Bayley and Davies head GB team in Germany


World champion Will Bayley and world number one Rob Davies head a squad of 12 members of the GB Para Table Tennis Team taking part in the Bayreuth Open in Germany this week (May 27-30).

The factor 40 tournament will see the first appearance in Europe this year of the powerful Chinese team, which includes eight current World champions.

Bayley will once again face strong competition from Maksym Nikolenko, the World number one who beat Bayley in a five set final in Slovenia earlier this month, as well as his Ukrainian team mate and current European champion Mykhaylo Popov and China’s Keli Liao, while Davies’s opposition includes reigning Paralympic champion Holger Nikelis from Germany and Ki-won Nam, the Korean who narrowly beat Davies in Slovakia two weeks ago.

The GB team also includes World silver medalist Sue Gilroy, London 2012 Paralympic medalists Jane Campbell, Sara Head and Aaron McKibbin, as well as 16 year old Billy Shilton, who will once again partner Bayley in the men’s class 7 team event following their gold medal in Slovenia when they beat World champions Spain in the final.

The full list of players representing GB in Germany is:

GB Performance Squad:
Will Bayley (Tunbridge Wells/Sheffield) – Class 7
Jane Campbell (London) – Class 3
Rob Davies (Brecon) – Class 1
Ashley Facey Thompson (London/Sheffield) – Class 9
Sue Gilroy (Barnsley) – Class 4
Sara Head (Bedwyn) – Class 3
Jack Hunter-Spivey (Liverpool/Sheffield) – Class 5
Aaron McKibbin (London/Sheffield) – Class 8
Megan Shackleton (Todmorden) – Class 4

GB Pathway Squad
Lawrence John (Swansea) – Class 10
Tom Matthews (Aberdare) – Class 1
Billy Shilton (Stonehouse) – Class 7

Follow the GB Para Table Tennis Team on Twitter @gbparatt

Hunter-Spivey takes team gold in Slovakia

Jack Hunter-Spivey and his Norwegian team partner Tommy Urhaug took the gold medal in the men’s class 5 team event on the final day of the Slovakia Open today and the GB Para Table Tennis Team also picked up two bronze medals with Rob Davies and Tom Matthews in men’s class 1 and Aaron McKibbin and Ashley Facey Thompson in men’s class 9.

Jack & Tommy with Matt Slovakia 2015Hunter-Spivey and Urhaug had beaten Spain in the quarter-finals 3-2, with Hunter-Spivey clinching the tie with a 3-2 win against Francisco Javier Lopez Sayago, and then enjoyed a more comfortable 3-0 win against Korea to take them through to the final against a team of Nicolas Savant-Aira, the world number five from France, and the Brazilian Claudiomiro Segatto.

Hunter-Spivey gave his team the perfect start by beating world number 11 Segatto 3-0 and after Savant-Aira levelled the tie by winning a close match against Urhaug 12-10 in the fifth the 20 year old from Liverpool combined with the Norwegian to win the doubles. Urhaug, the Paralympic champion and world number one then clinched the gold with a 3-0 win over Segatto.

The Welsh combination of Davies and Matthews beat Slovakia 3-0 in the quarter-finals to set up a semi-final against the Korea 1 team of world champion Chang-ho Lee and world number nine Jae-kwan Cho. With Davies winning both his singles and Cho defeating Matthews and then combining with Lee to win the doubles it came down to the deciding singles between Matthews and Lee. The 22 year old from Aberdare played a great match but the Korean’s experience just edged the final set 11-9 to win the match and the tie 3-2.

Londoners McKibbin and Facey Thompson beat The Netherlands in their quarter-final, with Facey Thompson coming back from 1-2 down to beat Jean-Paul Montanus 3-2 and win the tie for GB 3-1. In their semi-final against Japan with both GB players beating Koyo Iwabuchi and losing to Noboyuki Suzuki the doubles proved crucial and a 3-1 win for Japan ultimately decided the tie 3-2.

In the men’s class 6 team event Paul Karabardak and Martin Perry played well to beat Germany 3-0 in the last 16 and went through to meet Denmark in the quarter-finals. Once again the doubles proved to be key to the result of the tie, with both GB players beating Michael Jensen and losing to world number two Peter Rosenmeier, and it was the Danish duo who came out on top in a 3-1 win and they went on to take the tie 3-2.

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Bronze for McKibbin in Slovakia

Aaron McKibbin took bronze in the men’s class 8 singles on an otherwise disappointing day for the GB Para Table Tennis Team at the Slovakia Open in Bratislava. World number one Rob Davies (men’s class 1) lost narrowly in the quarter finals to world number 10 Ki-Won Nam from Korea, Paul Karabardak (men’s class 6) was beaten at the same stage by the World champion and World number one Alvaro Valera and Jack Hunter-Spivey also lost in the quarter finals to World number one and Paralympic champion Tommy Urhaug from Norway.

Aaron McKibbin 1Londoner McKibbin topped his group with three wins from three and received a bye into the quarter-finals where he beat Josef Krsiak from Slovakia 3-2. In the semi-finals he faced the World champion and World number one Viktor Didukh and the Ukrainian was too strong in a 3-0 win.

Davies also topped his group and received a bye into the quarter finals. He led Nam 2-0 and had match points in the fifth set but could not convert them and the Korean edged the set 12-10 to win the match 3-2.

Fellow Welshman Karabardak, gold medalist in Slovenia last week, won his group and played a great match to beat the World number six Bastien Grundeler from France 3-0 in the last 16. He was then unlucky to come up against Valera in the quarter-finals and the Spaniard showed all his class in a 3-0 win.

Hunter-Spivey progressed to the knockout stages with two wins from his three group matches and beat Agus Sutanto from Indonesia 3-1 in the last 16 to set up a quarter final against Urhaug but the experienced Norwegian was always in control and beat the 20 year old 3-0.

Ashley Facey Thompson (men’s class 9) also progressed from his group with two wins but found the Japanese player Nobuyuki Suzuki too good in their last 16 match in a 3-0 loss.

Thomas Matthews (men’s class 1) had a tough group with the world number two Jean-Francois Ducay from France and Nam and although he lost to both players he came very close to beating Nam, fighting back from 0-2 to level at 2-2 and losing a tight fifth set 11-9.

Martin Perry (men’s class 6) was also knocked out at the group stages but played well in 3-1 defeats to Grundeler and the world number 10 Alberto Seoane Alcazar from Spain and recorded a 3-0 win over Jaun Carlos Sepulveda Pardo from Chile.

The competition continues with the team event that concludes on Saturday.

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Davies and Karabardak head GB team for Slovakia Open

World number one Rob Davies and fellow Welshman Paul Karabardak, gold medalist in last week’s Slovenia Open, head a team of seven members of the GB Para Table Tennis Team competing in the Slovakia Open in Bratislava starting tomorrow (May 13-16).

Davies, silver medalist in the men’s class 1 singles in Slovenia, once again faces tough competition including world champion Chang-Ho Lee and Slovenia gold medalist Young Dae Joo from Korea, while the opposition for Karabardak, currently ranked world number five in men’s class 6, includes the top four players in the world.

The list of players representing GB in Slovakia is:

GB Performance Squad:
Rob Davies (Brecon) – Class 1
Ashley Facey Thompson (London/Sheffield) – Class 9
Jack Hunter-Spivey (Liverpool/Sheffield) – Class 5
Paul Karabardak (Swansea) – Class 6
Aaron McKibbin (London/Sheffield) – Class 8

GB Pathway Squad:
Tom Matthews (Aberdare) – Class 1
Martin Perry (Paisley) – Class 6


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Bayley and Shilton beat World champions to take team gold in Slovenia

Will Bayley and Billy Shilton produced a great performance in the final of the men’s class 7 team event at the Slovenia Open today to beat the World champions from Spain 3-1 and take the gold.

On a good final day for the GB team 16 year old Megan Shackleton took silver in the women’s class 4 team event with her Slovakian partner Alena Kanova and London 2012 medallists Jane Campbell and Sara Head took bronze in the women’s class 3 event.

After 16 year old Shilton had played well in a 3-1 defeat to the world number four Jordi Morales, Bayley, the class 7 World champion, levelled the tie with a 3-1 win over the men’s class 6 World champion Alvaro Valera. The doubles is always key in team events and the GB pair dominated throughout for a 3-0 win to move 2-1 ahead.

In the first of the reverse singles Bayley started well against Morales but the Spaniard is a tough competitor and in the end it came down to a fifth and deciding set. Although it was close Bayley always had a slight advantage and held his nerve to win the set 11-7, the match 3-2 and the tie for GB 3-1.

Will Bayley action 7 2014“I just thought I’ve got to fight for every single ball,” said Bayley, “because he (Morales) is going to play a lot of balls on the table and I just thought I’ve got to try and get one more ball back than he does. That is pretty much my tactic against him because he is hard to hit through; it seemed to pay off in the end but it was tough. I think we had to win the doubles but I felt pretty relaxed all the way through because Billy played so well and we dominated from the start. It means a lot to beat the World champions and shows we’ve got a really world class team – hopefully we’ll get to play Ukraine soon and compete for major medals – that is what I want to do.”

Shilton was understandably delighted to win team gold here for the second time.

Billy Shilton action 6 2014“It means a lot,” he said. “Last year we won with three of us but this time it was just me and Will and and I’m really happy we won the gold. Everyone here is a top player and to play against top players all the time you have to believe you can win. I think I’ve done that quite well and because of that I’ve played my best table tennis. Even when I was two sets down I felt relaxed and just loosened up a bit and played my table tennis and I think that is how I won sets from 0-2 down. This will help my singles as well and give me even more motivation. It is great to play with someone like Will – the way he fights for every single point is something I need to bring into my game more.”

Bayley was full of praise for his young partner.

“I think he has impressed me most by the way he stayed calm,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure this morning and he was feeling a bit nervous but he didn’t show any of that in the match. He was very calm and collected and that is all you can ask for really in a team partner and he did a great job.”

Shackleton and Kanova reached the final with a 3-1 win over Thailand. Although Shackleton lost a close singles match against Chilchitraryak Bootwansirina she combined well with Kanova to win the doubles and the Slovakian’s two singles wins took them through to meet World champions Serbia.

In the final Kanova made a great start to the first singles and led Nada Matic 2-1 but the world number five came back strongly to take the next two sets and give Serbia a 1-0 lead. Shackleton also made a good start against Borislava Peric-Rankovic and led 6-5 in the first set but the experience of the world number one understandably proved too much for the young GB player and she lost in three sets.

That left Kanova and Shackleton needing to win the doubles and such is the strength in depth of Serbia in women’s class 4 that Peric-Rankovic was able to watch from the side lines as Matic was partnered by world number 12 Zorica Popadic. However, it was the Slovakian/British combination that came out on top – fighting back from 1-2 down to win the fourth set 12-10 and then take the deciding fifth 11-7.

Kanova is class 3 but a former Paralympic, World and European champion and she showed all her class and experience against Peric-Rankovic – taking a 2-1 lead and recovering from the loss of match points in the fourth set to take the fifth 11-5 and the match 3-2.

Megan Shackleton April 2014 3Shackleton then had to play Matic in the deciding singles and to her credit she started well and kept fighting but the experience of the Serbian was decisive in a 3-0 win to clinch the tie 3-2 and the gold.

“There was a lot of pressure going into that match,” admitted Shackleton, “but I felt quite positive as I’d had a close match with her in Italy. I’ve never been in a pressure situation like that before so it was really hard but I’m proud that I played a good match and did the best I could do. It’s a really good experience and hopefully if I’m in that situation again I’ll deal with it better.”

Jane Campbell and Sara Head put up a good fight against Turkey in the semi-final and were level at 1-1 after the first singles matches with Head losing in four close sets to Hatice Duman and Campbell coming back from 1-2 down against Nergiz Altintas to beat the world number seven 11-3 in the fifth.

Jane Campbell and Sara Head doublesA 3-0 loss in the doubles left them needing to win both reverse singles but although Head rallied from 0-2 down against Altintas to win the third set the Turk just edged the fourth 11-9 to take the match 3-1 and the tie 3-1.

Nevertheless after the disappointment of last year’s World Championships it was a promising performance by the GB pair and a second bronze medal of the tournament for Campbell.

“I was very pleased to beat Altintas,” she said, “and this will definitely give me confidence for the rest of the season. I think I’ve played as well as I could – my forehand has been working really well and that is what is making the difference. I lost confidence in it a bit in Italy and now I’ve got no reason not to be confident and that is a good feeling.”

Head can also look forward to her next competition in Germany later this month after a winter disrupted by illness.

“Both my singles could have gone either way but it wasn’t my day today,” she said. “I’m happy with my performance at this tournament considering my lack of winter training and hopefully now with some good training things can keep improving.”

GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko said: “I think it has been a really good tournament for us. Paul Karabardak winning a gold medal in class 6 when only two of the world’s top ten players were missing was a brilliant result. Will Bayley and Billy Shilton – a great result to take a gold medal in the team event and to beat the world champions in the final. We are also very happy with the young players – Megan Shackleton taking silver in the team and coming very close to beating the world number six in the singles. Overall the performance of the team was great and now we go on to Slovakia and try and maintain the results there and then later this month in Germany.”

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Bayley and Shilton into team final in Slovenia

World champion Will Bayley and his 16 year old team partner Billy Shilton reached the final of the men’s class 7 team event at the Slovenia Open today after beating France in the semi-final 3-1.

The Welsh combination of Rob Davies and Tom Matthews will take bronze in the men’s class 1 team event after losing their semi-final to Korea-2 and GB are assured of two more medals as London 2012 medalists Jane Campbell and Sara Head are through to the semi-finals of the women’s class 3 team and 16 year old Megan Shackleton reached the semi-finals of the women’s class 4 event with her Slovakian partner Alena Kanova.

The French team of Kevin Dourbecker and Stephane Messi had beaten the number one seeds from Ukraine in the last 16 but Shilton almost caused an upset in the first singles, fighting back from 0-2 against Dourbecker to level at 2-2 but the world number eight used all his experience to take the final set 11-7 and the match 3-2. Bayley also had to fight back from 1-2 down against 2004 Paralympic champion Messi before closing out the match 11-4 in the fifth and the GB pair then combined brilliantly to win the crucial doubles 3-1. When Bayley took the first set against Dourbecker 11-0 he looked to be on course for a comfortable win but the Frenchman came back strongly and in the end Bayley had to find his best form to win the match 11-8 in the fifth and take GB into the final.

Will Bayley Slovenia 2014 2“The French guys are both top players,” said Bayley, “but what we did well was we stayed together as a team because there were lots of highs and lows in that match and we got through it. Billy kept really calm and cool and he was superb in the doubles which was a key match. It is going to be a great test for us to play Spain – they are World champions and have won so many major medals but we have got nothing to lose so we’ll go out and enjoy it.”

Billy Shilton France 2Bayley and Shilton had earlier beaten a combined team from Sweden and USA 3-0 with Shilton fighting back from 0-2 down against Nicklas Thomas Westerberg to beat the Swedish player 11-7 in the fifth.

“I’m really pleased with the way I played today,” he said. “To play the top players is really good experience for me and there are loads of different styles so it’s really good and it is great to play with someone as experienced as Will. Spain will be a tough match – they are two very good players so we’ll see what happens.”

Davies and Matthews are playing together here for the first time and made a great start by beating a team from Germany and Brazil 3-0 in the quarter-final. Davies was given a fight by the German Marcus Sieger and recovered from losing the first set to win 3-1 before Matthews also dropped the first set in a 3-1 win against Bruno De Paulo. The GB pair then combined to win the doubles 3-0.

In the semi-final against the Korea-2 team Matthews lost in three close sets to Young Dae Joo before Davies beat Jae Kwan Cho 3-0. The GB pair were no match for the Koreans in the doubles and Davies could never find his form against Joo in a repeat of their singles final yesterday and the Korean took the match 3-0 to win the tie 3-1.

“In that last game I struggled basically,” said Davies. “I’m not really sure why – I just need to pick myself up now for Slovakia. It is a tough game table tennis – it is all about fine margins and you can lose to anyone if you don’t play well. He was a better guy on the day today so I need to pick my game up and come back another day and try and beat him.”

Tom Matthews France 1“I’m learning all the time,” said Matthews, “so it is really good for me. I had my chances but I didn’t take them. I had no nerves this time – I was relaxed and it was just my shot selection so if I can get that right and improve my consistency it is going to come together.”

Campbell and Head were involved in a titanic battle against a combined team from France and Turkey and when they lost the doubles 9-11 in the fifth they had to win both reverse singles. With Head beating Marie-Christine Fillou 3-1 it was all down to Campbell and she responded with a determined 3-1 win over Kezban Cakir to clinch the tie and take them into tomorrow’s semi-finals.

“After losing the doubles there was a lot of pressure,” admitted Head, “and I was really pleased with how I handled it.”

The London 2012 bronze medalists have a great partnership and Campbell said of her win over Cakir: “It always inspires me that Sara has just done it. What she did was hard so I couldn’t let her down – I had to do it.”

Megan Shackleton April 2014 3In their quarter final Shackleton and Kanova beat a team of Helke Koller from Austria and the Slovenian Barbara Meglic. After Kanova had won the first singles against Meglic, Shackleton beat Koller 3-1 and then combined with Kanova to win the doubles 3-0.

“I’m really pleased because I played Koller in the final in Hungary,” said Shackleton, “and we had a fifth set match and it was really close so to have a 3-1 win is quite promising and it shows my training is paying off. Alena is very supportive and gives me lots of advice on how I can improve and she helps me stay focused so she’s a really great team partner to have.”

In men’s class 10 Kim Daybell was partnered by Aaron McKibbin against a very strong Russian team in their quarter final. Daybell had his chances against Vladimir Glasov but could not find a way past the imposing Russian who took the first singles 3-1. McKibbin, a class 8 player, played well against the class 10 Pavel Lukyanov and came close to repeating his win over the Russian here last year but at 2-2 the world number nine took the deciding set 11-4 and the match 3-2

Daybell and McKibbin then needed to win the doubles but the Russian combination of Glasov and Iurii Nozdrunov were always in control in a 3-0 win to secure the tie 3-0.

“Glasov is very different to a lot of players in class 10 in the way he plays,” said Daybell. “He has definitely improved his level over the past year and I find it really hard to play him as have a lot of other players. I’m disappointed not to win today but next time I will have to find a way around him.”

McKibbin said of his match against Lukyanov: “In the 4th set at 4-1 I felt in quite a good position but he is a top player and quite experienced so I knew the fourth set was key. Even though I didn’t get the win I can definitely use the performance as a positive to take into Slovakia next week.”

After seven matches yesterday Paul Karabardak was entitled to feel tired but the Welshman is a fighter and he gave everything to beat Raimondo Alecci 12-10 in the fifth set of their opening singles in the men’s class 6 quarter final against a combined team from Thailand and Italy. Martin Perry, who celebrated his 21st birthday today, understandably found the experience of Paralympic champion Rungroj Thainiyom too much in a 3-0 loss but then combined well with Karabardak to win an exciting doubles match 11-5 in the fifth.

Paul KarabardakIt was a great effort and although Karabardak then rallied to level his singles match against Thainiyom at 1-1 the world number four took the next two sets for a 3-1 win and with Perry losing 3-0 to the wily Italian Alecci the GB pair went out 2-3.

“I was tired because I’ve played a lot of matches,” admitted Karabardak, “but I’ve got to give him (Thainiyom) credit because he is an excellent player and he deserved to beat me. Hopefully I can play him next time when I’m fresh and we’ll see what happens then -maybe I can beat him.”

The partnership of Karabardak and Perry is new for GB this year and their win in the doubles showed that it has great promise.

“I think we are improving all the time,” agreed Karabardak. “To beat two top players is a great result and I think we can take confidence from that because doubles is very important in team matches.”

In men’s class 5 Jack Hunter-Spivey and his French partner Emeric Martin lost 3-2 to a strong Korean team but Hunter-Spivey had a good win in his singles over the world number eight Ki-Young Kim.

“That was a good win for me,” said Hunter-Spivey, “and revenge for my loss to him in the Worlds which I had in the back of my head a little bit. So I can end the tournament on a bit of a positive for me and kick on to Slovakia.”

Good start to team competition for GB

The GB team made a good start to the team competition at the Slovenia Open today with Paul Karabardak and Martin Perry (men’s class 6), Will Bayley and Billy Shilton (men’s class 7) and Kim Daybell, Ashley Facey Thompson and Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 10) all progressing to the quarter finals.

Bayley and Shilton beat Japan 3-1, Daybell, Facey Thompson and McKibbin beat Mexico 3-1 and Karabardak and Perry beat a combined team from Korea and Japan 3-1 after Karabardak had given them the perfect start by fighting back from 0-2 down to beat world number three Hong Kyu Park 3-2.

Five medals for GB in Slovenia

The GB Para Table Tennis Team took five medals in the singles events at the Slovenia Open today including gold for Swansea’s Paul Karabardak in men’s class 6 and silver for Will Bayley (men’s class 7) and Rob Davies (men’s class 1). Jane Campbell (women’s class 3) and Kim Daybell (men’s class 10) both took bronze in their respective events.

Paul Karabardak action 4 2014Karabardak began the day at 09:00 with a 3-0 win over Domingo Arguello Garcia from Costa Rica which ensured that he topped his group and received a bye into the quarter-finals. A 3-1 win against the Russian Alexander Esaulov was followed by a 3-0 semi-final win against the world number three Hong Kyu Park from Korea to take him into the final against Thomas Rau. The German was in good form having beaten the world number one Alvaro Valera but Karabardak was always in control and took the match and the gold 3-0.

“I managed to scrape through the early matches not playing my best,” said the 29 year old, “but when I hit the semis and finals I started to play my best table tennis which is really pleasing. To win this competition is a big thing because there are only two players in the world who aren’t here so this will give me confidence now looking ahead to Rio.”

Will Bayley World Champs 2014 1Bayley beat the French world number eight Kevin Dourbecker 3-0 in the last 16 and followed that with a 3-0 win over the Belgian Ben Despineux to set up a semi-final against Mykhaylo Popov. The reigning European champion had looked in great form here but Bayley played a superb match and frustrated the imposing Ukrainian in an impressive 3-0 win. That set up a final against the world number one Maksym Nikolenko in a repeat of their World Championship final last September. After dropping the first set Bayley played brilliantly to take the next two but the Ukrainian fought back and after winning a close fourth set he went on to take the fifth and the match 11-4.

Nevetheless it was a good performance by the Sheffield based 27 year old in his first competition of the season.

“I thought I was playing really well and I should have really finished it off,” said Bayley. “You have to take your chances and when it was close in the fourth if I had taken a few points there I would have won the match. But he is a great player and it was a tough match. I actually feel that I am playing better than when I won the world championships – I feel like I’m hitting the ball better and I’m a bit stronger so I’ve got more to come and I’m excited about that.”

Rob Davies action 3 2014In the quarter final Davies came back from 1-2 down against world number two Jean-Francois Ducay to beat the Frenchman 11-7 in the fifth and a more comfortable 3-0 win over the Italian Andrea Borgato took him into the final against world number seven Young Dae Joo. Davies started well but the Korean came back to win the next two and when Davies levelled at 2-2 it was down to the final set. The former rugby player from Brecon never gave up and twice came back to level the score but it was the Korean who clinched the gold 12-10 in the fifth.

“I’m reasonably happy with the way I played,” said Davies, who is also competing here for the first time since the World Championships. “Obviously the wrong result for me but my shot selection was what lost if for me at the end. Overall I played really well and it was the first time I’ve played him (Joo) so it was good to see him. I should have some tactics against him next time which will help. Disappointing that I couldn’t win the final but it happens; he played better on the day and hopefully I’ll play better next time I play him.”

Jane Campbell 1Campbell had secured her place in the quarter-finals by beating the American Pamela Fontaine 3-1 and then saved four match points against Helena Dretar-Karic before going on to beat the Croatian 11-6 in the fifth. She played well in the semi-final against Andela Muzinic from Croatia but the world number four was just too strong and took the match 3-0.

“I didn’t feel today I could have played any better,” said Campbell, “and to get a bronze medal in such a competitive event is very satisfying.”

Kim Daybell 4A 3-0 win over Carlos Alberto Carbinato Junior from Brazil took Daybell into a quarter final against Mykhailo Trunov from Ukraine and another 3-0 win earned him a semi-final against Jose Manuel Ruiz Reyes. The 22 year old Leeds University medical student had his chances to win in a great match but in the end it was the Spanish world number six – a former World and European champion – who showed his experience in the final set to close out the match 3-2.

“For the first four sets I think I played really well,” said Daybell. “The first set could have gone either way but I think the crucial set was the fourth which he just took. But he is a champion and he knew how to play in the fifth and it was just a shame I couldn’t get over the line. I’ve picked myself up from the start of the tournament – I wasn’t feeling that good or playing that well so I was pleased to come here today and turn it around and play table tennis a bit more to my highest level.”

Sara Head Nat Champs 2015Sara Head had progressed to the knockout stages with a typically determined win over the Mexican Edith Sigala Lopez, fighting back from 1-2 down to take the match 11-8 in the fifth. She then dropped the first two sets in her last 16 match against Nergiz Altintas of Turkey but again fought back magnificently to win the match 11-8 in the fifth before losing her quarter-final against the Italian world number five Michela Brunelli in four close sets.

“To feel my form coming back is enough to make me very happy,” said Head. “I lost in deuces and they could have gone either way so I’m a bit gutted but pretty happy at the same time that my match play is improving. After the lack of training in the winter, to come here and play like that I’m pretty satisfied.”

Ashley Facey Thompson beat the Dutchman Ronald Vijverberg 3-1 in the last 16 of men’s class 9 to set up a quarter final against Juan Bautista Perez Gonzalez. The world number nine from Spain was in top form and took the match 3-0.

“To be honest he was on fire,” admitted Facey Thompson. “I beat him last time and he just knew that he didn’t want to take any chances. He came out strong and it was difficult for me to get into the match. I tried my best but to be fair he was just too good today.”

In men’s class 8 Aaron McKibbin played a great match to beat the former World and Paralympic champion Mathieu Loicq from Belgium 3-1 but could not repeat that performance in his quarter-final against an inform Johanes Urban, losing 0-3 to the German.

“I feel that I played OK,” said McKibbin. “I’m disappointed to lose as I felt I was in control of a lot of the sets but he is very awkward to play and is obviously in good form as he beat Emil (Andersson – world number four) in the last round so I’ve got to take it and move on. I’m happy with how I performed and I felt my level didn’t really drop too much – it was just that I didn’t take my chances.”

Billy Shilton took the first set in his men’s class 7 last 16 match against Ahmed Sayed Moahmed from Egypt but the world number seven had too much experience for the 16 year old and took the next three sets to win the match 3-1.

Martin Perry needed to win his final group match to go through to the knockout stages of men’s class 6 and he made a great start against Danny Bobrov but the world number 12 from Israel fought back to take the match 3-1 and put the Scot out of the competition.

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Seven GB players progress to knockout stages in Slovenia

On a good day for the GB Para Table Tennis Team at the Slovenia Open seven players progressed to the knockout stages of the singles events including World champion Will Bayley and world number one Rob Davies.

They will be joined by Paul Karabardak (class 6), Billy Shilton (class 7), Aaron McKibbin (class 8), Ashley Facey Thompson (class 9) and Kim Daybell (class 10) while Jane Campbell (class 3), Sara Head (class 3) and Martin Perry (class 6) can still progress if they win their final group matches tomorrow morning.

Will Bayley Slovenia 2014 2In his first match since the World Championships last year Bayley recovered from a slow start against Alexei Samsonov to beat the Russian 3-1 and then secured top spot in his group with a 3-0 win against Viktor Karp from Ukraine.

“I’ve played better but it is always difficult when it is the first tournament of the year,” said Bayley,” and I was a bit nervous today but I’ve come through it and now I need to up it another level for tomorrow.”

With so many entries in class 7 the 27 year old faces the prospect of four matches tomorrow if he is to successfully defend his Slovenia Open title.

“It’s going to be a tough day tomorrow,” he admitted, “but I feel ready for it. I’m actually hitting the ball really nicely so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Rob Davies 2Davies was also competing for the first time since taking silver in the World Championships last September and he started with a 3-0 win against the Brazilian Bruno De Paulo before winning the group with a 3-0 victory over the Hungarian Endre Major.

“I’m really happy with the way I played,” said the Welshman. “I’m trying to deal with being world number one and I seem to be doing that better at the moment. I had a hard game against Major in the Worlds so it was good to beat him 3-0 today and prove a point to myself as well as him. My shot selection was quite good so it’s just those little touches that I need to be better at for the next round but I’m excited about tomorrow.”

Paul Karabardak beat the American Michael Brown 3-0 and then recorded a 3-0 win over the very experienced Thomas Rau to ensure that he will progress to the knockout stages. The Swansea player will hope to go through as group winner with a win in his final group match at 09:00 tomorrow against Domingo Arguello Garcia from Costa Rica.

“I didn’t think I played that well this morning,” said Karabardak, “but you can’t always play well and it is good to know that you can be not at your best and still manage to get results. I knew I had to put in a better performance against Thomas Rau because he has been a very good player for a long time and I managed to play well enough to get the win in the end which was very pleasing.”

Billy Shilton France 1Shilton was a comfortable 3-0 winner against Bogdan Omelchuk from Ukraine and then lost nothing in defeat to the world number five and World Championship bronze medalist Jean-Paul Montanus, taking the second set against the talented Dutchman but eventually losing 3-1. A 3-0 win against the American Daryl Sterling secured second place in his men’s class 7 group and the 16 year old goes through to the knockout stages for the first time in a factor 40 competition.

“I think I played well in all my matches especially against Jean-Paul so it was a good day,” said Shilton. “It always gives you confidence playing these sort of competitions because all the top players are here and no match is easy so to get out of my group is great and I’m really happy with how I played today.”

Aaron McKibbin Lignano 2014McKibbin was gifted a walkover in his first match when his Venezuelan opponent Carlos Alberto Fasanaro Russian withdrew and he fought back well in his second match to beat the experienced Belgian and top seed in the group Marc Ledoux 3-1. A 3-0 win against Alejandro Perez from Argentina ensured him top spot in the group.

“I’m very happy with how I played,” said McKibbin. “I feel my level has been quite consistent and I’ve looked to put into practice what I’ve been working on in training and I felt very relaxed. Nice to be in the knockout rounds – I think I need to come with the same focus and keep pushing and try to get better with every match.”

Ashley Facey Thompson France 1Facey Thompson began with a 3-0 win over the German Yannick Schneider and then fought back from losing the first set against Esa Miettinen of Finland to beat the world number 12 and top seed in the group 3-1. He completed his group matches with a 3-0 win against Nurzhan Korpetayev from Kazakhstan to go through as group winner.

“I’m very pleased with the way I played,” said the 20 year old Londoner. “In the second game I nearly let myself beat myself by letting my head dip a bit with frustration and anger but I kept it together. I feel like I’m always in the matches now -every match I play I’ve always got a chance even if I’m not playing 100% and I can carry that confidence into tomorrow.”

Kim Daybell 1Daybell beat Bunpot Sillapakong from Thailand 3-0 in his opening match but then struggled to produce his best form against Vladimir Glazov and the imposing Russian produced some powerful shots to take the match 12-10 in the third. The Leeds University medical student came back to win his final group match against Supriyatna Gumilar from Indonesia and is hoping for greater consistency in tomorrow’s knockout stages.

“It was quite a difficult day,” said Daybell, “and I found it hard to get going playing against the Russian who is an awkward player. Nowadays with Para table tennis if you don’t turn up with your best game on the day everyone is a good player and anyone can win against you. So I think tomorrow if I try and be a little more consistent and improve my decision making then hopefully I can play better than I did today.”

Head began with a 3-0 win against Osrita Muslim from Indonesia and played well in a 3-1 defeat to the world number five Andela Muzinic from Croatia. She can go through to the knockout stages if she beats Edith Sigala Lopez from Mexico tomorrow morning.

Campbell also made a winning start with a 3-0 win against the Australian Rosalie Turnbull and then produced a determined performance to beat the world number seven Nergiz Altintas from Turkey 3-1. She needs to beat the American Pamela Fontaine tomorrow morning to be sure of progressing.

“That was a very satisfying win,” said Campbell after beating old rival Altintas, “I just felt confident – my forehand was really strong today and that makes the distance.”

Jack Hunter-Spivey started with a 3-0 win over the American Mohan Vallabhapurapu and then led the World champion Valentin Baus 2-1 before the German won a very tight match 12-10 in the fifth. The 19 year old from Liverpool fought hard in his final match against Tatok Hardiyanto but the Indonesian proved just too strong in a 3-2 win.

“I played very well against Baus and had chances to win that match,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I’m very disappointed but that’s the way it goes so I’ll move on and see if I can get better results in the team event.”

Megan Shackleton pushed the German Sandra Mikolaschek all the way in her first group match but the world number six used all her experience to take the match 11-8 in the fifth. The 16 year old showed all her fighting qualities in her second match, recovering from losing the first set against Martha Verdin of Mexico to win 3-1, but needed a win in her final match to progress and the world number 12 Zorica Popadic from Serbia had too much experience.

Megan Shackleton France 2014“I had a really good match against the world number 6,” said Shackleton, “and last year in Spain I had quite a struggle against her so it has proved to me that I can do it with a lot of hard training. I feel like I have a lot more respect from the other players now since they’ve watched me progressing over the last year and I feel that it will be my day soon if I keep working hard.”

Tom Matthews played well in defeat to the world number two Jean-Francois Ducay from France and the Korean world number 10 Ki-Won Nam.

“Against Ducay I think I played really well,” said the 22 year old from Aberdare. “His experience shone through but I took him close in all three sets so I was quite pleased with that. Against Nam I played well in the first set but lost my concentration so it’s little things that need to improve and hopefully that will come.”

Perry had a tough first match against the world number 11 Alexander Esaulov and although he saved four match points the Russian proved too strong in a 3-0 win. A 3-0 win against Matias Nicolas Pino Lorca from Chile kept his hopes of progressing to the knockout stages alive and he will be hoping to beat Danny Bobrov from Israel in his final match tomorrow morning.

The GB team withdrew Ross Wilson (class 8) from the tournament as a precaution due to a minor knee injury.

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Important month ahead for GB Team

World champion Will Bayley and world number one Rob Davies head a 14 strong squad for the Slovenia Open next week (May 6-9), one of three factor 40 tournaments for the GB Para Table Tennis Team in May. With more than 400 competitors including 10 current world champions the Slovenia Open will be one of the most competitive tournaments of the season and will not only provide a benchmark for the European Championships later in the year but also have a bearing on qualification for the 2016 Paralympic Games.

Sheffield based Bayley from Tunbridge Wells will be defending his class 7 singles title in Lasko and making a belated start to his season having missed the Italian Open due to a minor foot injury.

Will Bayley final 1“Things have been really good since I’ve been back in training,” said Bayley, who last week became the first Paralympian to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the EIS in Sheffield. “I feel really sharp and I’m looking forward to Slovenia. It is always one of the toughest tournaments of the year and in some ways just as hard as the Europeans because you’ve got players there from outside Europe who are really strong and have different styles so it will be a really good test for me.”

Slovenia will also be Bayley’s first tournament since winning the world title in China last September but the 27 year old has his feet firmly on the ground.

“I don’t feel any different,” he said. “You’re only as good as your last training session so you can’t afford to take your foot off the gas and think you are better than you are because there are young players coming through and they’ll pick you off. So I need to keep fighting hard and remember why I became world champion and not take it for granted.”

One of those young players is 16-year-old Billy Shilton, who will partner Bayley in the team competition now that former team mate Paul Karabardak has been reclassified in class 6.

“I’m very excited to play with Billy,” said Bayley. “Paul was a fantastic team partner and was like an older brother to me and now it’s like I’m the older brother in the relationship and I’ve got to lead by example. Hopefully we can get some good results because Billy is playing really well. He’s been running rings around me in training and I think we can cause a few surprises this season.”

European champion Davies will also be making his first appearance of the season after a minor injury ruled him out of Italy but the Welshman feels that the enforced break might prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Rob Davies 2“I’ve had a good break because of the injury and mentally it’s done me good,” he said. “I’ve come back more positive and I’m looking forward to seeing where I stand with the rest of the players. I’m really excited about playing in Slovenia.”

The former rugby player took silver at the World Championships last year and admits that it has taken him a while to feel comfortable with the world number one ranking he has held since October 2013.

“Starting last season as world number one there was more pressure on me and I struggled a bit to deal with it,” he said. “I was maybe thinking too much about losing my number one ranking but I’ve worked on that since and I feel more positive and confident; so it’s exciting to be starting a new season with a different attitude.”

Currently his strongest challenger for that number one ranking is Jean-Francois Ducay, who beat him so narrowly in London and is always one of his toughest competitors. The Frenchman recently spent a week in Sheffield training with Davies and the rest of the GB team, something that Davies feels will benefit them both.

“It was good having Ducay on the training camp – he is a top player and we can both see where we are at. The Koreans will be in Slovenia and he plays quite similarly to some of the Koreans so it’s good for both of us really.”

GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko said: “The three tournaments in May will show us where we are against the top players in our preparation for this year’s major championships which are the Europeans in October. The team is hoping for good results – in Italy we were missing Will Bayley, Rob Davies and Paul Davies and although Paul will not be in Slovenia we will have the rest of our Performance Squad there. Slovenia has a world record entry of more than 420 players from more than 50 countries – only China will not be there and they will be in Germany at the end of May. All the best European players will be there so if we can get medals in Slovenia then we know the athletes’ preparation is going well and if the results are disappointing then we will know what we need to work on with the athletes at the end of May.”

The list of players representing GB in Slovenia is:

GB Performance Squad:
Will Bayley (Tunbridge Wells/Sheffield) – Class 7
Jane Campbell (London) – Class 3
Rob Davies (Brecon) – Class 1
Kim Daybell (Sheffield/Leeds) – Class 10
Ashley Facey Thompson (London/Sheffield) – Class 9
Sara Head (Bedwyn) – Class 3
Jack Hunter-Spivey (Liverpool/Sheffield) – Class 5
Paul Karabardak (Swansea) – Class 6
Aaron McKibbin (London/Sheffield) – Class 8
Megan Shackleton (Todmorden) – Class 4
Ross Wilson (Minster/Sheffield) – Class 8

GB Pathway Squad
Tom Matthews (Aberdare) – Class 1
Martin Perry (Paisley) – Class 6
Billy Shilton (Stonehouse) – Class 7

Follow the GB Para Table Tennis Team on Twitter @gbparatt

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