by Simon Daish
Just 16 years of age, Prithika Pavade’s qualification is a special moment for the sport and one that will live long in the memory, particularly when looking back at how she achieved the incredible feat.
Seeded 34th, Pavade caught the eye by quite simply making it beyond the initial group stage so her passage to the last four, which included a stunning victory over top seed Hana Matelova, most certainly took the field by surprise. Presented with another challenging hurdle in the form of Russian no.3 seed Yana Noskova, but Pavade wasn’t fazed by the task at hand, striking a 4-1 win (11-5, 11-7, 14-12, 9-11, 11-6) to secure her place at Tokyo 2020!
“I never thought I would be at the Olympic tournament in Japan. I hoped it would happen at Paris 2024. Honestly, I did not dare to dream! I am so grateful that my Federation gave me the chance to compete here. I thought some senior player would be on duty in Guimarães , but here I am.” Prithika Pavade
Against the odds for Pavade, it was the same for Yuan Jia Nan who also toppled higher seeded opposition to turn her dreams into reality.
The no.9 seed recovered from a game deficit twice in her meeting with no.4 seed Shao Jieni of Portugal, going on to beat the host nation competitor 4-2 (7-11, 11-8, 7-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-8) to take home the second qualification ticket. Earlier successes over Italian no.5 seed Debora Vivarelli, Slovak no.2 seed Barbora Balazova and Spanish no.6 seed Maria Xiao, added together with her latest scalp against Shao Jieni, it’s fair to say Yuan over delivered in Guimarães.
“Until the very last point I did not think I would qualify. I did not dare! Shao is very dangerous. There was not a moment in the match when I realised I could win. In all seven matches I have played here, I was only thinking about the next point.” Yuan Jia Nan.
Two tickets claimed by France, over in the men’s singles draw Ukraine and Spain were honoured with Kou Lei and Alvaro Robles the players to note.
Registering perfect 4-0 score-lines in his previous round fixtures against Belgium’s Cedric Nuytinck (14-12, 11-8, 11-8, 14-12) and Poland’s Samuel Kulczycki (11-9, 11-5, 11-5, 15-13), fourth seed Kou Lei encountered a tighter contest in the semi-finals but looked just as assured, overcoming Romania’s Rares Sipos in six games (11-9, 11-7, 11-8, 4-11, 5-11, 11-6).
“I was already halted one step too early at the European Games in Belarus and at the World Qualification in Doha. This was my last chance. I am not getting any younger! In all three occasions, I had to go through qualifications, but this tournament was the toughest. However, my experience helped me to reduce the pressure.” Kou Lei
Meanwhile, an Olympic debut awaits Alvaro Robles after coming out on top in a marathon semi-final tie. Seventh seed Robles was forced right down to the wire against Russian counterpart Vladimir Sidorenko where the Spaniard’s experienced head proved a crucial factor, staying calm in a high pressure situation to book his date with destiny (9-11, 12-10, 14-12, 8-11, 9-11, 11-3, 17-15).
“I could not sleep properly at this tournament. I was reading books until 2-3 AM every night just to avoid any thinking about what would happen! In past years I was living just one dream, to play at the Olympics.” Alvaro Robles
Congratulations to Prithika Pavade, Yuan Jia Nan, Kou Lei and Alvaro Robles who are all Tokyo bound. For the four defeat semi-finalists, another opportunity presents itself in the second knock-out stage.