(ATR) Teqball players have kept their competitive skills sharp during the pandemic thanks to the inaugural National Challenger Series.
Now the world’s best players are again facing off in international Challenger Cups. These events are resuming outside the United States, where they continued during the pandemic.
Adam Blazsovics of Hungary, who is ranked No. 2 in the world, won the Budaörs Challenger Cup on April 24 in his home country. Blazsovics prevailed against a highly competitive field featuring the top five singles players in the world, capturing his first singles Challenger Cup title of the year.
"I was very excited about this tournament as I knew the best players were competing, including players traveling from abroad," said Blazsovics, the reigning world champion, "so I knew this would be a high-level tournament. When I was not playing, I spent my time watching other players to see how their styles had progressed since I last saw them play over a year ago."
The competition also included some of the rising stars in one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. In addition, para teqball star Attila Laszlo, an inspiration to the growing para teqball community, took part against the able-bodied players.
On the same weekend, two National Challenger Series events were held in Africa. Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone hosted Round 4 of their series. Teqball’s growth in Africa has skyrocketed in recent months with the help of the FITEQ Teqball Roadshow program led by FITEQ General Secretary Marius Vizer Jr.
With many sports events cancelled due to the pandemic, FITEQ launched the National Challenger Series, an innovative new competition format, on July 31, 2020, to support national federations, clubs and players with the return of competitive events. It enabled athletes to compete for world ranking points and prize money while serving as a clear qualification pathway for the 2021 World Championships. FITEQ has provided financial and educational support to national federations and registered clubs in countries seeking to organize events, and has also helped with event delivery.
"National federations and clubs have harnessed the teqball spirit during the pandemic by finding innovative ways to keep people playing the sport we all love," Vizer said upon announcing the series.
Since then, the National Challenger Series has allowed athletes to compete regularly throughout a very difficult 12 months and earn points toward qualification for the world championships.
Events included singles, doubles and mixed doubles and could be played in indoor, outdoor or beach venues. Acrobatic moves, such as bicycle kicks, are forbidden indoors, but allowed during beach events.
The series contains four rounds (two phases) for each event type with the requirement of organizing them in two different cities until August 2021.
Hungary, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Djibouti, Senegal and Portugal have hosted Challenger Series, with countries such as Brazil, India, Eswatini and Lebanon set to stage events in the coming weeks.
A Challenger Cup event in Rácalmás, Hungary, in mid-April marked the return of Challenger Cups to Europe.
Csaba Banyik defeated Blazsovics, his long-standing doubles partner and countryman, in that event in three sets on April 11.
They met again in the semifinals in Budaörs, with Blazsovics looking to avenge that loss. After Blazsovics won the first set 12-7, Banyik countered with a 12-6 second-set victory. Blazsovics then won the deciding set 12-9.
In the other half of the draw, top-ranked Adrian Duszak of Poland did not drop a set until the quarterfinals, where he defeated Adam Bako, a rising star from Hungary. Duszak faced Martin Csereklye of Hungary in the semifinal, where they split the first two sets, then Csereklye dominated the third set 12-1 to advance to the final.
Csereklye carried that momentum into the final against Blazsovics, winning 12-9, but the three-time world champion took the next two sets 12-6 and 12-8 to earn the gold. Duszak defeated Banyik 2-1 (12-11, 5-12, 13-11) to secure the bronze.
Blazsovics said that by the time he played Banyik, "we were both completely exhausted and I was just happy to get the win."
Csereklye also said he was both physically and mentally tired going into the final, but added, "I didn’t make it easy for him and tested him all the way."
Laszlo said he was proud to represent the para teqball community by competing alongside the best players in the world.
"The recent launch of para teqball has inspired me, and hopefully a whole new generation of teqers, and made us realize that we should never set ourselves limits," Laszlo said. "I am grateful for the support FITEQ is providing to para teqball players and the platform they are giving us."
He added that he hoped that by showcasing his skill and tenacity he would "encourage more people to reach for their dreams."
Content presented by the International Teqball Federation