by Simon Daish
Amongst the final four names in the second women’s singles knock-out event, Maria Xiao, seeded sixth, met Slovak no.2 seed Barbora Balazova in the all-important qualification match, a contest which went right down to the wire.
Boasting a commanding 3-1 lead, Xiao required just one further game to cross the finish line but Balazova recovered well, registering back-to-back game wins to force a deciding seventh. Crucially, Xiao didn’t let her opponent’s response get to her, producing a crushing display in game seven to finish the job (11-9, 6-11, 11-7, 11-9, 4-11, 5-11, 11-6).
Letting off a loud roar, Xiao embraced her coach in celebration. Twice a defeated finalist last month in Doha, the Spaniard made no mistake in Guimarães and is officially Tokyo bound!
Victory for Xiao in the second play-off, earlier in the first qualification match it was Russia’s Yana Noskova who celebrated her passage to the Japanese capital.
On paper Noskova entered the tie with the odds in her favour – seeded 34 positions higher than her opponent, the no.3 seed had also displayed encouraging form in the lead-up to the tie. However, Noskova would have to weary of the potential threat coming her way from across the table with Bulgaria’s Polina Trifonova standing opposite.
Responsible for Sarah De Nutte’s surprise exit in the previous round, Trifonova was more than capable of causing an upset if given the opportunity but Noskova was ready for everything set to come her way. Down by two games, Trifonova did well to level proceedings only for Noskova to immediately shut down any hopes of a comeback win for the Bulgarian, claiming games five and six to emerge victorious (11-4, 12-10, 9-11, 9-11, 11-6, 11-9).