The Badminton Europe circuit maintains its Baltic feel this week with a trip to Kaunas for the annual Yonex Lithuanian International. As in Latvia last week, this week event is a future series rated tournament offering the chance for many of Europe’s up and coming young guns to flex their muscles at senior level.
Scattered amongst the host of emerging juniors are a group of seasoned seniors and the home supporters will be looking towards Rio bound Akvile Stapusaitye (main picture) to deliver as top seed in the women’s singles event.
The Lithuanian number 1, who will most likely now go to the Olympics in the summer on one of the reallocated spots not used in the Tripartite distribution by the IOC, will be the hot favourite in the women’s singles but as in any tournament will be keep on her toes by last week’s finalists Zaitsava (BLR) and the winner in Lativa Elena Komendrovskaya (RUS) who was dominant and in electric form.
The bonus for Stapusaityte is that the Belarussian and Russian will have to battle it out in the bottom half of the draw while the main threat to Stapusaityte in the top half will come from Cherniavskaya (BLR) and Andersen (DEN).
Finland’s Kasper Lehikoinen comes into the tournament as top seed in the men’s singles and while disappointed by the heaving defeat in the final in Latvia last week will have had time to reflect and realise that run to the final represented a good weeks work for him and will be sure to take that positivity into this week’s tournament.
Adam Mendrek (CZE), Sergey Sirant (RUS) and Ireland’s Joshua Magee will also have desires on the top step of the podium this week in men’s singles.
Magee (pictured above winning MD bronze at European Games 2015) will also fancy his chances in the mixed doubles alongside niece Rachael Darragh but with Polish, Russian and Ukrainian pairs all nestled in their quarter of the draw the form of the Irish will be evident as early as round 1.
Ones to watch in the mixed for sure will be Denis Grachev and the Russian national team player Ekaterina Bolotova. Bolotova (pictured below) has become a main stay of the Russian national team and as always will threaten the podium no matter who her partner is on any given circuit day.
Bolotova will also pairs up with the promising Anastasiia Semenova in the women’s doubles and while unseeded would not be unexpected if the Russian pair came out on top this week in Kaunas.
In the men’s doubles the vastly experienced Polish pair of Lucas Moren and Wojciech Szkudlarczyk are back together after time out with younger partners. The Poles on their day are world’s top 25 players and don’t be fooled by their seeding. They are the top pair in Lithuania this week and will be hot favourites to lift the title.
For those looking to names of the future keep an eye out for the results of Arnaud Merkle and Leo Rossi of France, Danylo Bosniuk (UKR) and Jan Louda (CZE) as these young guns test the waters of senior competition.
The Tournament kicks off tomorrow Thursday with qualification rounds and to view the draws for the 2016 Yonex Lithuanian International click HERE
Article and archive images by Mark Phelan for Badminton Europe