Bulgaria’s Polina Trifonova was a surprise qualifier into the knockout phase of the ITTF European Olympic Singles Qualification in Portugal ©ITTF

Bulgaria’s Polina Trifonova beat the odds to qualify for the women’s singles knockout stages at the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) European Olympic Singles Qualification Tournament which got underway in Guimarães in Portugal.

With only the two top names from each of the 10 qualifying groups progressing to the knockout stages, the 37th seed ensured she would progress to join the four top seeds in the next section of the competition as she beat Britain’s 11th seed Tin-Tin Ho 11-5, 11-4, 11-6, 18-16.

That earned her second place in Group H behind Serbia’s Sabina Surjan, who beat Slovenia’s Ana Tofant 11-5, 5-11, 9-11, 11-2, 9-11, 11-7, 11-7.

Nadezhda Bogdanova of Belarus, seeded 14th lost out in her final Group I match to French number 34 seed Prithika Pavade, whose 6-11, 11-6, 11-6, 12-10, 3-11, 11-8 win took her through alongside Czech Republic’s Karin Adamkova.

Two highly experienced players - Lithuania’s Ruta Paskauskiene, 44, and Denmark’s Mie Skov, 34, kept their Tokyo 2020 qualification hopes alive.

Paskauskiene, who made her Olympic Games debut at Atlanta in 1996, is seeking a fourth appearance at the event and came back from three games down to beat Bulgarian number 19 seed Maria Yovkova to earn the Group E runner-up spot with a 6-11, 4-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-9, 11-7, 11-8 scoreline.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s Skov, seeded 39th, earned second position in Group F following her six-game victory over Serbia’s 12th seed Izabela Lupulesku 11-6, 4-11, 11-6, 6-11, 11-7, 11-7.

A second win for Britain’s Charlotte Carey, who accounted for Slovakia’s Tatiana Kukulkova 12-10, 11-9, 11-7, 4-11, 13-11, prevented the latter player from leapfrogging Italy’s number five seed Debora Vivarelli for a Group B qualifying place.

Britain's Paul Drinkhall, the fifth seed, moved through from his group with three wins from three at the ITTF European Olympic Qualifier in Portugal ©Getty Images
Britain's Paul Drinkhall, the fifth seed, moved through from his group with three wins from three at the ITTF European Olympic Qualifier in Portugal ©Getty Images

And Luxembourg’s at-risk seventh seed Sarah De Nutte benefited similarly when Sibel Altinkaya of Turkey beat Greek rival Aikaterini Toliou in Group A 11-8, 11-8, 8-11, 11-2, 9-11, 11-9.

In Group D, victory by Ukraine’s Solomiya Brateyko over Belgium’s Nathalie Marchetti 11-7, 11-4, 12-10, 11-8 enabled Spain’s Galia Dvorak to squeeze through from the group.

The deal is the same in the men’s groups, of which there are eight, and three of the favourites to progress negotiated the opening day of competition without defeat, namely Britain’s number five seed Paul Drinkhall, Slovakia’s number nine seed Lubomir Pistei and tenth-seeded Cédric Nuytinck of Belgium.

The biggest casualty of the opening day appeared to be Romania’s sixth seed Ovidiu Ionescu, a world men’s doubles silver medallist in 2019, who followed up his opening defeat by Spain’s Jesus Cantero with a loss to Italy’s Mihai Bobocica.

But Ionescu saved himself with a final victory over Israel’s Tal Israeli, 11-9, 11-7, 11-6, 11-8 and then saw Bobocica beat Cantero by a sufficient margin of 8-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-7, 9-11, 11-3.

The biggest name to go down today was Finland’s Benedek Olah, eleventh seed and favoured initially to progress from Group E. 

But there was no wavering from Drinkhall, who completed his group matches with a third consecutive win, 11-4, 11-0, 11-2, 11-5 over Latvia’s Daniels Kogans.