by Simon Daish
Picking up a brace, Zhmudenko toppled Aleksandr Khanin (11-7, 11-4, 11-9) and Pavel Platonov (11-4, 5-11, 11-9, 13-15, 11-8) to help his team hold off a robust all-round effort from Belarus. Yevhen Pryshchepa was the other player from Ukraine to register a win, defeating Khanin across five games (8-11, 11-7, 6-11, 11-4, 11-3) to promote his team to the top of Group A.
“We are happy to win. Belarus is always a strong team, even if they didn’t play today with their leader. We had a difficult start, but after that, we proved that we have a good heart to fight and win.” Yevhen Pryshchepa
The host nation Romania celebrated an opening day win against Luxembourg, moving joint top of Group H in the process. Luka Mladenovic’s stunning upset of Ovidiu Ionescu (11-13, 3-11, 11-4, 11-7, 11-8) handed Luxembourg an ideal start to the match, but it proved a lead the team ultimately couldn’t capitalise on. Rares Sipos and Hunor Szocs turned the tide for Romania with back-to-back successes against Eric Glod (11-5, 7-11, 16-14, 8-11, 11-9) and Traian Ciociu (11-8, 11-8, 11-5) before Ionescu made amends with a ruthless display in his meeting with Glod (11-5, 11-8, 11-9).
“It is such a nice feeling; I’ve got goosebumps! Even now, I feel so excited. I would like to give my thanks to all my friends and my family who came to support us. There were so many spectators, and we are looking forward to seeing more of them in the coming days.” Rares Sipos
Joining Romania at the summit of Group H is Slovenia following its 3-1 win over Finland, while the Czech Republic and Croatia accounted for Italy and Hungary 3-0 to move top of Group G. The trio of Robin Devos, Cedric Nuytinck and Martin Allegro guided Belgium past Greece in a 3-2 thriller, with Slovakia, Poland, Denmark and Russia also up-and-running.
Slovakia is off to a winning start in the Women’s Team event following a comprehensive 3-1 win over Group A rivals Spain. Maria Xiao handed Spanish hopes an early boost following her impressive outing against Tatiana Kukulkova (13-11, 11-8, 11-4). However, an immediate response followed as Barbora Balazova and Ema Labosova prevailed against Galia Dvorak (11-5, 11-7, 11-2) and Sofia-Xuan Zhang (11-7, 13-11, 11-8) respectively to put Slovakia ahead. Balazova completed the comeback soon after as she battled past Xiao (12-10, 4-11, 11-6, 11-5).
“The most important moment that gave us the edge was definitely the duel between Ema and Zhang, as that pushed us to victory much easier than we originally thought. Maria was really good at the beginning of the match, but I managed to level against Galia. We were club mates for a while, and we know each other very well. Then Ema produced the perfect victory, which gave me an advantage for the following match and put Xiao under extra pressure.” Barbora Balazova
Prithika Pavade once again showcased her talent on the international stage as she led France to a statement 3-0 success against Turkey in Group H. The 17-year-old opened the scoring for France with her four-game win against Sibel Altinkaya (11-6, 11-8, 9-11, 11-6), before Yuan Jia Nan and Pauline Chasselin followed up with triumphant outings against Simay Kulakceken (11-2, 11-9, 8-11, 16-14) and Ece Harac (11-6, 7-11, 11-9, 3-11, 11-4).
“I was here three years ago at the European Youth Championships, and it is a great place to play. Everything looks great, and I feel good because I am familiar with this place. My team had a good start. All the matches were close, and Turkey has a very good team. I can’t say that one match was more difficult than the other as, for me, every match is difficult, and I take them all very seriously.” Prithika Pavade
Elsewhere, 2019 Women’s Team runners-up Portugal secured a winning start to life in Group E with Fu Yu’s brace playing a vital role in the team’s 3-1 victory over Croatia. Italy, Belarus and Sweden couldn’t have asked for a better opening to Groups B, C and F respectively, after dispatching Belgium, Serbia, England 3-0. The Czech Republic and Luxembourg lead Groups D and G.