Tuomo Antikainen started playing pickleball in 2014 after being introduced to it by an American living in Finland.  He now has around 60 players in his Espoo group and has spread the sport to over 70 towns across Finland.  His first international tournament was in Amsterdam in 2016 and he has been a great supporter of as many European tournaments and festivals as he can.  He is a fine ambassador for the sport.

Tuomo  attended the Scottish Open in May and was impressed with the tournament.  His only criticism was that the number of games was inconsistent – he would have preferred to play more games.  It was this thought that informed his approach to the Finnish Open.

We stayed at the tournament hotel – Hotel Tapiola.  Convenient via the Metro for the Sports Centre.  

Long days, light evenings meant that if you went out to Helsinki for dinner, you could come back late and it would still be daylight – wonderful if you are a tourist!  It is especially easy to use public transport in Finland – reasonably priced, regular service which appears to be based on trust that passengers will purchase their tickets as I never saw a ticket collector.  Even the escalators are efficient – they don’t move until they sense the movement of passengers coming close!

So what about the tournament?

Firstly let me acknowledge that it was a great gathering of lovely pickleball players from around Europe.  From the UK, there was Sue Nichol & Jo Green at their first ever tournament – after this weekend they certainly caught ‘the bug’; Elaine Shallcross, Jane Bridge, Leo Gonzalez, Jeff van Der Hulst, Ajoy Sachdev,  Alan Speller, Steve & Susie Hughes, Fely Almond, Faye Plummer, Louise Stephens, Stu Stimpson, Sam Basford, Chris Mitchell and myself.  There were also players from France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden and many local players.

There was a Singles event on the Friday, Men’s & Women’s Doubles events on Saturday, tournament dinner on Saturday evening and Mixed Doubles on Sunday.

There was one tournament desk manned by Tuomo and just 2 helpers. 

Sporty HQ software was used to run the tournament.  You could see the events/players in each of the events before the tournament and you could track results though the day on your mobile or on a computer screen Tuomo had helpfully set up near the tournament desk.

What I liked in particular was that Tuomo had clearly outlined the criteria to determine who goes into the play offs.  Email notifications were sent to tell you that schedules and draws were ready more than a week before the start of the tournament and to notify you that  the result of your match had been updated.  This meant that we could follow the standings for the round robin part of the tournament if we wanted to.  The fact that Tuomo had outlined the criteria for achieving the play offs, meant that those that were in a precarious situation understood what they had to do to squeeze past their nearest rivals. 

The other thing that was appreciated by the players was the number of guaranteed matches AND each match was first to 15! 

In the Singles Chris had 5 games in the round robin and because he got through to the finals, he had another 3 matches.  Sadly he was beaten by Michael Eriksson in the final but he was really happy to have 8 games on the Friday.  

On the Saturday, there was 5 round robin games in the Men’s Doubles and Women’s Doubles.  Sadly, my partner Virginie Kauffmann (from France) and I were knocked out in the Quarter finals so we played a total of 6 games but Chris & Sam Basford got through to the Finals and had 8 games.  Chris & Sam (with a 40 year age difference between them) lost their final to local heroes Harri Kiuru & Marko Miettinen.  The picture of Chris & Sam on the podium is hilarious – they both were miserable because they won a Silver medal – they wanted Gold.  Later that evening at the tournament party, they were teased about having their ‘Finnish smiles’ in place!  It was a fun evening with the hotel putting a very nice buffet on for us.  This is also why we like to stay at the tournament hotel if they are hosting the tournament party.  You can leave the party and get to bed within 5 minutes!

Sunday was mixed doubles day.  Tuomo had a special treat for everyone in the 4.0 event!  7 round robin matches!  Chris and his partner Louise lost in the Quarter finals so got a total of 8 matches but those that went through to the Finals got 10!  Sam Basford & Faye Plummer won the Gold that day beating local heroes Harri & Sanna Kiuru.  For the 3.0-3.5 combined event there were 4 matches in the round robin and everyone went through to the knockouts so a guaranteed 5 matches.  Sadly, my partner Alan Speller from Runnymeade Royals and I got knocked out in the Quarter finals.  

Chris & I along with all those that travelled to Finland had a great time.  Tuomo and team know how to run a successful tournament.  We will definitely return for the next International tournament.  

So, in summary, I learned during this weekend that to make players happy – give them plenty of games (value for money) and give them a schedule of their matches up front and make sure you publish the criteria for determining who goes through to knockout rounds.  All these points were an integral part of the 2019 English Open.

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