Notably absent from the Dubai Para Badminton International 2021, Korea and Japan chose to sit out the event in March due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, but the teams did send large contingents to Cartagena for the final qualifying event before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games to get much-needed matchplay.
Daisuke Fujihara and Akiko Sugino, the mixed doubles pair (SL3-SU5) secured an early morning 21-6 21-8 victory over Ukrainian duo Andrii Zaitsev and Oskana Kozyna on Wednesday.
Getting the tournament off to a smashing start by winning both their Group C matches, Fujihara expressed how much he’d missed playing.
“To be back playing is so great. The hall is great, it’s so bright and when your team can be here to support you on court, it’s so good.”
Never give up
Mamiko Toyoda, the No.3 seed in women’s singles Standing Upper (SU5), overcame an impressive Megan Hollander (Netherlands), winning 22-20 21-19 in 26 minutes in the second round of matches in Group C.
“I’m so happy and I want to continue enjoying competing. It was important for me to be here to be able to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. I badly injured my calf in 2019. I pretty much gave up badminton because I couldn’t play. It’s by luck I’m much better,” beamed Toyoda post-match.
Toyoda revealed the postponement of the Paralympic Games came as a relief to her recovery efforts.
“I was going through rehabilitation with my injuries almost every day when the news came but my coach said: ‘Don’t give up. It’s one more year. You can do it.’ Then I came back,” laughed Toyoda.
Shin Kyung Hwan (SL4) from Korea also claimed an early morning 21-8 21-18 win over Turkey’s Sedat Tuemkaya in Group B. Talking post-match, Shin said:
“I’ve waited a long time to be here and it’s the final Para qualification tournament. It’s really good I’ve had a good start. I wish to keep safe and stay healthy while I’m here.”
After a lockdown in Korea saw most training centres close due to the pandemic, Shin revealed he continued to practice as much as possible at home.
“I worked on my strength and conditioning a lot. Only just before coming to Spain was I able to train in our local Paralympics centre. During the break I’ve learnt the importance of playing Para badminton and I’ve always been looking for ways to qualify. The rest was good for me but also it’s so great to be back competing again,” Shin added.
Compatriot in the men’s singles Wheelchair (WH2), Kim Jungjun enters the qualifier as the top seed. A force to be reckoned with, Kim admits he felt like a new player when he took on Italy’s Piero Rosario Suma to win in 21-7 21-4 on Wednesday.
The four time Para badminton world champion said: “I feel really excited to be back on court. Like a new player. Things feel new to me since it’s been a long time between competing. I think playing today has boosted my confidence. I’m just so happy to back.”