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!

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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 🙂

2014 Ringtennis World Cup: Staying up-to-date

Dear friends,

the German national team is leaving for South Africa tomorrow. Thus, I wanna provide you with a final compilation of websites that you can refer to for updates and results during the two weeks that we’re going to stay there:

Moreover, I’ll try to post regular updates on Facebook. So please check these channels regularly and cheer for us a bit. We need your support 🙂 !

So long!

Nomination of the German national ringtennis team for the 2014 world cup.
Nomination of the German national team for the 2014 Ringtennis World Cup.

13 Days to Go

OK, so there are only 13 days left until the German national team and I leave for South Africa . Training is going well so far. I’ve been practicing daily for two weeks now and already feel quite well prepared. Actually, I’ve been watching videos of the last world cup all day because I really can’t wait anymore!

The past weekend, we played the finals of the German ringtennis Bundesliga (i.e., the first league). My teammate Alexej Ermak and I played for the club of TSV Neubiberg-Ottobrunn, who participated in the Bundesliga for the first time this season. Thus, we’ve been kind of underdogs from the start. Yet, we managed to beat last year’s finalist Lichtbund Karlsruhe—who lost the 2012–13 championship only after a round of deciding games—and finally secured an overall 2nd place. Regarding the greenness of our team, this is quite an achievement—especially for our ladies! Congrats and thanks to all my fellow teammates: Annika Lemke, Stefanie Beck, Sophia Speicher, Gunther Kaiser and Alexej Ermak. Great job!

Logo of the 2014 Ringtennis World CupConcerning the upcoming world cup, it’s now official that players from seven nations will be participating: Bangladesh, Belarus, Germany, India, Kenya, Nepal and South Africa. It’s going to be great! We’ll be meeting lots of old and make lots of new good friends (and maybe bring some medals home 😉 ). The organizers are also investigating the possibility to provide live streams of important games. Please check wtc2014sa.com regularly to stay updated. There are also official Twitter (@wtc2014sa) and YouTube channels available.

2014 Ringtennis World Cup: The Countdown has Started

Only 30 days left till the German team leaves for South Africa! This stuff is slowly starting to get really serious! Thus, I am now starting my final training phase, which means:

  • no more alcohol from Monday on
  • daily sprint and interval training to preserve agility and quickness on the court
  • daily motivation by watching the above video

Moreover, the official website of the 2014 World Cup is now online and can be found at: http://wtc2014sa.com/

The 2010 Ringtennis World Cup & a Rush of Adrenaline

OK, so I just tried WordPress’s inspirator mode for the first time and it tells me the following:

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

These are actually pretty good questions. Let me see … I think the only time in my life I’ve been that nervous was at the 2010 World Cup in ringtennis, which was held in Koblenz (Germany). It was the last match of the world team championship. Germany vs. South Africa. The winner would become the new world champion. We, the German national team, were the defending champions and although we were playing at home, South Africa was leading 10–6 before the last round of doubles—one women’s and one men’s double. We all knew that we had to win these last two games to reach a draw (10–10) and proceed to an additional round of deciding games.

I was playing with Dominic Schubardt, who had won the singles championships, and although we had become the unofficial world champions in men’s doubles three days before, we both knew that we were not able to play at 100% that day. Our opponents were quite dangerous: Hanno Pienaar, who had already beaten Dominic in the very same match, and his very experienced partner Bertus le Roux. The fear of failure and maybe becoming the one to be blamed for losing the world cup made me extremely nervous. I was so horribly on adrenaline right before the game some friends even said they didn’t recognize me.

However, once the game started—the crowd cheering for us—and we were in the lead after scoring some important points, our nervouseness settled. We were finally able to win the game 45–35. It wasn’t nice-to-watch and a stiff piece of work, but we made it. Unfortunately, Lenize (the women’s champion in singles) and Heleen Potgieter of South Africa won the other double to make their team the new world team champion. In retrospect, South Africa deserved the title, because despite not having the better individual players, they were the better team.

Team Captain again

I just came back from the last training camp of the German national ringtennis team before the 2014 World Cup in South Africa, which has been held in Mannheim. We’ve had fun, we’ve worked hard, we’ve played a lot of ringtennis and I’m sure we’re well prepared for the big event in March.

One of my personal highlights of the weekend was the fact that for the second time after 2010 I’ve been chosen as the team captain by my fellow male teammates. This time, I’ll do the job along with Timo Hufnagel as the co-captain. Moreover, the women’s team elected Michaela Güthling as their captain. Congratulations! 🙂

Special thanks go to our coaches: Thomas Bleile, Jürgen Öttel and Christian Herzog. They’ve worked at least as hard as their players and have done a tremendous job so far. In my opinion you’ve formed a fantastic team and we’ll do everything in our power to reward you for your efforts. Thanks also go to our team manager Silke von Aschwege, who spares no efforts as well.

There’s only one event left before the World Cup: the final of the German national league, which will be held in Diedenbergen on 8th of March.

South Africa, prepare for a highly motivated and talented German team! Only 43 days to go!