Ziad Maafi is an essential cog in the IJF engine, a key member of the IJF IT Team, assisting the referee commission with video replay and also collating technical statistics which inform every part of the sport planning process. For day one of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, the technical analysis is his.

“We have a good number of athletes and countries, 448 judoka from 77 nations, representing all 5 continents. Many athletes here are young and some even participated in the junior worlds just a couple of weeks ago in Portugal. The Turkish -48 kg finalist today won silver in Portugal and has stepped up to this grand slam podium seamlessly.

Ersin (TUR) on her way to a junior world silver medal.

Aside from the juniors stretching themselves, we also have a sprinkling of the top of the elite here, such as current world champion Garrigos (ESP) at -60 kg and of course the two Canadian women at -57 kg, both world champions! All three of them made it to the final block although Garrigos made a single mistake to seeing him fighting for third place instead of first.

Christa Deguchi heading to the final in Abu Dhabi.

At -48 kg the finalists, Scutto and Ersin are 21 and 20 respectively but the Italian arrives in UAE with a much deeper experience. They are both so young but Scutto (ITA) was immovable today by anyone. Ersin can be proud though, of her breakthrough medal, her transition to the senior stage, or her throwing ability and much more. She’s really her way.

Scutto (ITA) winning her Abu Dhabi Grand Slam semi-final.

At -60 kg the Brazilian, Takaki, is also young at 23 years old and it’s his first time taking a medal on the WJT. He won this year’s continental championships but has no reference on the IJF circuit at all. He was more than a surprise but he earned his place on the podium with his natural feeling for the space and the possibilities available to him in every contest.

Takaki surprised 2019 world champion Chkhvimiani (GEO).

At -52 kg we have Van Krevel (NED), also enjoying her first appearance in a grand slam final block. These athletes are all taking their chance to develop and ensure a future full of results. We don’t know exactly why Abu Dhabi has received so many new WJT athletes or why most of the very top athletes chose not to come; most categories have very few from the world top ten, except -57 kg with includes both Deguchi and Klimkait. I believe many countries have chosen to send a different group of athletes perhaps preparing their A-teams for the senior Europeans or for Tokyo. Its refreshing though and positive to see the depth in so many teams.

The host nation has had a nice first day with Bayanmuknh jumping into the final block at -66 kg. This is always a happy reward for the countries putting so much effort into the organisation of their World Judo Tour events. His opponent for the bronze medal was Pashayev, also fighting excellently and reaching the first final block of his career.

Bayanmunkh (UAE) on his way to the podium.

We are saving the best final for last on day 1, between the two Canadian women. It is possible every time they appear at the same event that it will be the decider for them. One will go to Paris 2024 and so withstanding that pressure means that for them their mentality becomes as important as their judo, without doubt.

The -57 kg final.

Statistically speaking, 85% of contests finished with a positive score and therefore only 15% with penalties. This is aligned with what we expect from most WJT events. We had 26% of contests going into golden score, a little higher than usual, but perhaps this is explained by inexperience. We have seen some really high quality ne-waza and tachi-waza ippon wins but we want more of them to happen in normal time rather than extra time. These athletes can become more consistent on the WJT and learn how to manage their contests more efficiently. It takes time but we know how committed they are and with the evidence we have seen today, we can be sure they will only continue to improve.

Ne-waza sequences also yielded big scores.

My final observation is about the -48 kg contest between Stojadinov (SRB) and Ersin (TUR). We saw an interesting occurrence with the Serbian having a very strong grip on Ersin’s arm with a juji-gatame but she seemed to let go as if she heard something at just the point when the Turkish judoka appeared ready to submit. She didn’t tap, that’s confirmed, but the decision to let go cost the Serbian the win. Perhaps it was an act of fair play to not injure her opponent, perhaps she heard something from the crowd behind them but it was very close and from that point Ersin let nothing stand in her way. It was possibly a big mistake so we hope it can be turned into a big lesson.”

Day one has concluded with a medal table which offered no guarantees to any nation despite a led for Italy with their two gold medals. The host nation has performed well and the ippon judo has been visible and exciting throughout.

Follow all of the day 2 action on JudoTV from 10am local time.

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