awesome event was held in Vereeniging, South Africa. After an 11th place in 2006 and a 4th place in 2010, I finally managed to win a medal in the men’s singles competition, beating German champion Timo Hufnagel in the match for 3rd place. Yet, the highlight was of course our victory in the team competition, securing a 10–10 against South Africa after losing the first four games of the match. I guess I’ve posted enough about that previously 😉

After the World Cup, I played the open Ringtennis tournament in Siegen (Krönchenturnier), where I came in first place in men’s singles, beating my teammate and good friend Alexej Ermak in the final. Together, we also won the men’s doubles competition. These victories mean a lot to me, as the Siegen tournament was the first Ringtennis tournament I ever participated in (back in 1999) and until this year, I could never manage to win it.

German Champion!

German ranking at the end of 2014Finally, Alexej and I also won the German Championships in men’s doubles (free style) in September in Kieselbronn. This was the only discipline I had never won before at German championships, so my record is now more or less complete. Actually, 2014 was the first year in which I became both, a world and German champion. At the end of this year I will also be the number 1 in the German singles ranking for the first time in … well, I honestly don’t know how many years, but it has been some time. This also means that I’m somehow at the same time the Philipp Lahm and the Novak Đoković of Ringtennis1 😉

To bring this article to a conclusion, an interesting figure at the end: This year, I’ve travelled at least 97 hours (lower bound estimate) to play Ringtennis at the national league finals, one training camp, two open tournaments, two national championships and one World Championship. Let’s see what will happen next year …

1Disclaimer: Please don’t take seriously!

The 2014 German Championships in Ringtennis

This one is a bit delayed, as for the past two weeks, I was rather busy preparing two research papers for the 2015 International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI). Let’s hope it was worth the effort and at least one of my submissions will get accepted 🙂

Mixed Doubles

Now I have finally found the time to talk a bit about this year’s German Championships (September 12–14) in Ringtennis, for which I qualified in all four disciplines (mixed doubles, singles, alternating doubles—played like in table tennis, and free-style doubles—played like in tennis). The weekend started with the mixed doubles competition, in which my partner Maria Voss and I made it to the semi-finals following a first place in the group stage. It has to be noted that Maria normally still plays in the U-18 class and doesn’t have that much experience in the seniors’ class. Thus, making it to the semi-finals is already a decent result. Unfortunately, we lost against Stefanie & Michael Kaiser and could not manage to proceed to the final. In the match for third place, we then lost against Tatjana Schutte & Sebastian Weber, against which we had won in the group stage. So we came in fourth place, which was a bit unfortunate in the end.

Alternating Doubles

2014 German Ch'ships - Alexej & meNext came the alternating doubles, which I played together with my long-time partner and teammate from the national team Alexej Ermak. Like in the mixed doubles, we came in first place in the group stage, thus directly advancing to the semi-finals, where we didn’t have any problems beating Sebastian Weber & Michael Kaiser. In the final, we faced the defending champions Christian Herzog1 & Fabian Ziegler2. After an incredibly tight match, the score was drawn, so we had to proceed into extra time (2×4 min), in which Alexej and I managed to work out a six-point lead. Yet, after a very attacking finish by our opponents, the score was drawn again, so there was a second extra time (2×2 min). In that one, however, we quickly went behind by two points and could not manage to recover from that deficit—in the end losing the match 49–51 a.e.t. This was in fact the sixth final in a row I lost at German championships!

Singles

Immediately after that great disappointment, the singles competition started, which did not go well for me at all. First, I didn’t have my best day. Second, it was raining—and I’m really really bad at playing in the rain. This is due to my very special, spin-heavy technique of throwing the ring, which works incredibly well as long as there are dry conditions, but is a complete fail as soon as the ring becomes wet. So, not having my best day + wet ring weren’t really the best preconditions for me. Although I was able to proceed through the group stage and quarter-final, my journey ended in the semi-final, where I had literally no chance against Fabian Ziegler. After that, even less worked for me and I also lost the match for third place against Julian Sauck (whom I had beaten in the group stage). At the same time, Fabian and Timo Hufnagel engaged in a very thrilling final that Timo eventually won after extra time. Congrats to the deserving new champion! Seems like I should get some training under wet conditions. All in all, that whole second day of the championships was a day to forget!

Free-Style Doubles

2014 German Ch'ships - Joy after winning the free-styly doublesFinally, on the third day, the competition in free-style doubles took place. Again, I played together with Alexej. We lost the first match of the group stage against the defending champions Christian Herzog & Fabian Ziegler, but still managed to make it to the quarter-finals after securing the second place in our group. After winning against Thomas Tregel & Julian Sauck, in the semi-final we faced Rainer & Timo Hufnagel—who have been 7-time German champions in free-style doubles and to whom I lost the 2010 and 2011 finals after extra time. In a very tight match that Alexej and I controlled all of the time, we were able to secure a one-point advantage in the end. Although this might sound close, it was a deserving win, as we were ahead of our opponents during the whole course of the match. So, we proceeded to the final (for the third time in four years), where we faced Thomas Bleile and Jürgen Öttel (head and assistant coaches of the national team), who rather surprisingly won against Christian & Fabian. In a very tense match that was characterized by a very defensive and temporizing style of play, Alexej and I were in front 3–2 at half time. Scores in free-style doubles are very much lower compared to alternating doubles, as each player has only half a court to cover. Thus, it is very much harder to score active points and unforced errors are multiply painful, which enforces a rather defensive course of the game. Although this might sound more boring, it makes the discipline even more exhausting and mentally demanding, because a single error can be match-winning for the opponent. In the second half, which was even more tense than the first one, Thomas & Jürgen managed to equalize (6–6) two minutes before the end. However, this time good fortune was with Alexej and me and after a direct point and two unforced errors by our opponents, we won with a score of 9–7.

That victory was such a relieving feeling, as it ended my series of losing six finals at German championships in a row. Also, it made Alexej and me forget the whole shitty rest of that weekend; and it had been the only remaining discipline I had never won at German championships (2007: mixed doubles, 2008: singles, 2011: alternating doubles).

German Ranking

Despite my poor performance in the singles competition, I am still at the top of the German ranking. However, the current distribution of points reflects the extremely tight competition among the German men.

Rank before +/- Name Club Points
1 (1) 0 Maximilian Speicher VfL Wehbach 1137
2 (3) +1 Alexej Ermak TSV Neubiberg 1118
3 (2) -1 Timo Hufnagel TV Pforzheim 1101
4 (4) 0 Julian Sauck SG Suderwich 838
5 (5) 0 Fabian Ziegler ESG Karlsruhe 808
6 (6) 0 Michael Kaiser RTG Weidenau 453
7 (7) 0 Jürgen Öttel TSV Mimmenhausen 256
8 (12) +4 Thomas Tregel SKG Roßdorf 229
9 (15) +6 Volker Herrmann TuS Rodenbach 229
10 (10) 0 Tobias Höfelmayr SKG Roßdorf 200
11 (11) 0 Rainer Hufnagel TV Pforzheim 183
12 (14) +2 Andre Katzberg RTG Weidenau 95
13 (16) +3 Marcel Rockenfeller TuS Rodenbach 78
14 (18) +4 Tim Flender RTG Weidenau 77
15 (9) -6 Christian Kämpfer RTG Weidenau 58
16 (20) +4 Tobias Plößer SG Suderwich 37
17 (21) +4 Jens Amelang VfB Hannover 22
18 (23) +5 Justin Kokott HFK Hamburg 21
19 (24) +5 Ivan Koltun Belarus 21
20 (25) +5 Igor Yaruta Berlarus 21

 

1 Most successful German player of all time.
2 Current world champion in men’s singles.

Test Match vs. Belarus and Bodensee Tournament

2014 Bodensee tournamentThe past weekend, I participated in the Bodensee tournament, which was held right next to Lake Constance in the south of Germany. The tournament wasn’t overly successful for me, with a third place in mixed doubles being my best result that I secured together with Lydia Schidelko. In the quarter-final of the men’s singles competition, I had to play my teammate Alexej Ermak, to whom I lost by two points. Alexej went on to win the tournament, thus taking successful revenge for his defeat in the previous tournament in Siegen. Congrats, mate! 🙂

Incorporated into the tournament was an international test match against Belarus—the current number 4 in the World—, who unfortunately couldn’t play at full strength. Particularly, their men’s number 1 Andrej Konan wasn’t able to participate. Like at the World Cup four months ago, Belarus had no real chance of winning, so the match ended with a score of 22–0 for Germany. However, the Belorussian players are constantly improving. Most notably, Igor Yaruta was my doubles partner in the tournament. We came in third place in the group stage, thus not advancing to the knockout round, but it was a very close fight. We lost to Jürgen Öttel and Thomas Bleile—who later made it to the final—by only three points, and to Timo and Rainer Hufnagel—German champions of 2012—by only two points!

All in all, I think my performance wasn’t that bad. It’s always possible to lose against Alexej, especially when it’s such a tight game. If I would’ve been able to get through that quarter-final, I could’ve won the tournament as well. By the way, this was the first time since 2006 that I didn’t participate in the singles final of the Bodensee tournament. Now it’s time to prepare for the German championships, which are to be held in Kieselbronn in six weeks, and where I’ll be trying hard to win a championship title again after three years.

Back at the Top

Timo Hufnagel (back) vs. myself
Timo Hufnagel (back) vs. myself

Following my victories at the Siegen Tournament and the South German Championships, I’m back at the top of the German ranking after almost two years. All five men that played for Germany at the World Team Championships (which are also the top 5 of the ranking) participated in the men’s singles competition at the South German Championships, which were held in Karlsruhe (the “birthplace of German Ringtennis”). I beat the reigning world champion Fabian Ziegler in the group stage before winning against 6-time German champion Timo Hufnagel (43–41) in a very close semifinal. In the final, I beat Fabian again with a score of 41–28. The top four players of the competition (myself, Fabian, my doubles partner Alexej Ermak, and Timo) qualify for the German Championships.

The next tournament will be held at Lake Constance the coming weekend. The event will also include an international test match against the national Ringtennis team of Belarus.

Rank before +/- Name Club Points
1 (2) +1 Maximilian Speicher VfL 1901 e.V. Wehbach 1629
2 (1) -1 Timo Hufnagel TV Pforzheim 1379
3 (3) 0 Fabian Ziegler ESG Karlsruhe 913
4 (5) +1 Alexej Ermak TSV Neubiberg 910
5 (4) -1 Julian Sauck SG Suderwich 754
6 (6) 0 Sascha Schneider TV Heddesdorf 385
7 (8) +1 Michael Kaiser RTG Weidenau 317
8 (7) -1 Christian Kämpfer RTG Weidenau 266
9 (16) +7 Thomas Tregel SKG Roßdorf 147
10 (9) -1 Fabio Spagnino TuS Rodenbach 147
11 (10) -1 Andre Katzberg RTG Weidenau 146
12 (11) -1 Tobias Höfelmayr SKG Roßdorf 144
13 (12) -1 Jürgen Öttel TSV Mimmenhausen 143
14 (13) -1 Christian Herzog ESG Karlsruhe 143
15 (14) -1 Walter Amon SKG Roßdorf 143
16 (18) +2 Marcel Rockenfeller TuS Rodenbach 91
17 (25) +8 Volker Herrmann TuS Rodenbach 71
18 (17) -1 Sebastian Weber RTG Weidenau 61
19 (19) +1 Tim Flender RTG Weidenau 57
20 (20) 0 Udo Heger DJK St. Ingbert 44

The Most Important Game of my Life

Do you remember that post in which I talk about how nervous I was when I had to play the last men’s double at the 2010 world team championship? Forget about that story! This one is far better.

Vereeniging, South Africa, 5th of April 2014. We had lost the first four games of the team competition final—two men’s and two women’s singles—against South Africa. All four games were pretty close and partly unlucky for us. I had played against Richter van Tonder, the vice world champion in singles, and lost although I was in front at half-time. Nevertheless, we were 0–8 behind and everyone was really shocked at first because we hadn’t expected a start like this one. The head coach spoke to us before the match continued and all of the players were rather quiet. To be honest, only a very few made an optimistic impression. 0–8 behind, this meant there were 6 games left and we had to win 5 of them. Sounds pretty tough? Believe me, it was pretty tough!

Next came the mixed doubles, both of which we won quite safely. 4–8. After that the first round of doubles: Alexej Ermak/Julian Sauck vs. Richter van Tonder/Craig Ogilvy and Vera Vollhase/Michaela Güthling vs. Lenize Potgieter/Monique Reyneke, the world champions in women’s doubles. If there are games that deserve the predicate “heart-pounding”, it’s these two! Both of our doubles were behind in the second half and then won by 1(!) point. 8–8, and suddenly everyone was enthusiastic again. Then, the last round of doubles. Naemi Singrün and Alexandra Boelsen had to play against Melicia Sauer and Bronwin Ogilvy while Fabian Ziegler and I played Justin Kokott and Theunis de Bruin, the world champions in men’s doubles. Since the South Africans lost two points more against India than us, one win in this last round was enough to become the new world champion.

What the South Africans didn’t know: Fabian and I had never played together before, except for our appearance against India one day earlier. So we entered the court to play against the current world champions and we knew: if we win, we make Germany the new world team champions! This was a completely different feeling compared to 2010, when we had to win both games in the last round. But that doesn’t make you less nervous! The game started and went good for us but was very close all the time. The lead alternated frequently and was never by more than one or two points. It was only towards the end of the second half that we managed to go in front with more than two points for the first time. Finally, we indeed beat the world champions by four points—also because we didn’t produce a single unforced error in the second half—and after the whistle blew, there was no holding back.

I would really like to describe what I felt at that point, but I’m afraid it’s not possible. The very moment that you realize you’ve decided a world championship is absolutely incredible and only very few know how it feels. You get such an intense rush of adrenaline … I guess most people can’t even imagine. In the video above (which is the complete second half of the deciding doubles game) that exact moment is at 10:13 min. Watch and try to understand!

Playing Ringtennis in a South African Township

If I had to choose the two most amazing moments of our trip to the world cup in South Africa, the first one would be for sure when we played ringtennis at a primary school in the township of Wattville. We went there together with Abrie Pienaar and Johan Ferreira, who are involved in projects to promote our wonderful sport in central Gauteng. First, we played with the schoolkids, just a bit of throwing and catching the ring, and after that gave some demonstration matches. Half of the kids were told to cheer for the one side and the rest to cheer for the other—and believe me, they were incredibly loud. I guess I had not played in front of such an amazing crowd since the 2006 World Cup in Chennai (India). The video above shows a short snippet of my match against Fabian Ziegler. Funny enough, I kind of “won” that match, but just half a week after that, Fabian beat me in the semifinal and later became the new world champion in men’s singles.

Interestingly, when you return from a trip having experienced something like this, all your everyday (first world) problems suddenly seem very ridiculous. Compared to Germany, those kids live in squalor. Wattville lies in an area with an unemployment rate of 85% and some kids did not even wear a pair of matching shoes. But still, they were incredibly joyful and so grateful that we came to play ringtennis with them. In fact, when the demonstration matches were over and I gave six rings to the school principal as a present, we had problems getting back to our cars because the kids did not want us to leave. Also, I’ve never seen so many people being so happy just because I gave them a high five. Just after we left, everyone was totally—and I mean absolutely totally—overwhelmed. I just notice that it’s really, really difficult to describe what we experienced. But two of our coaches have summarized the day in a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfUToERc-b8) that should make it easier to understand what I’m talking about. And if you still feel you don’t know what I mean, I strongly suggest to enter a plane and play ringtennis with some kids in a South African township 😉

31 days later … #Ringtennis #worldCup

It’s been one month since the 2014 Ringtennis World Cup in South Africa now and I really needed those four weeks to digest all the experiences—the ones with the national team but also rather personal ones. However, before writing about the world cup in one or two separate posts, I’m gonna talk about the open tournament I played in Siegen last weekend.

First of all, it was really, really good to see most of my teammates from the national team again! After the world cup ended and we returned to Germany, everything went very quick. You say goodbye to everyone and then suddenly you’re not together with the people you’ve spent two incredible and intensive weeks with anymore. That’s actually pretty tough! So it was really cool to meet for a less serious competition and a nice party to look back on and reappraise the time we’ve spent in South Africa. But let’s get on to the tournament …

Urkunden Krönchenturnier 2014I played the mixed doubles together with world singles champion Vera Vollhase. Although we only came in 4th place and our performance was not that glorious, we played a very interesting semifinal against Tatjana Schutte and Sebastian Weber. In fact, I had never before played a match with a half-time standing of 0–0! In words: zero to zero! At half-time! The match itself was not too defensive (at least from our side), but obviously, catching everything and making no mistakes is already half the battle. This was of course incedibly uninteresting for the audience. Yet, although it might not look like that, a match of this kind is very, very exhausting because if you have just a momentary lapse of concentration, you lose. In the end, we lost 3–5 and all of our opponents’ points were unforced errors, which unfortunately proved their tactic right.

In the men’s singles competition, I won all of my group stage matches by far—including the one against national team member Michael Kaiser (who came in 3rd place in the end). This meant that in the semifinal I had to play Julian Sauck, another fellow teammate who came in 3rd place at the German singles championships last year. I won this match by almost 20 points to meet 2010 German singles champion Alexej Ermak in the final. It was a close and tough match, but finally I managed to secure a 29–22 victory. This was actually the first time I won him since 2011 and I consider my performance in the tournament to be my best since 2009. Alexej and me then went on to win the men’s doubles competition in a very unchallenged manner.

To conclude, returning from the Siegen tournament having won two competitions was really, really cool because it was the very first Ringtennis tournament I played (back in 1999) but until now, I could never manage to win it 🙂