A game of fine margins

After the nerve-racking excitement and intensity of the medal matches in the singles it is the start of the team event today and Riocentro3 has a slightly more relaxed atmosphere as the players enter the hall for the first matches at 10:00.

First up for GB is a round 1 match in men’s class 9-10 with Kim and Ash taking on the Italian combination of men’s class 9 singles bronze medalist Mohamed Amine Kalem and the class 6 Raimondo Alecci. They take a 2-1 lead in the doubles but the Italians come back to force a decider and our boys assert themselves and run away with the final set 11-2 and take a 1-0 lead in the tie.

daybell-kim-gbrm10-img_5301Kim is playing Kalem in the first singles and loses the first set but comes back to take a nail-biting second set 15-13 with his usual mixture of spectacular defense and attack. The two players trade sets and – guess what – we are into another deciding set. Thankfully Kim takes it 11-6 and he and Ash are through and can prepare for their quarter-final match against the mighty China later this afternoon.

There is a delay to the start of Aaron, Ross and Will’s first match in men’s class 6-8 against Belgium as the previous match on table 6 between Netherlands and Austria goes the distance. When they finally get underway Aaron and Ross are back in their corner in next to no time with the first set won 11-2. They take the second 11-6 and at 0-3 in the third a timeout for the Belgian combination of Marc Ledoux and Mathieu Loicq gets them back on track and they take the third 12-10.

With Aaron and Ross trailing 6-9 in the fourth we seem to be heading for yet another final set but they clearly don’t fancy that and take the next five points to secure the win.

There is a roar from the crowd as Brazil have levelled at 2-2 in the doubles against Spain but World champions Morales and Valera take the fifth set to give Spain a 1-0 lead.

Ross is being supported by a posse of family and friends in the crowd and he gives them and us something to cheer about by taking an edgy first set against Ledoux 11-9. He seems to grow in confidence after that and takes the second 11-6.

alvaro-valera-espAt the same time Alvaro Valera is playing Israel Stroh in the first singles of the tie between Spain and Brazil and, just as he did against Will in the final of the men’s class 7 singles, Stroh is calling Valera on his serving action. The Spaniard is such a great champion with many years’ experience behind him and is so indignant that he calls the referee. The look on Valera’s face is reminiscent of sailing legend Ben Ainslie when he famously said about his opponent: “He made me angry and you don’t want to make me angry.”

Unfortunately for Valera he appears to lose concentration and Stroh takes the match 3-1 to level the tie.

Ross is not about to relinquish control of his singles match against Ledoux and takes the third set 11-6 for his first singles win at Rio 2016. The boys are safely through and will face either Spain or Brazil in the quarter-finals.

Valera may not have been able to channel his anger but fortunately for him and for Spain Morales can and after losing the first set to Paulo Salmin he fights back to take the second 16-14. Salmin takes the third but back comes Morales again from 8-4 down to take the fourth 11-8 and when he clinches the final set 11-9 to take the match 3-2 and the tie 2-1 both players fall backwards on to the floor as Valera and the Spanish coach leap to their feet in celebration.

So we will play Spain in the quarter finals at 18:00 in what is sure to be a real battle.

Jane and Sara have started their quarter final in women’s class 1-3 team against Italy – a repeat of their epic bronze medal match in London which our girls won. They make a great start by taking the doubles 3-0 but when Sara is beaten by Michela Brunelli it means that Jane has to beat 22 year old Giada Rossi.

campbell-lara-jane-gbrThe first set appears to be going to plan at 10-6 but Giada starts a run of seven consecutive points to take it 12-10 and then from 3-5 in the second comes back to take it 11-5. Jane is still looking determined and when she wins the third 11-5 we start to hope that she might be able to pull this one out of the fire. Sadly she can’t as Rossi takes the first five points of the fourth set and although Jane fights hard the Italian closes out the set 11-5 and the match 3-1.

It is desperately disappointing for Jane and Sara who will not repeat their medal winning performance in London 2012.

“It just wasn’t our day,” says Sara afterwards and one can only feel for her and Jane as their Paralympic dreams lie in tatters.

Rob’s Paralympic dream has already been realised but he wants a second medal with his great friend and team partner Paul Davies. However, in the Paralympic team events men’s classes 1 and 2 are combined and our Welsh duo are up against two class 2 athletes from Brazil. They lose the doubles 3-0 and Rob then loses the first set to Guilherme Marcio Da Costa.

We all know that he must be exhausted after all the effort and emotion of yesterday’s singles but sheer grit and determination enable him to haul himself back into the match by taking the second set.  He quickly goes 5-1 down in the third but rallies again and has chances to win it but Da Costa finally edges it 15-13. It proves to be Rob’s last roll of the dice and the Brazilian delights the crowd by taking the fourth and the match to take the home team through to the semi-finals.

daybell-kim-thompson-ashley-facey-gbr-3Meanwhile Kim and Ash are doing battle with China and having lost the first two sets in the doubles are locked in a battle for the third. The combined talent and experience of Lian Hao and Ma Lin clinches the set 14-12 and the match. Table tennis is all about the finest of margins – the boys haven’t been outplayed but they have lost 3-0 and the same happens when Kim plays Ma Lin. One or two points here and there make the difference between winning and losing but both Kim and Ash are encouraged by the level they have played at here.

So all our hopes for another medal now rest on Will, Aaron and Ross in men’s class 6-8. Can they beat World champions and London 2012 silver medalists Spain and reach the semi-finals? After Morales and Valera take the doubles in four close sets against Aaron and Ross we need to win both singles to keep our medal hopes alive.

Ross’s family and friends are back to cheer him on and as he takes a 2-0 lead against Valera chants of ‘Rossie, Rossie, Rossie; Oy, Oy, Oy’ urge him on. Valera doesn’t give up but Ross grinds out the third set and rewards the ‘Rossie Posse’ with a 3-0 win to level the tie at 1-1.

Not for the first time GB expects and Bayley delivers. He admits afterwards that he has never felt so nervous but he hides it well and never really looks in trouble against Morales, whose efforts against Brazil earlier may have left their mark.

Coach Greg jumps to his feet and salutes the GB supporters as Will wins the third set 11-2 and takes GB into a semi-final tomorrow against Ukraine.

Can the boys match or even improve on the bronze they won in London? Watch this space.