by Ian Marshall
In Doha, she was beaten at the final hurdle by Monaco’s Yang Xiaoxin in one of the closest matches in the tournament (14-12, 8-11, 4-11, 11-7, 11-3, 9-11, 12-10). Later, when the runners up met, less dramatically, in the decisive Tokyo deciding contest, she lost to Thailand’s Suthasini Sawettabut (13-11, 5-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-8).
Five places available, in Guimarães, Maria Xiao is the no.6 seed, a major contender but first of all she must negotiate the group stage; players finishing in first and second positions in each of the 10 initial phase groups, advance to the main draw where they join the top seeds who receive a direct entry.
A first appearance in an Olympic Games is the goal for Maria Xiao, it is the same for two further prominent names; Italy’s Deborah Vivarelli, the no.5 and Luxembourg’s Sarah de Nutte, the no.7 seed, who are seeking to make their debuts.
Conversely, for Spain’s Galia Dvorak, the no.8 seed, she is aiming for a fourth consecutive appearance in the multi-sport gathering; she made her debut in 2008 in Beijing and has been present ever since that date. However, she very nearly did not make Rio de Janeiro; she was the last minute replacement for the injured Carole Grundisch of France.
A slice of fortune just under five years ago, fast forward to the World Singles Qualification Tournament in March, it was quite the opposite. In the first phase she was beaten in the final by Britt Eerland of the Netherlands (11-5, 12-10, 12-10, 11-7); in the second at the semi-final stage by a certain Maria Xiao (3-11, 4-11, 11-7, 11-9, 12-10, 11-3). There is a debt to settle in Guimarães!
Olympic Games experience, it is the same to a lesser extent for the top four seeds.
Established doubles partners the Czech Republic’s Hana Matelova and Slovakia’s Barbora Balazova, respectively head the order, both played in Rio de Janeiro, as did the host nation’s Shao Jieni, the no.4 seed. Somewhat differently, Russia’s Yana Noskova was not present in the Brazilian city but was on duty in London.
Previous experience but none of the top four names commence play in Guimarães in blistering form. Shao Jieni did not compete in Doha, the other three names were on duty, but none reached a final, none qualified for the second chance, second knock-out event.
Hana Matelova and Barbora Balazova both disappeared in round two: the former of the two was beaten by Prithika Pavade of France (12-10, 7-11, 7-11, 7-11, 11-3, 11-9, 11-8), Barbora Balazova meanwhile suffered the same fate at the hands of Mexico’s Yadira Silva (6-11, 11-5, 8-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-6).
Results to note but the most noteworthy is that experienced by Yana Noskova, she realised a penultimate round reverse, the nemesis, a certain Maria Xiao (7-11, 11-5, 11-8, 11-6, 7-11, 14-12).
Maria Xiao may have suffered in Doha, but her efforts must surely give her confidence, a repeat performance and could she be Tokyo bound?
European Olympic Singles Qualification: