Two-time World Team member Joe Rau (87 kg, TMWC/IRTC, world #7, 5PM #2) received his opening round draw for tomorrow’s Day 1 of the 2021 Grand Prix Zagreb Open in Zagreb, Croatia. Rau will begin in the round-of-16 opposite Filip Smetko, who placed third at both the fall edition of the tournament as well as the Croatian Nationals in October. Prior to this year, Smetko had been primarily an age-group competitor, despite appearing in this event twice previously (’18 and ’19).
Should Rau prove victorious, he will meet the winner of Aleksandar Stjepanetic (SWE) and Juho Pahikainen (FIN). Stjepanetic’s most significant showing to date was a silver to countryman Zakarias Berg last year at Haavisto. Perhaps the most well-known name on the top side of the bracket with Rau is ’15 Junior World champ Ali Cengiz of Turkey, who is a very solid athlete with numerous other relevant credentials in addition to his Junior title. In ’18, Cengiz took home the University World crown and has since put in strong performances at both Pellicone and the latest iteration of Pytlasinski from November.
The 87-kilogram bracket does not hold the same exact form as rendered on the entry list. Neither Berg, two-time U23 World champ Semyon Novikov (UKR), or the Moldovan tandem of Gabriel Lupasco and Vladislav Gutu are involved. Instead, Lupasco and Gutu are down at 82. The most decorated athlete in the weight class (and the tournament itself), two-time World Champion Zhan Belenyuk of Ukraine (world #2), is in the bottom side of the bracket and will begin his day in the qualification round against Estonia’s Andreas Vallis.
Speaking of Estonia, their athletes were not included on the preliminary entry sheet — but they’re in Zagreb. What that means is two-time World Champion/’12 Olympic silver Heiki Nabi is in the heavyweight bracket. Nabi earned his seventh World-level medal in ’19 by coming up with bronze, which also qualified Estonia at 130 kilos for the Tokyo Games. And he’s got a good one right off the bat in the round-of-16, Oskar Marvik (NOR).
Various athletes are in different or unexpected weight categories thus far. The most surprising is ’16 Olympic bronze/multi-time World medalist Elmurat Tasmuradov (UZB). Tasmuradov’s weight has long been a topic of conversation, particularly in the years following Rio. Currently, the 29-year-old super-athlete is ranked #11 at 63 (gold at ’20 Asian Championships) and seventh at 60 kg (fifth at ’19 Worlds). Throughout his career, Tasmuradov has never competed above 66/67 kilograms. That will change on Saturday, when he walks onto the mat against Michael Portmann (SUI) in the round-of-16 at 72 kilos.
GRAND PRIX ZAGREB OPEN
January 16-17 — Zagreb, CRO
All times +6 hours EST.
Streaming links can be found here.
Saturday, January 16
10:30am-7:00pm — Qualification rounds through semifinals
Sunday, January 17
10:30am-2:00pm — Repechage round(s) through bronze-medal matches
7:00pm-9:00pm — Finals
TEAM USA DRAWS
87 kg: Joe Rau (TMWC/IRTC) vs. Filip Smetko (CRO)