Two French players gave home fans plenty to shout about when the 25th European Championships got under way today in the Vendespace at La Roche-sur-Yon in the Vendee.
But the biggest talking point of the opening day was the first-round exit of fourth seeds and 2012 mixed doubles champions Robert Mateusiak and Nadiezda Zieba after their nail-biting defeat by Ireland’s Sam and Chloe Magee. The Polish pair were the first seeds to fall in the whole tournament.
Wild card entries Lucas Claerbout (main picture) and Yaelle Hoyaux took the early plaudits, celebrating the arrival of the European Championships to France for the first time by defeating higher ranked opponents in the first round of the singles at this final tournament in the year-long Race to Rio qualifying campaign.
Claerbout scored the first surprise in the men’s singles when he defeated higher ranked Dutchman Eric Meijs 21-18 21-16. It was their third close meeting and all three matches have now been settled in straight games with Claerbout leading 2-1 in head to heads.
He trailed 17-13 in the first game before a six-point surge enabled him to take command and go one up on his first game point. After that Claerbout never looked back and from 4-4 he steadily pulled away to lead 13-7.
Meijs staged a mini-recovery to close within two points at 18-16 but the Frenchman kept his cool to win the next three points and book a second-round clash with Danish second seed Viktor Axelsen.
Claerbout said: "To come on court with all this fantastic support is amazing. It is a dream come true for me to play in my first European Championships and what a great call it was from Badminton Europe to give both myself and Yaelle wild cards."
“The match itself was tricky as I know Erik very well but I could just feel the crowd behind me and I love to play in an atmosphere like that. The noise when I won was absolutely crazy."
But if Claerbout’s win thrilled the fans then Hoyaux must have left them gasping as she ignored the 260 places difference in the world rankings to topple Austria’s Olympic-bound Elizabeth Baldauf 26-24 21-14.
Baldauf led 19-17 as she looked on course to take the first game but three points in a row gave Hoyaux her first game point before she found herself having to save one when trailing 22-21. Eventually she clinched the opener at the fifth time of asking.
The home hope controlled the second to lead 13-10 and although Baldauf recovered to draw level at 13-13, Hoyaux pushed on to win five points in a row to clinch the contest in 42 minutes, just three minutes longer than Claerbout had taken.
Now she has the chance to try for another upset although Czech seventh seed Kristina Gavnholt will prove tougher opposition tomorrow.
It was proving to be a good opening day for France with Ronan Labar and Emilie Lefel getting their mixed doubles challenge off to a winning start. But the seventh seeds lived a little dangerously, losing the opening game against Russian pair Evgenij Dremin and Evgenia Diminova 25-23 then trailing 12-7 in the second before scraping it 21-19 to force a decider.
In the third they were at last able to wrest control from the Russians, leading all the way and building on a 15-10 platform to move into the second round.
It was a similar tricky story for Bastian Kersaudy and Lea Palermo as the French pair had to come from behind to overcome England’s young pair of Ben Lane and Jess Pugh 14-21 21-18 21-16 and join another French pair in the second round although Gaetan Mittelheisser and Audrey Fontaine had it easy courtesy of a walkover.
But if the two French pairs avoided early exits, there was no escape route for Mateusiak and Zieba.
Ireland’s Sam and Chloe Magee (pictured above) showed them the exit door 21-18 13-21 21-18 after the Poles had led 17-15 in the decider only to lose six of the next seven points.
Chloe said: "We had no pressure here this week and when we focus on just enjoying our game we tend to play our best, which was the case today.
Sam said: “Chloe has been focusing on her singles these past few months and we have not even practised mixed doubles so this is a nice surprise to beat the former champions and fourth seeds.”
It was the second tough win of the day for Miss Magee. In the opening contest she won the battle of the Chloes against England’s Birch.
Magee went into the contest knowing she needs a good run through the rounds to secure a big haul of ranking points as she bids to secure a place in her third Olympics.
Her 21-19 18-21 21-12 win took 66 minutes and may yet turn out to be the longest contest on day one.
There was almost another seeded casualty in the mixed doubles with Dutch third seeds Jacco Arrends and Selena Piek needing to save a match point before edging past Ukraine pair Gennadiy Natarov and Natalya Voytsekh 20-22 21-14 22-20.
But no such worries for the top two pairs. Top seeds Chris and Gabby Adcock of England and defending champions Joachim Fischer and Christinna Pedersen of Denmark cruised through their opening contests into the last 16.
All this excitement for the big, enthusiastic crowd and the indications are that they are coming back for more right through to Sunday’s finals.
Apart from Claerbout’s win the other key upset in the men’s singles came when Yuhan Tan defeated Denmark’s Erik Holst, a player with a 5-1 head to head record against the Belgian going into the contest – and four of those wins had come in straight games. But today belonged to Tan, who took the contest 21-9 21-19.
Tan led all the way to romp away with the first game. But it was tighter in the second with Tan’s three-point lead at 16-13 being the widest margin as Holst gamely tried to reel in the Belgian, who is ranked 10 places behind Holst at No. 57, won on his second match point.
For all results from day 1 of the European Championships click HERE
To watch all the action LIVE and on demand from courts 1 & 2 click HERE
or a full photo gallery from day 1 at #EC16 click HERE
Article by William Kings. Photos Mark Phelan (LIVE)