A total of 39 events, the same as at the Andalucia World Para Championships 2022 but more than at any other comparable international tournament, the number one higher than the previous record achieved last year in Slovenia; after four days of action, breaking new ground, the ITTF Lignano Masters Para Open 2023 concluded on Saturday 18th March.
Reason for the difference was that in Slovenia, women’s singles class 1-2 combined two categories, in Lignano they were separated, Finland’s Aino Tapola and the host nation’s Giada Rossi seizing the opportunities presented.
Aino Tapola (class 1) turned the tables, silver medallist in Andalucia, in a group organised event she finished ahead of her nemesis, Poland’s Dorota Buclaw, to seal gold.
Meanwhile, Giada Rossi (class 2) concluded play the most successful of all, the only player with a full house. Later, partnering colleagues, she secured the women’s doubles class 5 title alongside Michela Brunelli, mixed doubles class 4 in partnership with Frederico Crossara.
“It was fantastic to return to play here in Lignano Sabbiadoro. In the singles I suffered some lack of concentration but everything went well. In doubles with Michela we are now a tested couple and it’s always nice to play together. In the mixed doubles with Federico the Koreans defeated us in the World Championships in Granada and we wanted to take our revenge; we had to keep our concentration at the highest level.” Giada Rossi
Both were somewhat surprise winners, each commenced play occupying the second seeded position; in fact, in Lignano, the unexpected outweighed the expected. A total of 11 events in each of the men’s singles and women’s singles events; overall no less than seven men and six women upset the odds.
Contrary to predictions, all five events in the men’s singles wheelchair classes witnessed unexpected champions, players from Korea Republic very much in evidence. Kim Hyeonuk (class 1), Kang Changyoung (class 2) and Jang Yeongjin (class 3), all confounded expert view.
Notably, at the quarter-final stage, Kang Changyoung ended the progress of Poland’s Tomasz Jakimczuk (11-7, 12-10, 11-6), the player who in the opening round had caused one of the tournament’s major upsets. He had halted the ambitions of Frenchman, Fabien Lamirault, the reigning Paralympic Games and World champion (11-8, 9-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-4).
Likewise, Japan’s Kazuki Shichino (class 4) and Serbia’s Mitar Palikuca (class 5) provided surprises. Kazuki Shichino, again not amongst the seeded names, repeating the success of the previous week on the Costa Brava.
Defying predictions, in the men’s singles standing categories, Poland’s Piotr Grudzien (class 8) and Chinese Taipei’s Chen Po-Yen (class 11) followed suit. Each upset the odds to secure gold.
Performances to raise the eyebrows, additional to Aino Tapola and Giada Rossi, there was no shortage of surprise names on the women’s singles roll of honour; the standout name being Brazil’s Bruna Alexandre.
Winner on the Costa Brava, at the class 10 semi-final stage, the 27-year-old rose to new heights; by the narrowest of margins she beat Poland’s Natalia Partyka (4-11, 11-8, 10-12, 11-7, 11-9), five times a gold medallist at the Paralympic Games. Brimful of confidence, the Brazilian secured the title at the expense of Chinese Taipei’s Lin Tzu-Yu (11-5, 11-3, 11-3).
Impressive from Bruna Alexandre, in the women’s singles standing events, three further names impressed, all concluding their exploits unexpected winners. Norway’s Nora Korneliussen (class 7), Poland’s Karolina Pek (class 9) and Japan’s Miwa Yamaguchi (class 11) rose to the occasion.
Upsets, but there were outcomes as forecast. In the men’s singles standing competition, the host nation’s Matteo Parenzan (class 6), the reigning World champion, justified his top seeded status, as did Poland’s Maksym Chudzicki (class 7), Belgium’s Laurens Devos (class 9) and Montenegro’s Filip Radovic (class 10).
In a similar vein, in the women’s singles events, Croatia’s Andela Muzinic Vincetic (class 3), Serbia’s Borislava Peric-Rankovic (class 4) and Alexandra Saint-Pierre of France (class 5) struck gold; a situation that also applied to Great Britain’s Fliss Pickard (class 6) and Brazil’s 15-year-old Sophia Kelmer (class 8).
Victory for Borislava Peric-Rankovic means she now owns 16 Lignano titles; later she secured women’s doubles class 10 gold, partnering colleague, Nada Matic.
Two titles for Borislava Peric-Rankovic, it was the same for Andela Muzinic Vincetic; on the concluding day of play, she joined forces with compatriot Tomislav Spell to claim mixed doubles class 7 gold.
“I was not completely satisfied of my game because this is my first tournament of the year. I have to improve a lot and I think I will do the best for my country in the next event. I haven’t played for many months since the World Championships in Granada. I felt the difference mainly from a mental point of view. I really like playing here”, Borislava Peric-Rankovic.
Not to be overlooked both Jang Yeongjin and Mitar Palikuca added their earlier men’s singles success; Jang Yeongjin partnered teammate Kim Hakjin to the men’s doubles class 4 top prize, Mitar Palikuca joined forces with Nada Matic to enjoy mixed doubles class 10 success.
“I am always happy when I am here, next year there will be the Paralympic Games in Paris and my objective is absolutely to go there. Here in the singles, I was not the favourite, being no.6 in the ranking. In the mixed doubles with Nada Matic, we confirmed to be a good couple, last year in Granada we won the bronze medal at the World Championships.” Mitar Palikuca
Attention now turns to São Paulo, a factor 20 tournament for world ranking purposes, the three-day ITTF Brazilian Para Open 2023 commences on Friday 23rd March.