Former Palma de Mallorca professional footballer Ruben Nova Fernandez was among several new Para badminton players making their international debuts today as the Spanish Para Badminton International - the final Paralympic qualifying event - started in Cartagena.
Fernandez’s football career was ended by a motorbike accident last year, but he has launched himself into a new sporting career and today the home player secured a comfortable 21-12, 21-10 victory over Lukas Kyncl of the Czech Republic in the opening round of men's WH1 Group A.
Fernandez told the Badminton World Federation website: "It’s my first international match, I’ve just been classified.
"I was very nervous as it was my first match, I’m very happy with the win.
"When the match started I didn’t know how I was going to play.
"I tried to have fun today, but I know the next round will be more difficult because I’ll be playing against more experienced players.
"I’m a new player who hasn’t had that much practice but I’m so happy to be here."
Kyncl, also making his debut at an international event, said: "It’s a nice tournament.
"I’m here for the first time, to gain some experience and it’s well organised.
"I have to train a lot more to get better.
"I would like to be the best player I can be."
Other first-timers taking centre stage in Cartagena included 18-year-old Elena Zhuravskaia of Russia, who beat Portugal’s Inoi Ferreira 21-9, 21-11 in their opening women's SL4 match.
Ferreira, also making her first international appearance, commented: "I’m excited to play and represent Portugal at the Spanish Para Badminton International 2021 in this category.
"To be here with the rest of the team is so great."
A total of 157 players from 36 countries have arrived in the maritime enclave town for competition at the Palacio de los Deportes de Cartagena.
The event will run until Sunday (May 16) and feature men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Top seeds include France's world number six WH1 men's singles player David Toupe, Switzerland’s Karin Suter-Erath in women's singles WH1 and Indonesian SL4 women’s singles world champion Leani Ratri Oktila, as they continue to gather ranking points and match play in the run-up to the Paralympics.
Indian players were unable to travel to the tournament because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, and China are also absent.
COVID-19 protocols are in place for all players, entourage members and staff attending the event, with strict regulations on testing, the wearing of facemasks and social distancing.
Badminton will make its Paralympic debut in Tokyo in September this year, offering 14 medal events.