Doing things, the hard way; following the conclusion of play on Saturday 20th March in Doha, if there were any players who gained places in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games the hard way, the names in question were from Central Asia.
The names were Iran’s Nima Alamian and Kazakhstan’s Anastassiya Lavrova.
Both experienced early defeats in the World Qualification Tournament and bid farewell; then both did the same in the Asian Olympic Qualifier but lived to fight another day. The crucial difference, the world event was organised on the knock-out formula, the continental competition on an initial group basis; in the latter the second chance was seized.
In the world event, Nima Alamian had been beaten in the men’s singles second round by Poland’s Jakub Dyjas (8-11, 14-12, 11-9, 11-8, 11-9); in her opening match Anastassiya Lavrova had lost to Italy’s Deborah Vivarelli (11-6, 11-8, 11-7, 11-4).
Neither result was unexpected. Nima Alamian was the no.37 seed, Jakub Dyjas the no.19 seed. Similarly, Anastassiya Lavrova was the no.37 seed, Debora Vivarelli, the no.12 seed.
Equally, for Nima Alamian, finishing second in his initial group in the Asian tournament was not contrary to predictions. The no.4 seed, he lost to Kirill Gerassimenko, the top seed and like Anastassiya Lavrova from Kazakhstan (14-12, 9-11, 3-11, 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 11-9).
Later, he accounted for Uzbekistan’s Elmurod Kholikov, the no.6 seed (11-2, 11-8, 11-8, 11-2) to reserve group second place. Kirill Gerassimenko duly accounted for Elmurod Kholikov (11-3, 11-5, 11-4, 11-4) to top the group.
A semi-final place secure, first and second in each group advancing to the second phase, Nima Alamian faced the one opponent he wanted to avoid, his elder brother Noshad, the no.2 seed. He upset the order of merit, he prevailed in four games (11-6, 6-11, 12-10, 13-11, 13-11).
Mentally, a most testing encounter; it was not dissimilar against Uzbekistan’s Zokhid Kenjaev, the no.3 seed, in the final, a player in form, at the semi-final stage he had ousted Kirill Gerassimenko (11-7, 12-14, 10-12, 11-6, 2-11, 11-9, 11-8). In the crucial Tokyo deciding match, Nima Alamian recovered from a two games to nil deficit to secure victory (8-11, 7-11, 11-4, 11-4, 13-11, 11-7).
Defeat in the group stage but then success, it was the same in the women’s singles event for Anastassiya Lavrova; the one difference when compared with Nima Alamian was the fact she was the top seed.
After beating Iran’s Shima Safaei, the no.5 seed (11-5, 11-13, 10-12, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9), she lost to Uzbekistan’s Rimma Gufranova, the no.4 seed (7-11, 11-6, 12-14, 11-3, 11-7, 11-3). Rimma Gufranova duly accounted for Shima Safei to reserve first position (11-6, 11-5, 15-13, 11-7).
Runners up spot, a place in the main draw, hopes alive; Anastassiya Lavrova overcame Iran’s Neda Shahsavari, the no.3 seed by the very narrowest of decisions (11-6, 7-11, 7-11, 3-11, 11-7, 11-4, 12-10), prior to overcoming Markhabo Madgieva, the no.6 seed (11-8, 13-11, 11-13, 10-12, 11-8, 11-9) to reserve her Tokyo place.
At the semi-final stage Markhabo Madgieva had ended he hopes of Uzbekistan compatriot Rimma Gufranova (11-6, 7-11, 11-9, 6-11, 11-7, 12-10).
A close contest, at the Asian Olympic Qualification tournament, the Middle Asia women’s singles event was the closest of all.
Anastassiya Lavrova is only the second player ever from Kazakhstan to qualify for the women’s singles event at an Olympic Games; Marina Shumakova competed in 2008 in Beijing; she was beaten in the preliminary round by Ukraine’s Margaryta Pesotska (11-8, 11-6, 11-6, 11-6).
Somewhat differently for Nima Alamian it will be his second Olympic Games. He played in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. In the opening round he beat Kanak Jha of the United States (11-3, 7-11, 11-7, 11-9, 12-10), before losing to Romania’s Ovidiu Ionescu (11-7, 11-6, 11-9, 9-11, 11-4).
Editor: Ian Marshall