The quarterfinals of the Spanish Para Badminton International 2021 kicked off with energy and determination at the Palacio de los Deportes de Cartagena on Friday.
Taiyo Imai of Japan in the men’s singles Standing Upper (SU5) category needed to secure a win over Chinese Taipei’s Fang Jen-Yu in order to close the gap in rankings against Poland’s Bartlomeij Mroz for his debut Paralympics on home ground.
Winning 15-21 21-10 15-21 in an intense and electrifying quarterfinal match, Imai now places himself in better stead for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
“I’m so happy. I was able to take revenge on my last match against Fang,” exclaimed Imai.
“Physically I’m feeling very tired. I was very nervous before the match. I just want to do my best now in the semifinals,” Imai added.
Thailand’s Chawarat Kitichokwattana proved too powerful for France’s Guillaume Gailly as he claimed victory in his quarterfinal match 21-10 21-17 in the men’s singles Standing Lower (SL4) category .
The win for the 32-year-old Thai player means he can close the gap on Korean Shin Kyung Hwan to make his debut Paralympics appearance.
Speaking post-match Kitichokwattana said: “That was exciting for me! I played well, it was a good performance for me today. I think Lucas Mazur would be my biggest challenger here. I’ll do my best in the next match.”
Megan Hollander from the Netherlands in the Standing Upper (SU5) category fought off stiff competition from rival Zehra Baglar from Turkey. The daring Dutch won in straight games 22-20 21-7 but admitted it was not a straightforward match.
“I was nervous. I don’t think I have ever been so nervous before a match. I was down in the first game and I thought I was going to lose it. Zehra made a few mistakes in the second and then I won,” smiled Hollander.
The win sees Hollander edge closer to qualify for her first Paralympics.
“I didn’t expect it to be so close today. I’m back on track and the win was on my side today. I feel good about the match tomorrow, I don’t mind if I win or lose. The pressure is off me now for the semifinals,” she revealed.
Hollander faces Dane Cathrine Rosengren in the next round on Saturday.
There are some new faces making their debut at the Para qualifying event. Among those were debutants Mariam Eniola Bolaji from Nigeria and Viktoriia Arapina from the Ukraine, both in the women’s singles Standing Lower (SL3) category are successful candidates from BWF’s Female Participation Grant.
The programme offers opportunities for female athletes to apply for financial support to attend and be Internationally Classified at a number of BWF sanctioned International tournaments annually, such as the Spanish Para Badminton International 2021. The grant further supports the BWF’s goal to increase female participation in Para badminton across all sport classes.
After winning her quarterfinal match over Arapina, 21-4 21-10 the Nigerian player expressed her delight at being able to compete.
“I’m so grateful to BWF for this opportunity. Just to be here is amazing and I’m getting so much joy from playing para badminton.”
Bolaji’s coach, Daniel Sarki said Bolaji has the ingredients to be a player to watch.
“The way Mariam moves, her strokeplay and her determination proves she is a better player than some in her category. She’s also a legacy of Bello Rafiu Oyebanji (who passed away recently). Mariam has the spirit of a great para badminton player,” Sarki said.