Men's rackets world singles championship second leg match

New world champion at world’s fastest ball game crowned at Queen’s Club in Hammersmith

A new world champion of one of the world’s fastest ball games was crowned at Hammersmith’s Queen’s Club last month. 

Ben Cawston, 23, beat defending champion Tom Billings, five-games-to-love in a two-leg epic to become the youngest rackets world champion in a century

The second leg was hosted at the cinch Championships venue, just weeks before players like Berrettini, Alcaraz and Tiafoe will battle it out at the annual pre-Wimbledon tournament.

Rackets, a legacy of London’s 18th-century debtors’ prisons, involves players hitting a small hard ball around the walls of an indoor stone court at speeds of up to 185mph. 

The Oxford Brookes University student said: “It’s such an exhilarating sport and the thought of being the best in the world at one of the hardest and fastest ball games in the world is so exciting. 

“I’ve been to every world championship since I was 11 and I remember watching those guys and being so inspired. 

“I just want to be able to do the same thing and put on a show for upcoming generations.

“Looking back I could never have imagined being world champion. It’s an incredible feeling.”

A DREAM COME TRUE: Ben Cawston is crowned youngest rackets world champion in a century. Photo credit: The T&RA

Cawston first got on a rackets court when he was five years old with his father, a professional coach at Winchester College.

With rackets being an exclusive and expensive sport largely played at UK public schools, and Cawston having attended academy Westgate School and Peter Symonds sixth-form college, his father was pivotal in his rackets career. 

Another influential figure was Tom Billings. 

Cawston said: “Tom was a pretty influential character in my development – he’s been so supportive of my rackets career through the years and playing with him is the reason I got good. 

“I felt lucky to be on the court with him. It was an emotional thing – this guy was a role model for me when I started out. 

“Each time you get on court with him it’s intimidating because you walk out the door and see his name on every single honours board.”

Tom Billings has been the most dominant force in rackets for the last five years, holding both the World Doubles and Singles Championships as he prepared for his sixth world title challenge in seven years.

But a month before he was due to defend his title, Billings sustained a grade 3 tear in his hamstring, postponing the match and making the gruelling and all-encompassing training regime for the world championship that much harder.

In January the opponents ended up meeting in the final of the British Open, where Billings’ injury gave Cawston an opportunity to win a convincing four games to love.

Cawston said: “That was the first time I believed I had a genuine shot at winning this title. It was definitely a turning point in my entire belief system.”

After going on to also win the US Open, Cawston got trapped by visa problems in the US, and spent the lead-up to the first leg above the court at the Racquet Club of Chicago

He had been playing on the court five times a week when the long-awaited match eventually kicked off last month at the exclusive members club.  

A representative from the sport’s UK governing body, the T&RA, described the match as “a great spectacle.”

Rory Sutton, 36, said: “The 4-0 scoreline was not a fair reflection on the gap between the two players. 

“Ben played the important points well, he showed maturity beyond his years with his shot selection, and didn’t allow Tom to build any momentum. 

“Tom didn’t look to be moving as well as he normally does, making a hard job even more challenging.”

Cawston went on to win 15/8 15/5 15/12 15/10, leaving Billings with a tough job ahead for the second leg in London. 

The game started off with a showcase of high-quality rackets in the form of five incredibly close points packed full of long rallies, skilful serves and plenty of retrieving from the similar-style players. 

Cawston recalls thinking: “I hope he slows down. I cannot keep this level up for one game, let alone four.”

He ended up winning the game 15-3, and the world championship five games to love, the 33rd match in a string of unbeaten performances. 

Cawston used a clever two-pronged offensive strategy of dropshots and winners which capitalised on his opponent’s injury. 

And as the defending champion’s energy waned on court, his supporters in the open viewing gallery winced at every lunge. 

Billings said: “I felt really good going in so I wouldn’t want Ben to think anything otherwise, but the physical level of playing against him, my hamstring couldn’t take it.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Ben but I watched it back and my movement is so far from what I would expect it to be and so far from where I’d hoped it would be. 

“It gave me confidence to say this isn’t how I play rackets, this is a product of other things. 

“I’m not disappointed with the result but Ben is so good that unless you’re 100% and playing well that’s how you beat him. If you’re anything but it’s going to be very difficult.

“That’s why the thing I’m struggling with most isn’t the match or the score, it’s the fact I didn’t do myself justice and it wasn’t the spectacle that I think it should have been.” 

Now Billings’ focus turns to the World Doubles Championship, which he hopes to defend this November with partner Richard Owen against challengers Cawston and Mike Bailey. 

The next Rackets World Singles Championship will take place in November 2024.

Featured image credit: The T&RA

Related Articles