Yonex Belgian International 2019: Rounds 1 and 2
When the smoke from the battles in the qualifiers has disappeared, the road to eternal glory in Belgium really opens up wide. The wheat has been separated from the chaff, and from now on the top players enter the arena. Below is an overview of a very long, but hugely interesting day in Sportoase.
For years now, the crowd in Leuven has been waiting for a smashing performance by a Belgian player. Since the golden age of Wouter Claes and Nathalie Descamps, no Belgian player has gotten to the stage where real prizes can be won. Many badminton lovers hoped to see Lianne Tan in her current shape make her way to the finals. However, Bulgarian Mitsova proved to be a serious obstacle on the path to glory. In their head-to-heads the score was entirely equal (1-1), and that clearly showed on court 1. Unfortunately, a very even match ended in victory for Mitsova. Yet another disappointment for Tan. We would have been happy to see her go further…
A little earlier in the day, the adventure of Jona Van Nieuwkerke and Lise Jaques also ended in disappointment, in spite of a very strong second game against the Danes Lauritzen and Bergstein. In the third game, our fresh duo could not keep up with the high pace, but Lise and Jona demonstrated that there is margin for further growth, and that is very promising!
Our national number 1 Maxime Moreels did manage to arouse much enthusiasm in Sportoase! In two high-paced games he managed to get rid of Thakar from India. That entitled him to a second round match against last year’s runner-up Svendsen. The latter had had a very tough match earlier on against Nhat Nguyen from Ireland. During the very attractive early stages of the match, Maxim managed to keep up with Svendsen, but the Dane continually stepped up the pace until Moreels finally broke. And although Maxim at times excited the crowd with his performance, strong Victor proved to be a wee bit too big …
Julien Carraggi, who thrilled the audience on day 1 of YBI, got the opportunity to show his talent against the very best. And he got a real challenge: pan-American champion Ygor Coelho. Julien picked up yesterday’s momentum, but in the end Coelho’s experience tipped the scales his way. Carraggi demonstrated a lot of class though ! Julien can look back with satisfaction at this edition of YBI and should be proud of his performance. One thing is sure: we expect yet another solid performance next year !
Jona Van Nieuwkerke did not manage to beat Danish Emil Lauritzen in his re-exam. Together with Frenchman Briot (Lauritzen played with Muurmolm) Van Nieuwkerke ensured a lot of suspense, but after a narrow defeat in the first game (21-19), the difference in quality turned out to be a bit too significant in the second game. But that is what it takes to learn and improve, so their game is only likely to get better in the future.
To finish we need to mention our one and only inexpugnable doubles champion from Veltem-Beisem, Freek Golinski. After having tried for several years with Dierickx (and last year with Elias Bracke), power man Freek this time tried his luck with German Johannes Pistorius. After a bye in round 1 they had to face the Englishmen Flynn and Clare around 11 (!!) p.m. The first game started off badly, especially when after a while the guys from Albion upped the tempo: 21-15. In the second game Clare and Flynn raced to an 11-4 score, especially because the Belgian-German duo made quite a few unforced errors. They did demonstrate grinta at that stage, started to fight back and managed to keep up for some time. They finally broke at the score of 18-17: 21-17 for the Brits in the second game. To my feeling, victory was quite close, in particular when one looks at the second half of the second game. It’s a real shame, and a small anti-climax …
It may not be entirely appropriate for an objective journalist, but your reporter has grown into a huge fan of young Christo Popov, a 17-year old from France. This very talented leftie raced through the qualifiers and minced his opponents. Today, he did even better by beating fifth seed Pablo Abian (winner of the gold medal at the European Games in Baku) in three exciting games. Later that evening he also beat Wrabner, a very solid Austrian. The jury composed of Meesters, Schepens, Van Wel and Van Werde unanimously agreed to give him a quality label: here is a boy everyone will have to count with in the future!
Mark Caljouw (first seed) also qualified for the second round. However, his match against Bharadwaj from India was far from easy (big Mark at some stage even needed physiotherapy from master physio David Scoliers). In the end, Caljouw did beat his opponent in two straight games. As already mentioned before, second seed Svendsen qualified at the expense of Moreels, and Ygor Coelho was one game down in the second round, but the athletic Brazlian managed brilliantly to beat Penalver from Spain in the end. Sixth seed and defending champion Toby Penty will no longer play tomorrow (he lost in three games against Schaefer from Germany). Big brother Toma Junior Popov suffered defeat against Kim Bruun from Denmark.
A close look at the women’s singles table reveals that 3 of the 8 ladies in the quarter finals are Turkish: first seed Yigit, 5th seed Demirbag and 8th seed Bayrak all lived up to their status. Yigit in particular put up an impressive athletic performance to defeat Gautam (from India), a technically outstanding lady. Second seeded Tam in the end also managed to qualify for the last 8, but it was far from a piece of cake. Soraya De Visch-Eijbergen, the favourite of the local crowd, easily took the first game, but the Canadian somehow managed to end the match victoriously. Qi Xuefei also went to the next round, at the expense of 4th seed Jakobsen from Denmark. She will play Kuuba from Estonia on Friday. Zetchiri from Bulgaria and Christophersen from Denmark are also still in competition for the prizes.
Few or no surprises in the mixed doubles competition (well, maybe the elimination of fourth seeds Chiu-Chi from the USA). Two German duos (Geiss/Moszczynski and Jansen/Ostermeyer), two Danish combos (Lauritzen/Bergstein and Mikkelsen-Magelund), two French (Delrue/Heriau and Adam/Lambert) and two British duos (1st seeds Lane/Pugh from England and Grimley/Torrance from Scotland) succeeded in qualifying for the next round. In the light of their today’s performance and their ranking, Lane and Pugh came out as favourites, but I believe the next matches can go in any direction.
The Stoeva sisters are undoubtedly amongst the best players in Europe (and probably even the entire world). They are currently in tenth position on the world ranking, and hence the absolute favourites for this edition of the 2019 Yonex Belgian International. In their first game, they initially still had to warm up a bit against the Indian tandem Gautam-Bath, but once they reached their cruising speed, they literally minced their opponents. It seems unlikely that anyone will be able to stop their race to the title. Tomorrow the French duo Heriau/Lambert can try their luck.
Second seeded Honderich/Tsai also made a head start and easily beat an English combo. Third seeds Karlsson/Magnusson from Sweden also survived Thursday’s matches by beating two German ladies in the second round.
The first seeded duo came all the way from Canada, and so the crowd expected some fireworks from them. However, Thyrri and Lundgaard from Denmark saw things differently! In the first game the Danes could not find an answer to the tactics of the first seeds, but gradually things shifted. After a real cliffhanger in the second game (25-23), Danish Dynamite also won the decisive third game.
The real favourites for the title are Mogendsen and Daugaard from Denmark anyway. And although they are a de facto occasional combo because of the injuries of their regular partners, the sky-high level of world-class player Mogendsen should be enough to allow them to beat the rest of the pack. They made an excellent start: Christo Popov (he also stands his ground very well in doubles !) and Kenji Lovang were eliminated so to speak in third gear. The German duo Graalmann and Scheiel by no means posed a threat either.
Ben Lane managed to qualify for a second quarter final in the men’s doubles (with Sean Vendy) and thus remains undefeated at this edition of YBI. I am curious to see how the duo will perform tomorrow against Ties Van der Lecq and defending champion Ruben Jille (this time without Jacco Arends, his usual classy partner).
It follows that Yonex Belgian International came to an end on day 2 of this magnificent event for all the Belgian participants. This dampens the joy somewhat of course, but we can still look forward to watching some absolutely exciting matches! And when we look back at the individual performance of some of our young players, we can be confident that the future will be bright !
Helger Van Werde