by Simon Daish
Barbora Balazova was severely tested in her closing qualification group stage match, requiring the full seven games distance to see off Russia’s Kristina Kazantseva. Now the challenge is about to get even tougher for the Slovak competitor with ninth seed Natalia Partyka providing the Round of 64 opposition. Can Balazova dampen the spirits of the home crowd by eliminating the Polish hero from the tournament?
Last year at the event Saki Shibata enjoyed a superb outing in Poland, outperforming expectations to finish in the runner up spot in the Women’s Singles draw. One year on, the Japanese athlete has her sights focused on reaching the top step of the medals podium and will be hoping to get off to a strong start in her opening tie against the host nation’s Natalia Bajor.
15th seed Sarah De Nutte could be in for a tricky opening contest in Spala; at the first hurdle the Luxembourg representative faces young Romanian star Alina Zaharia, who caused a major upset in her final qualifying match to reach the main draw while Brazil’s Gui Lin opens her account against England’s Tin-Tin Ho.
India has a strong presence in the Men’s Singles draw with six of the country’s players participating in the Round of 64 in Sparla.
Quarter-finalist at the 2017 edition of the competition, Sathiyan Gnanasekaran starts his campaign against Chilean qualifier Felipe Olivares while another Indian seeded player, Harmeet Desai, opposes Korea Republic’s Cho Daeseong.
“I’m seeded in the main draw… there are many good players here. I already know that I have to be very focused… This tournament is a big chance for me.” Harmeet Desai
There’s a fascinating battle at the foot of the draw as Danish star Zhai Yujia takes on Ukraine’s Kou Lei for a spot in the last 32 and you can also expect a close contest between Tomas Konecny and Pavel Platonov with the Czech and Belarusian competitors meeting at an international ranking event for the first time since the 2016 Croatia Open: Konecny prevailed across six games two years ago in Zagreb – but who will come out on top in Spala?