Vecko looks to Tokyo after successful European Championships for British team

One year after winning two gold medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games the British Para Table Tennis Team has enjoyed its most successful European Championships in the modern era with seven medals in the singles events and three team medals including gold in men’s class 6. Paralympic champion Rob Davies won his third consecutive European singles title and led a historic one, two, three for Britain in men’s class one – the first time that Britain has won all three medals in one class.

“I am very happy that we had 10 medals and seven in singles,” said British team Performance Director, Gorazd Vecko, “which is showing that we are going in the right direction towards Tokyo. It was a tough championship and a long seven days of competition and I am very proud of all the players. For Kim Daybell in his 13th time in a major quarter-final to finally get a medal and for he and our class 9 player Ashley Facey Thompson to take silver in men’s class 10 was one of the big points for us and to take all three medals in men’s class 1 was definitely the highlight.

Gorazd Vecko interview Euros 2017“Our men’s class 6 team became European champions and beat the World silver medallists Croatia who they lost to in the semi-finals in the World Championships and we had a lot of good results in the singles events as well. The performance of our young players like Tom Matthews, Martin Perry, Billy Shilton and Megan Shackleton shows the strength of our development programme since London 2012 – they have all come through the Pathway programme and are now part of the Performance Squad, competing in major championships and winning medals.

“All the players showed great character – they were really engaged, believing in themselves and fighting for every point. None of the players disappointed me. Winning and losing is part of sport but they all tried their best. We had close matches like the men’s class 6 final and it is always good to win these matches. In the team event the players on the bench were really supporting the team which shows we have the right culture in place and it is not about who will play, it is about how to make the team win, so I was really proud of everyone.

“In March next year we start the qualification period for Tokyo and hopefully we can continue to progress and have the chance to win medals in 2020. I always say that you need to qualify first then everything is possible.”

Gold for Britain on final day of European Championships

TM6 Gold medal winning team with coach Andrew RushtonIt was a golden end to the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Slovenia for the British team today as Paul Karabardak, David Wetherill and Martin Perry took gold in the men’s class 6 team event beating World silver medallists Croatia in the final.

Karabardak and Wetherill got off to a flying start in the opening doubles match and were quickly 2-0 up but the Croatian combination of Pavao Jozic and the former World number one Vjekoslav Gregorovic came back to level at 2-2 before the GB pair asserted themselves again to win the match 11-4 in the fifth. In the first singles Karabardak looked to be in trouble at 2-0 down against Jozic but the Welshman, who celebrated his 32nd birthday yesterday, drew on all his experience and showed tremendous character to level at 2-2. At 3-0 down in the fifth GB coach Andrew Rushton called time out and it proved to be a good decision as Karabardak quickly levelled and then moved ahead, taking the match 11-7 in the fifth and securing gold for Britain.

GREAT BRITAIN (Paul Arif KARABARDAK, David Paul WETHERILL, Martin Robert PERRY) 0111“I was frustrated because I know I can stay in the game with him,” said Karabardak, “so to be 2-0 down and him to be dictating the game and me trying to force the play, I knew I had to change things and try and control the game, which I did. I started getting the ball on the table and I think he started to get a bit nervous and I was able to capitalise on that. When I was 3-0 down at the start of the fifth Andrew said ‘move the ball around’ which I did and I managed to get back into it and I’m over the moon with the way I played against a top opponent who has had a good competition. It’s very special – my first major gold – and I’m so pleased that I could play my best table tennis and help the team to become European champions.”

It was a second medal at these championships for 27 year old Wetherill from Torpoint, who had taken silver in the men’s class 6 singles.

“We knew from the start that the doubles would be really important,” he said, “and if we could go into the singles 1-0 up then Paul could play relaxed and we would be in a very strong position to take the victory. At 2-0 up were playing really well and very positive but in the third set we lost a string of points and my confidence dropped a little bit and all of a sudden they were back at 2-2. I’ve got to pay big credit to Tim Pitt our psychologist because he has really helped me for the past few years – that part of table tennis is massive especially in the finals and the major medal matches and I think we played the important points well today. I was so glad Paul won because I was a nervous wreck watching from the bench. He played amazingly and I’m really proud of him.”

“It’s been great being part of this team,” said 23 year old Perry, from Paisley. “These guys have a bank of knowledge and experience that I can feed on and it has been incredible being able to help and support them in any way I can – both in the training hall and by being supportive on the bench. Hopefully that energy transfers onto the table because we are in this together and I think the guys have played amazing throughout. I was down to play in the first match but I wasn’t needed so it shows that we have strength in depth in this team and going forward I’m sure there is much more success to come for us.”

GREAT BRITAIN (GILROY Susan and SHACKLETON Megan) 0010After both producing good performances in the singles here Sue Gilroy and Megan Shackleton had high hopes of a medal in the team event but they completed a disappointing competition with a 2-0 loss to World champions Serbia in their final match in the round-robin women’s class 4-5 event. European bronze two years ago and bronze in the World Team Championships earlier this year are testament to their potential as a team and 18 year old Shackleton is improving all the time.

“It has been a nightmare competition for us,” admitted Gilroy, whose preparation for these championships had been hindered by her recovery from major surgery on her arm in the summer. “That is the worst we have played in the team event – we have never done this badly before which is a shame but we just need the right preparation next time. I haven’t played anywhere near my best and it is just one of those things.”

“It has been a disappointing team event,” said Shackleton, “but Sue and me know the potential we have as a good strong team partnership and in the future, as long as we can make sure our preparation is as ideal as possible, I think that this situation won’t happen again. I feel that I have had a good singles competition and moving on to the World Championships next year that shows good promise.”

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Silver lining for Daybell and Facey Thompson in Slovenia

The British team won two medals today in the team events at the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Lasko, Slovenia with Kim Daybell and Ashley Facey Thompson winning a superb silver medal in men’s class 10 and Aaron McKibbin, Ross Wilson and Billy Shilton taking bronze in men’s class 8. Paul Karabardak, David Wetherill and Martin Perry, already assured of a medal, came through their semi-final and will play Croatia for gold in the final of men’s class 6 tomorrow.

Kim & Ash with Mat after winning SFLeeds University medical student Daybell and 22 year old Facey Thompson reached the final of men’s class 10 with a magnificent performance against the Rio Paralympic silver medallists Spain in the semi-final, getting off to a perfect start with an impressive 3-0 win in the doubles. Class 9 Facey Thompson then played one of the matches of his life to push the class 10 former World and European champion Jose Ruiz Reyes to five sets, saving two match points in the fourth to level at 2-2 before the experienced Spaniard closed out the match 11-6 in the fifth.

Just as he did in the quarter-final yesterday 25 year old Daybell needed to win the deciding singles and at 2-0 up seemed to be in control of the match against Jorge Cardona. When the Spaniard came back to level at 2-2 the momentum appeared to have shifted but Daybell has showed an indomitable fighting spirit to match his talent at these championships and he proved the stronger in the closing stages, taking the set 11-6 and the match 3-2 to take his side into the final.

Kim and Ash v LatviaAgainst World champions Poland in the final they started well, taking the first set in the doubles before the World number one Patryk Chojnowski and Igor Misztal came back to take the match 3-1. Facey Thompson again fought hard against Misztal in the first singles but the 20 year old Polish class 10 player was just too strong and took the match 3-1 and secured the gold for Poland.

“We played really good doubles against Spain,” said Daybell. “They are such a strong team and have been World and European champions in the past. We have never beaten them before so to go out and do that in our first ever semi-final as a pair was really something special. I’ve been involved in so many close matches and at 2-2 against Cardona I just used the experience that I have had and I was able to come through it. It is what I’ve been doing for the whole tournament – just grinding out matches and doing it the hard way but it has worked out well.

“It would have been quite easy for us to sit back after winning the quarter finals and feel that we had done it after medalling and I was so pleased that we could go a step further. It really did mean a lot to win silver, and to win it with Ash and share that experience – it is something we have both been working for a long, long time so it is good. I think Ash is playing great now and I am hopefully going to be able to improve my level a bit more and if we can keep going with that there is no reason we can’t become one of the best teams in the world.”

“We could easily have been happy with the bronze,” agreed Facey Thompson, “but we pushed on and beat a quality team and I’m really happy with that. Our doubles was good and in my match against Ruiz I played my hardest and believed in myself – it was a really good match. His quality took over in the fifth set but I’m really happy with how I played. Class 10 is not my class but I feel that I am in the mix and playing strong against them – they are having to battle against me and that is giving me more belief to go and perform like that against the players in my class.”

Wilson and McKibbin came through a tough quarter-final match against World team bronze medallists France in the morning, losing the doubles 3-2 after failing to convert two match points in the fourth set. Wilson levelled the tie with a determined 3-2 win against World number five Thomas Bouvais, holding his nerve to take the fifth 11-7 after the Frenchman had levelled by taking a close fourth set 11-9. McKibbin then secured a place in the semi-finals for his team with a 3-0 win against Elias Debeyssac.

Ross and Aaron v NorwayIn their semi-final they faced World silver medallists Ukraine and although they fought back well to take the first set of the doubles they lost the match 3-1 and the tie 2-0 when Wilson was beaten 3-1 by World champion and World number one Viktor Didukh.

“Obviously our doubles performance against France was much better than against Poland in the group,” said McKibbin, “and that is what we were trying to do – bring our level to where it should be and I think we did that. It was tough to lose the match but I had a lot of faith in Ross that he could win against Bouvais. The experience of Rio helped me in the last match against Debeyssac and I had full belief in myself that I was going to cross the line. It was a team effort – Billy’s support was amazing and Greg (coach) on the bench and I think that also made the difference in the end. Ukraine won gold and silver in the singles here so they are obviously a really strong team but we know that there are things we can improve and the positive is that we are competing with them.  I think this major has been one of the hardest for me as I’ve had a few niggling injuries coming in so it has been a bit of a mental battle but I’m really happy to come away with a medal.”

“The France match was really difficult,” said Wilson. “That is the first time we have played them so it was nice to play a new team. We had a great game in the doubles and I had a great game against Bouvais and then Aaron came through really well in the third singles so there were a lot of positives this morning and it was great to get through it. It is nice to know that I am competing with the top guys but I really do so badly want to start beating them and that is what I’ll be working towards next year. It is fantastic to get two medals and great to get a medal with the boys again – we have Billy in the team now and that is his first major medal with us and I am sure he will get plenty more in the future.”

For 18 year old Shilton the experience of being on the bench in the high pressure environment of a major championship will be a great benefit for the future.

“It is massive for me to learn from Aaron and Ross,” he said. “They are such a great team and have done it before in major competitions and have done it again here. I’m really pleased with another major medal.”

Dave Wetherill and Paul KarabardakIn their men’s class 6 semi-final Wetherill and Karabardak recovered from dropping the first set to win the doubles against Israel 3-1 and Wetherill fought hard against an in-form Danny Bobrov but the Israeli eventually took the match 11-5 in the fifth to level the tie at 1-1. Karabardak then had to win the deciding singles against Asaf Gofer and after getting the better of a titanic battle in the second set 19-17 the Welshman was able to celebrate his 32nd birthday with a 3-0 win to take his team into tomorrow’s final where they will play World silver medallists Croatia.

“The second set was really intense,” said Karabardak. “It was crucial in the game because I think it broke his confidence a little bit and took away maybe how much he thought he could win and I think I knew after that I had a great chance to go on and win. Not that is wasn’t difficult because he still had some resilience in the third set but it made it a little bit easier which I’m very thankful for. It’s a very nice way to celebrate my birthday – I couldn’t ask for more.”

Wetherill has come through some long matches in these championships and although he dug deep he was unable to find a way past Bobrov today.

“I’ve always struggled against him for some reason,” admitted Wetherill. “I haven’t played him that many times and today I was trying to find my reserves and I tried my hardest. I had every confidence in Paul in the third singles and it is really good that either Paul or Martin or any of us can win if the other one loses a match. Thankfully we managed to get the 2-1 victory and we are confident for tomorrow now. Paul and me have been playing really well in the doubles all week and I think I let him down a little bit today – we didn’t play as well as we have been but Paul’s given himself his birthday present today and I’m really pleased.”

“Watching Paul’s second set I am just glad that I don’t have my hair already because it would have been gone,” said Perry, who was cheering his team mates on from the bench. “That was such a tense set and I can only praise these guys’ performance. It was such an electric bench – the energy on the bench was just feeding off these guys on the table. They were putting so much into it and myself and Andrew (coach) felt we were in the match. We’ve got the final to look forward to tomorrow and I think with these two guys we’ve got a fantastic opportunity.”

Sue Gilroy and Megan ShackletonAfter taking bronze in the World Team Championships earlier this year Sue Gilroy and Megan Shackleton have not found their best form here and they lost their third match today in the round-robin women’s class 4-5 team event to Germany. They fought hard to win the first set of the doubles 13-11 from 8-4 down but Sandra Mikolaschek and Lisa Hentig came back to take the match 3-1. Shackleton then showed glimpses of her potential against Mikolaschek, particularly in a deuce third set but the World number four took the match 3-0 to secure the tie for Germany 2-0.

“They certainly played a lot better than us,” admitted Gilroy, “we need to do a lot more work on our doubles. It is coming – we had some really good rallies particularly in the first couple of games so that is a real positive and we just need to build on that now.”

“It is disappointing regardless of how good the player is,” said Shackleton. “With how hard I work in training and the things that I am capable of, it is disappointing, but I think with experience eventually these things will hopefully turn round for me and in the last set I do think I showed promise of what I can bring out in the future.”

Gilroy and Shackleton play their final match against World champions Serbia tomorrow.

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Lucky 13 for Daybell in Lasko

Kim Daybell has come so close to winning a major medal, losing in 12 quarter-finals, and it proved to be lucky 13 today as he and Ashley Facey Thompson put up a brilliant performance to beat the World team silver medallists Russia 2-1 to reach the semi-finals of men’s class 10 team at the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Lasko, Slovenia. On a good day for the British team Paul Karabardak, David Wetherill and Martin Perry also reached the semi-finals of men’s class 6.

GREAT BRITAIN (DAYBELL Kim and THOMPSON Ashley Facey) 0193After topping their group Daybell and Facey Thompson were unlucky to be drawn against the experienced Russian team of Pavel Lukyanov and Iurii Nozdrunov but they played superbly to win the vital opening doubles match 14-12 in the fourth. Facey Thompson fought hard against Nozdrunov but the World number three had just too much experience for the 22 year old Londoner and levelled the tie with a 3-1 win in the first singles.

That left Daybell to play the deciding singles against Lukyanov and he made a great start taking the first set 11-5 before the Russian came back to edge the second 12-10. Daybell’s spectacular defence can so often frustrate opponents and so it proved in the third set. The Russian coach called time out with Lukyanov leading 10-9 but Daybell levelled at 10-10 and then hung on tenaciously, saving several game points before clinching the set 14-12. It proved to be the pivotal point in the match as the 25 year old Leeds University medical student ran away with the fourth set 11-1 for an emotional win.

Kim v Lukyanov Team QF“The doubles was massively important,” admitted Daybell. “We’ve played better here than we have ever played before – really working well together – and it goes to show that if you do win that one you really put yourself in with a massive shot. They were the number three seeds and we were unlucky to draw them so it was a really nice way to win. The third set against Lukyanov was a difficult set; it wasn’t pretty and I think we were both quite nervous and I just had to find a way to crawl over the line and it was nice to be able to come through. I think it settled me; I knew I had stolen it away from him a little bit and I think that was in his mind as well. I just thought as long as I put in a solid performance here then I think I will be able to take it and that is what I did.

“I’ve been part of a lot of quarter finals and it has been a real hard struggle. Class 10 is such a tough class but it means even more to win it in team because Ash and me have been trying for a long time to win a medal together and I think when you share something like that it just makes it all the better.”

Facey Thompson is also assured of his first major medal and the class 9 player is starting to fulfil his potential since moving to Sheffield to train full time with the British squad in the summer.

“We played very good doubles against France and Russia,” he said, “better than we have ever played together. Training full time has improved me a lot as a player and to be with Kim and to feel that we have an equal partnership now is great. I felt really good against Nozdrunov and was buzzing from the doubles. I tried my hardest but he came through at the end with quality and experience but I’m happy. Words can’t describe how it feels to win a major medal – we have been close four times but we’ve worked hard and the outcome is at least a bronze so I’m really happy. I’m looking forward to tomorrow now – we have nothing to lose and we can give it our all.”

Daybell and Facey Thompson will face Spain in the semi-finals tomorrow.

Paul Karabardak and David Wetherill came through their final group match in men’s class 6 against Greece, using their experience to good effect in the doubles to win 3-0 before Wetherill overcame a spirited challenge from Mario Chatzikyriakos in the first singles 3-1 after dropping the first set.

GREAT BRITAIN (WETHERILL David Paul, KARABARDAK Paul Arif and PERRY Martin Robert) 0126“It was one of those matches where we just needed to get the job done,” said Wetherill, “and we managed to do that. I think we will be a lot fresher tomorrow. Paul and me have just been analysing how much risk we need to take and doing enough to make sure we get the win. But if we get put under a bit more pressure we know we can up it several levels so we have that confidence in each other. I think today we played really clever and we did nothing apart from place the ball in the right places so I am very pleased with that.”

“I think we can improve a bit more,” agreed Karabardak, “but I was really pleased with the doubles again because we are playing some of our best doubles and the doubles is really important in team. I think we can get better but we will have to because there will be tougher tests in the semi-finals. We’re guaranteed a medal but I’d like to get the gold and I think we are more than capable of getting the gold.”

Martin Perry looked on from the bench and was always confident that his team partners would get the win.

“These two guys have got a lot of experience,” he said, “and really drew on that today and I always thought they were going to win. They both put in really good performances, especially in the doubles, and then Dave had to work hard in his singles but he got the win so I was in more than capable hands on the bench.”

The British trio will play Israel tomorrow for a place in Wednesday’s final.

In the last round of group matches in men’s class 8 Poland beat Norway to win their group which meant that the British team of Aaron McKibbin, Ross Wilson and Billy Shilton, who did not play today, took second place and will progress to the quarter-finals tomorrow where they will face France.

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Mixed day for British team on first day of team events at European Championships

After the success of the singles competition it was a mixed start to the team event for the British team at the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Slovenia today.

Highlight of the day was the performance of Kim Daybell and Ashley Facey Thompson who are through to the quarter-finals of men’s class 10 after topping their group. There were also wins for David Wetherill, Paul Karabardak and Martin Perry in men’s class 6 and Aaron McKibbin, Ross Wilson and Billy Shilton in men’s class 8 but disappointment for Sue Gilroy and Megan Shackleton who lost both their opening matches in women’s class 4-5.

Rob, Tom and Paul with medalsParalympic champion Rob Davies and his fellow Welshmen Paul Davies and Tom Matthews have been denied the opportunity to defend their men’s class 1 European team title by the withdrawal of Hungary, as a minimum of four teams is required and with only three remaining the class was cancelled.

Full report
Men’s class 10:
Daybell and Facey Thompson started their team event with a 2-0 win against Latvia, taking the doubles 3-0 before Daybell secured the tie with a 3-0 win against Aleksandrs Sinica.

Kim and Ash v LatviaIn their second match against France, after dropping the first set they came back to win the doubles 3-1. Daybell won the first set against World number four Mateo Boheas and then held his nerve to take a crucial second set 14-12 having led 10-5. The 20 year old Frenchman came back to win the third but Daybell is in great form at these championships and recovered from 4-0 down to win the fourth 11-7 and take the match 3-1. The 2-0 win against France means that Daybell and Facey Thompson go through to tomorrow’s quarter finals as group winners.

“The second set was a big one to win,” admitted Daybell. “I think we could both feel it in the game. It is always close when I play against him and I just played a little bit better today so it was nice to do that after the singles yesterday. With the field being as strong as it is winning the group is massive to avoid some of the top seeds so we’ll just see who we get and hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to come out and do the same thing.”

Class 9 player Facey Thompson is playing against class 10 players but is maturing all the time and has developed a good partnership with Daybell.

“In the first match we did a professional job,” said Facey Thompson. “The second match was harder and we started a bit slow but we got into the match and started doing the basic things right. We played really well and our level was a bit higher than the opposition’s today. We haven’t played doubles together since Rio but with me training full time now it has given me a lot of confidence and I feel that I can be with Kim as a partner and not just as the second player.”

Men’s class 8:
Ross and Aaron v NorwayRio team bronze medallists McKibbin and Wilson were comfortable winners against Norway, starting with a 3-0 win in the doubles and taking the tie 2-0 after Wilson beat Pablo Jacobsen in three sets 3, 4 and 5.

Against the London 2012 Paralympic champions Poland, Wilson and McKibbin lost the doubles 3-0 and 18 year old Billy Shilton found the Rio singles bronze medallist Piotr Grudzien just too strong in the first singles, losing in three close sets. The British trio will have to wait for the result of Poland’s match against Norway tomorrow to see if they will progress to the quarter-finals on Tuesday.

Billy Shilton v Grudzien“I felt that I played well,” said Shilton. “It was just a few points at the end of each set that cost me – I think when I look back on it later I’ll be quite pleased with how I played. It is massive for me to be here in this environment when we’ve got two really strong players on the team so I’m benefiting a lot from it.”

“We went into the match against Poland with a tactic,” said McKibbin, “and we tried to play to it but to be fair they played really well. We definitely didn’t bring our best level but hopefully Poland will get the win tomorrow (against Norway) and we will get through to the quarter-final. We can definitely improve our performance. Ross and I are experienced and play really well together – it is not often we have bad matches so we can use that experience if we get through to the quarters.”

“I’m still feeling positive,” said Wilson. “We beat Norway which was a good performance and it was unfortunate against Poland. Billy has joined our team for the first time at a major and he is a brilliant addition to the team – he lost the singles in three close sets to a very good player but he will be a great talent for the future. We are just going to keep our heads up and keep going for the rest of the competition now.”

Men’s class 6:
After three tough matches yesterday in the singles silver medallist Wetherill was back in action today in the team event against Russia and after combining with Karabardak to win the doubles 3-0 he secured the tie for his team by beating Alexander Esaulov 3-0. The 27 year old from Torpoint was happy to win both matches 3-0.

Dave and PK v Russia“That was quite key to be honest,” said Wetherill. “I think the team event will be less intense, not in terms of winning matches but in terms of the schedule. We’ve got a good team where we can rely on three players but it was good to get it over and done with relatively quickly. We could have played better; we played well – we did enough and that was perfect really. Perfect 3-0, 3-0.”

Karabardak was unlucky to go out of the singles competition at the group stage on countback and is using that disappointment as extra motivation for the team event.

“It has given me a lot of motivation,” said the 31 year old from Swansea, “because the team has been so successful and I don’t want to leave here without a medal so I’m really up for the team event and looking forward to it. It was a good start today. I think we are getting better at doubles and today we played well and it was nice to get off to a good start because I think the doubles is going to be really important in order for us to do well. Dave then played really well in the singles and I’m really happy to get a 2-0 win against a good team.”

Perry looked on from the bench today but is an important part of the team and gaining valuable experience from the three-time Paralympians Karabardak and Wetherill.

“I’m learning loads,” said Perry. “I feel that I can improve a lot in the doubles when I get the opportunity so watching these two guys and what they do, how they move and where they place the ball is key in terms to my own development in the game. So it is great to watch these guys – they’ve got a lot of experience and it is good that we can bring that to the team.”

The trio play their second group match tomorrow against Greece.

Women’s class 4-5:
Sue Gilroy and Megan Shackleton won a team bronze in the 2015 European Championships but lost their opening match today 2-1 to Slovenia. After a slow start the GB pair combined well to win the doubles 3-0 but Barbara Meglic levelled the tie for Slovenia with a 3-0 win against Sue Gilroy, who had beaten Meglic by the same score in the singles competition. That left 18 year old Shackleton needing to win the deciding singles but the former European team gold medallist Andreja Dolinar used all her experience and the enthusiastic support of the home crowd to win the match 3-1.

Sue and Megan v SloveniaIn their second match against Russia, Gilroy and Shackleton lost the doubles 3-0 but Gilroy levelled the tie with a battling 3-0 win against Alexsandra Vasileva. Once again Shackleton had to win the deciding match and although she started well against Nadejda Pushpasheva, the former class 2 European champion proved too experienced and came back to win 3-1.

“I definitely felt a lot of pressure in that last match,” said Shackleton. “I think for me it is just going to be a learning curve of how to manage that situation and even though it is a pressure situation to make sure that I am enjoying the match as well and not necessarily putting myself under so much pressure that I don’t allow myself to play to my full potential. Overall there were some positives in the match and hopefully tomorrow is another day and the performance will be a lot better.”

“We can both play a lot better,” said Gilroy. “We normally never lose the singles against Slovenia and then obviously with the second match against the Russians she (Pushpasheva) has a lot more experience than Megan. We need to do a lot more work on our doubles – that is key. A disappointing day but we need to come back fighting.”

Gilroy and Shackleton have a day to regroup tomorrow before they play their final two matches on the round-robin event against Germany on Tuesday and Serbia on Wednesday.

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Davies retains European crown as British team takes seven singles medals

Paralympic champion Rob Davies retained his men’s class one singles title at the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Slovenia today but Will Bayley had to settle for bronze in his bid to add the European crown to his World and Paralympic titles.

Davies led a historic British clean sweep of the medals in men’s class one with Tom Matthews taking silver and Paul Davies bronze. David Wetherill took silver in men’s class 6 and there were bronze medals for Sue Gilroy in women’s class 4-5 and Ross Wilson in men’s class 8.

Full report
DAVIS Rob and MATTHEWS Thomas 0908In the semi-final Rob Davies had to take on his great friend and fellow Welshman Paul Davies in what was a repeat of their final in the European Championships in 2013. It went to a deciding set and the 33 year old from Brecon proved just too strong for the 50 year old from North Cornelly in taking the match 11-5 in the fifth. He then had to take on another fellow Welshman in Matthews in the final and used all his experience to close out the match 11-9 in the third to secure his third consecutive European title.

“It feels pretty amazing,” said Davies. “It was a very emotional semi-final playing Paul. To say he has been through a hell of lot in the last 12 months is an understatement and for him to come back and perform like that shows what he is made of and the character of him.  For Tom as well to win the semi-final shows how much GB Para table tennis is coming on and the young players are improving all the time. The World title next year would be nice. That is definitely my aim – I didn’t think I would be in the finals here to be honest but I’ve done it, dug deep and battled through every match and got there. That gives me a lot of confidence. I’ll be better prepared next year, lose some weight and get back in the gym and hopefully I’ll be in better shape again for the Worlds next year.”

Matthews faced Federico Falco, the Italian who had taken Rob Davies to five sets in the group stages, in his semi-final and showed great character and fight to come back from 2-1 down to take the final two sets 11-8. The 25 year old from Aberdare was not quite able to reproduce that form in the final but having taken bronze two years ago was happy to take the silver this time.

“Rob is a true champion and a great guy,” said Matthews. “I’m happy for Rob, happy for myself and happy for the team. We have had a one, two, three and made history so I can’t really complain. To be honest I was really nervous going in to the fifth set against Falco and Neil (coach) really calmed me down and said ‘fight for it – you want it’. So I put everything in to it and came out on top. I’ve got to give Rob a bit more of a challenge next time; I didn’t play my best in the final but he deserves it and bring on the next Europeans.”

London 2012 bronze medallist Paul Davies was also delighted to be back in the medals at a major championship.

DAVIES Paul 0747“It was a really good game,” he said. “I’ve got to give the guy (Rob) credit, he is a talented player and I’m the master who taught him! He deserved to win but I think I pushed him to get that win today. We got the one, two, three and that has never happened before so happy days. A lot of people questioned if I would come back after last year and of course I wanted to come back. To perform here like I have done – I never thought I could do that – so it would be silly to stop now. I’m not finished yet – no way.”

Wetherill once again showed all his battling qualities with a 3-2 win in the quarter-final against the World team gold medallist Alberto Seoane Alcazar from Spain and reached the final of men’s class 6 with a four set win against the Romanian Bobi Simion, who was a surprise winner against the Paralympic and defending European champion Peter Rosenmeier. The final against the World number one Alvaro Valera proved to be one match too many for the 27 year old from Torpoint and although he kept fighting and took the third set the Spaniard took the match 11-5 in the fourth.

WETHERILL David Paul 0559“Even in the set I won I didn’t feel comfortable,” said Wetherill, “and he made it really difficult for me today. I wanted to make it difficult for him and I didn’t really do that to be honest. I just had nothing left in the tank. I tried my best but in hindsight I should have taken my chances a bit more in the previous rounds as I made it more difficult for myself than it could have been. At the end of the day I got the wins but sometimes over the course of a tournament you have your ups and downs and you need to conserve your body a little bit. It was disappointing not to go into the final feeling fresh because I would have been a lot more confident than I was but take nothing away from Alvaro – he did the business.”

After a 3-0 win against the Frenchman Kevin Dourbecker, Bayley faced Mykhaylo Popov in his semi-final in a repeat of the European Championship final in 2013 that the Ukrainian won. The 29 year old from Tunbridge Wells started slowly and although he fought back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 he could not close out the match against an in-form Popov.

BAYLEY William John 017“He is number three in the World and he has been European champion before so he is a great player,” said a disappointed Bayley. “But that is sport and that is table tennis and anything can happen on the day. He got on top of me and deserved to win today for sure. I knew when I was 2-0 down it would be a mountain to climb but I started to climb it and come back but I just couldn’t get to the top. I gave it everything and it was close in the end. I reached the final in every major from 2011 to 2016 and although the bronze is not what I wanted, to get another major medal makes me proud. I need to look forward now towards the World championships and try and improve again.”

Wilson was European silver medallist in 2011 at the age of 16 and despite a series of injuries which have hampered his career since London 2012 has won team bronze medals in London and Rio. After edging a close first set against the World, Paralympic and European team gold medallist from Poland, Piotr Grudzien, 12-10 the 22 year old from Minster showed his class to secure a 3-0 win. His reward was a semi-final against the World champion and World number one Viktor Didukh and he pushed the Ukrainian all the way, coming back from 2-1 down to force a decider which Didukh won 11-7.

Ross Wilson action 1“I’m happy with how I played,” said Wilson, “but I wish I could have reversed the result and got a 3-2 win. So it is really hard at the moment but I am sure that when I get back to training it will be something to spur me on to do better in the World Championships next year and eventually Tokyo. I think last year I wasn’t really pushing the top guys very much – I was always a level down and now I have really upped my level and my game again and I think I am competing with the top three guys in the world now. I just want to keep improving next time and come back even stronger.”

Gilroy came through her quarter-final against Zorica Popadic 3-0 to face another Serbian Borislava Peric-Rankovic.  The Paralympic champion and World number one has so often been her nemesis in the past and so it proved again today with Gilroy unable to produce her best form in a 3-0 loss.

GILROY Susan 362“I’m really disappointed with how I played against Peric,” said the 44 year old from Barnsley. “Normally I give her a really good game and unfortunately I didn’t do that today. I’ve been out for the last three months after having surgery on my arm and I’ve only been back playing for six weeks so I didn’t expect to get a medal and it is brilliant to get a bronze. Fingers crossed I can turn it round in the team event and play the standard I know I can play.”

Gilroy will be partnered in the team event by Megan Shackleton who also faced Peric-Rankovic in her quarter-final.  She took the first set before the Serbian showed her experience in taking the next three but it was a promising performance by the 18 year old from Todmorden.

“I’m really proud of how I competed today,” said Shackleton. “It was obviously going to be a tough draw in the quarter finals against the Paralympic champion but I am showing I can compete and that gives me great confidence going into future matches. I’m gaining more experience every time but one thing that is going to be crucial for me is sticking to the same mind-set throughout a match – so that whether I’m up or down in sets I can keep the same approach in the games – and that will be the big change for me. I’m really looking forward to the team event – we have both had a good singles competition and that shows promise for the team event here.”

After some impressive performances over the first two days Kim Daybell could not quite find his best form in his men’s class 10 quarter-final against the European bronze medallist in 2015 Filip Radovic. The 17 year old from Montenegro was quick out of the blocks and took the first set 11-1 before Daybell levelled at 1-1. The third set was crucial and Radovic edged it 12-10 and went on to take the fourth 11-8 and the match 3-1.

Kim Daybell action 1Daybell has been focusing on his medical studies since Rio and was competing in only his second international tournament since the 2016 Paralympic Games but was still disappointed to go out at the quarter-final stage.

“It was tough,” said the 25 year old from Sheffield. “He came out flying and I felt under pressure for the whole game and I never really settled. I think the match hinged on the third set – whoever went 2-1 up there was probably going to take it. But it was close all the way and he played a really good game today. I always play well in majors and I’ve reached quarter finals before but it is a shame that today it wasn’t quite the result I wanted. I’m looking forward to the team event now with Ash (Facey Thompson). There are lots of strong teams and it will be tough but we will do our best and see what we can do.”

Facey Thompson put up a good performance against the men’s class 9 Paralympic champion and World number one Laurens Devos, losing in three close sets to the 17 year old Belgian.

“The set scores were really tight,” said Facey Thompson. “I was believing in myself the whole way – it was 5-5 6-6 and I didn’t let it slip. I felt that I was competing with the best player in the world at the moment in my class and I did well to make him a bit nervous.  I kept fighting but there were just a few points that let me down – the quality and the placement of the balls. Kim is playing really well and I’m looking forward to playing with my team partner again. I am in full time training now so I might have more to give to the team but we will give it our all.”

Liverpool’s Jack Hunter-Spivey led the men’s class 5 World number two Ali Ozturk 2-1 in their quarter-final but the fourth set proved crucial and after edging that 11-9 the Turkish player ran away with the fifth set to clinch the match 3-2.

“I’ve had a good tournament and applied what I was doing in training,” said Hunter-Spivey, “but I’m very disappointed as I feel I could have won that match and a medal was mine at some point. That’s just the way it goes. I played a good level of table tennis but he is World number two and he was better than me on the day. I’m up there but I want to be winning – as an athlete you always criticise yourself and at the moment I’m just really disappointed that I lost but when I look back I’ll probably feel it was a good performance.”

The Championships continue with the team events that start tomorrow and conclude on Wednesday.

Eleven British players in contention for medals at European Championships

Eleven British players including Paralympic champions Will Bayley and Rob Davies are still in contention for medals in their respective classes on the final day of the singles events tomorrow at the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Lasko, Slovenia.

Davies will play his fellow Welshman Paul Davies for a place in the final of men’s class 1 and with another Welshman Tom Matthews in the other semi-final the British team could take all three medals. Bayley is one of eight British players who reached the quarter-finals today along with Jack Hunter-Spivey (men’s class 5), David Wetherill (men’s class 6), Ross Wilson (men’s class 8), Ashley Facey Thompson (men’s class 9), Kim Daybell (men’s class 10), Sue Gilroy and Megan Shackleton (women’s class 4-5).

Full Report
Men’s class 1:
DAVIES Paul 373Paul Davies progressed to the quarter finals as group winner with a 3-0 win against Alan Papirer from France and then came through a tough quarter-final against Sylvio Keller from Switzerland 3-1 to set up a semi-final with his team mate Rob Davies.

“I’m overjoyed – brilliant,” said Davies. “Sylvio is an awkward customer and the stuff he can do with the bat – you’ve got to give him a lot of respect because he plays good on the angles. He played really well and pushed me all the way so I’m just glad to get the win and meet my younger brother in the semis tomorrow! There is going to be a lot of respect between us – we know each other’s game so well so all we can do is give it 100% and whatever happens one of us will be in the final so that’s great.”

After a walkover in his first match Tom Matthews started his competition with a 3-0 win against Keller in the group which gave him a bye in to the semi-finals tomorrow where he will face Federico Falco from Italy.

“It was difficult to wait for a day and see everyone playing yesterday,” said Matthews, “as I had e moon with another championship medal but obviously I want to win the next match and see if I can get a better colour this time. So I’ll try to keep composed and keep going.”

Men’s class 5:
After a tight first set Jack Hunter-Spivey lost his second group match 3-0 to his great friend and regular team partner, Tommy Urhaug, the forHUNTER SPIVEY Jack 397mer Paralympic champion and World number one from Norway, but he secured his place in the quarter-finals with a comfortable 3-0 win against Gerardus Van Grunsven from The Netherlands.

“In the first set against Tommy I felt that our top level is very close to each other,” said the 22 year old from Liverpool, “and if I had taken the first set it would have changed the whole complexion of the game. We both played very well but he was the better man on the day – that is the way it goes and hopefully next time (I can beat him.) There was pressure on me for the second match because I needed to get through and I know I can do very well in this competition but I thrive on pressure. I’m really enjoying playing and bringing my best table tennis at the moment and that is all I can ask for.”

Hunter-Spivey plays the World number two Ali Ozturk from Turkey in tomorrow’s quarter-final.

Men’s class 6:
Dave Wetherill had chances to win both of the first two sets in his last 16 match but found himself 2-0 down to the WETHERILL David Paul 71Russian Alexander Esaulov, the former World number two. His response was magnificent as he battled his way back into the match and eventually clinched his place in the quarter-finals 11-7 in the fifth.

“I’m a bit annoyed because I gave myself more work to do having been 10-7 up in both of the first two sets,” said Wetherill. “In the back of my mind I know that to win 3-0 is quite important because I felt that my knee, hip and elbow could just pop at any point so it was just a matter of grafting it really. I think that is the most pain I’ve put myself through to win a match ever so I’m quite pleased with that. The most important thing is the big W and I’m still fighting.”

Wetherill plays the Spaniard Alberto Seoane Alcazar in tomorrow’s quarter-final.

Martin Perry showed his improvement with a 3-0 win against Valentin Kneuss from Switzerland in his final group match to progress to the last 16 against Viktor Karp, but the Ukrainian former class 7 player had just too much experience for the 23 year old from Paisley in a 3-0 win.

“This is my first major championship,” said Perry, “so to get out of my group and compete at this level – I’m really proud of that. It is not the result I wanted tonight but Viktor is a really tricky player and has a lot of experience in major championships so he’s not an easy customer. I can take pride from the fact that I had a few close sets there and some really close points and my game doesn’t need to change a massive amount to be up there with these guys.”

Paul Karabardak beat Marios Chatzikriakos from Greece in his last group match 3-1 and was unlucky to miss out on a place in the last 16 on countback after three players in his group finished with two wins each. He can now look forward to playing the team event with Wetherill and Perry.

 “I’m very happy to have won the match,” said Karabardak, “because it was a match I needed to win but I was also disappointed with the way I played because I think I can play a lot better. But I was a bit nervous so to win in the end was really good because he played well.  I think we will have a good chance in the team event and hopefully we can go one better than the last Europeans and take the gold this time.”

Men’s class 7:
Will Bayley secured his place in the quarter-finals tomorrow with a 3-0 win against Nicklas Westerberg from Sweden in his second and final group match.

“He gave me a massive test in the Slovenia Open this year,” said Bayley, “and nearly beat me in the group stages so I knew he was going to play really good here. A lot of young players come out and play really well in their first major tournament so I was prepared for that and I’m happy to get over the line. I’m really happy with the way I’m playing because he could cause problems to every player in the world and take sets off them so to win a match like that 3-0 is a nice confidence boost going into the quarter-finals.”

Bayley plays the Frenchman Kevin Dourbecker in the quarter-final and will have to win three matches tomorrow if he is to add the European crown to his World and Paralympic titles.

Men’s class 8:
After losing his second match yesterday Ross Wilson needed to beat Pablo Jacobsen from Norway in his final group match to ensure his progress to the last 16 and came through 3-0 to set up a match against the former World and Paralympic champion Mathieu Loicq from Belgium. The 22 year old was in sparkling form today and was an impressive 3-0 winner.

WILSON Ross William 353“I’m really pleased,” said Wilson. “I said after the first matches that sport is so up and down and it really can be like that. Yesterday night I felt really down on myself for not performing the way I wanted to and coming out and performing the way I know I can so it was really positive for me today to know I can turn it round. I believed in myself and what I can do and that is what has been so good today and hopefully I can carry that on through this competition and get further.”

Wilson takes on Piotr Grudzien from Poland in the quarter-final.

Aaron McKibbin beat Joshua Wagner from Germany 3-0 in his final group match and made a great start in his last 16 match against Ivan Mai but the Ukrainian won 14 points in a row after losing the first set and took the match 3-1.

“I played OK,” said McKibbin. “He is obviously a good player and a style I struggle with. I started really well and then he came out of the blocks from nowhere and I didn’t really know what was going on to be honest. I tried to change things near the end but he is someone I always struggle with so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I’m disappointed at the moment because I was hoping to do better in the singles but I’ll refocus tomorrow and get ready for the team event.”

Billy Shilton faced Linus Karlsson in the last 16 and although the 18 year old fought back well to take the third set the Swedish player had too much experience in a 3-1 win.

“I found it really difficult in the first two sets,” said Shilton, “and lost track of my tactics a little bit. When I won the third set I thought if I could get a good start in the fourth I might have a chance but it just didn’t go my way today. This is only my second major so it is all a bit new for me but I’m playing team event with Aaron and Ross and we have a really good chance so I’m looking forward to that.”

Men’s class 9:
Ashley Facey Thompson reached the quarter-finals with a battling performance against the experienced Dutchman Tonnie Heijnen, coming from 2-1 down to win the match 11-3 in the fifth.

THOMPSON Ashley Facey 577“At 2-1 down I was feeling really nervous,” said the 22 year old Londoner, “but if I had been nervous throughout the match it would have been hard to win so I had to get my confidence through the training I’ve done and think with clarity. I’ve been training really hard and these are the things that you work for and you can’t play your best all the time. So I just had to play my game and from the fourth set my quality got better. It has given me a lot of confidence as he has a difficult style and to have to grind it out mentally is good as table tennis is more about the head than on the table. So I did really well to come back from 2-1 down and I’m really happy.”

Facey Thompson’s reward is a quarter-final against the Paralympic champion and World number one from Belgium, Laurens Devos.

Men’s class 10:
Kim Daybell secured top place in his group with a 3-0 win against Lorenzo Cordua from Italy and was drawn against Igor Misztal in the last 16. The Polish player made a flying start but Daybell is playing with confidence and an increased maturity and he levelled at 1-1 and again at 2-2 before taking the deciding set 11-8 with his explosive blend of defence and attack.

“I didn’t feel that I played my best table tennis,” said the 25 year old medical student, “but sometimes you’ve just got to win those games. I never enjoy playing him – he has always been awkward for me so I was pleased that I was able to come through at the end and show a bit of mental strength and a bit of experience. I obviously haven’t had the preparation I wanted coming in but I have been around for a while now and I’ve played a lot of tournaments and a lot of major championships. You can’t underestimate that wealth of experience and I was able to draw on that today which was good. New challenge tomorrow but I’m taking it game by game and I’ve just got to go out there hopefully play a bit better and see what happens.”

Daybell plays the 2015 European bronze medallist Filip Radovic from Montenegro in the quarter-final.

Women’s class 4-5:
Megan Shackleton made a great start in her second group match against Nada Matic from Serbia, taking the first set 11-3 before the Rio bronze medallist used her experience to take the match 3-1. The 18 year old from Todmorden then showed her potential in beating Helke Koller from Austria 3-1 to reach her first major championship quarter-final.

“I’m really pleased with how it has gone so far,” said Shackleton, “because getting to the quarter-finals is quite an improvement on my last Europeans. I think I am starting to manage that pressure and even in difficult matches like that I’m finding a way to battle my way through so I’m looking forward to the quarter finals.”

GILROY Susan 362Sue Gilroy ensured her progress to the quarter finals with a 3-1 win against Caroline Tabib from Israel and a 3-0 win against Barbara Meglic from Slovenia.

“I’m really pleased with that,” said Gilroy, “because I know Barbara has improved a lot so I thought it would probably go to five.  There were some duff shots in there but then I started improving as the match went on. I’m having to rely on my experience at the moment as my preparation hasn’t been the best and I don’t feel anywhere near the standard I normally am so basically it is just a case of digging in and doing the best I can with what I’ve got at the moment.”

Shackleton faces the World number one Borislava Peric-Rankovic in tomorrow’s quarter-finals while Gilroy takes on her Serbian team mate Zorica Popadic.

Women’s class 6:
Fliss Pickard went out at the group stages after a 3-1 loss to the experienced Gabriela Constantin from Romania but can take plenty of positives from her second major championship.

“I thought I played well in parts,” said the 23 year old from Burnley, “and it has given me a lot of confidence going forward. I’ve just got to build from this. I’ve got to work hard now and I know what I need to work on and I’m not far off – it’s just about those little margins and then I think I’ll be up there.”

Posted in GB

Davies through to semi-finals on good first day for British team at European Championships

Paralympic champion Rob Davies booked his semi-final place and fellow Rio gold medallist Will Bayley also began his bid to add the European crown to his World and Paralympic titles with a win in his first group match on a good first day for the British team at the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Lasko, Slovenia. Medical student Kim Daybell put up the performance of the day in securing a first win over the former World champion and World number one Jose Ruis Reyes from Spain and all 16 British athletes are still in contention for a place in the knockout stages of the singles events which conclude on Saturday.

Full Report
Men’s class 1:
Rob Davies began the defence of his European title with a 3-0 win against Dmitry Lavrov from Russia but then had to show all his fighting qualities against Federico Falco, the young Italian who beat him in the German Open in June. Falco led 2-1 but the Welshman fought back to level at 2-2 and then held his nerve to clinch a tense final set 11-9 and the match 3-2.

DAVIES Robert 377The result meant that Davies finished top of the group and receives a bye into Saturday’s semi-finals.

 “I knew it would be a battle with Falco,” he said. “We have had some tough games of late and to beat him 3-2 again is pretty satisfying. Obviously I’d like to do it a bit easier but I’ll try that next time I play him. I’ve just got to keep battling – that is the main thing at the moment. I’m not quite at my best but I’m hoping I can get there for later on in the tournament. I’m just really happy with the result: two from two – you can’t get better than that. I’m definitely going to battle for as long as I can.”

Paul Davies rekindled memories of his Paralympic bronze medal in London with two great performances today. The 50 year old from North Cornelly had not lost to Janos Kaiser from Hungary since 1999 and that record never looked in danger as he dropped only eight points in a 3-0 win. He then played superbly to beat the Italian Andrea Borgato 3-0 and plays his final group match tomorrow against Alan Papirer from France.

DAVIES Paul 373“Did that really happen?” said an elated Davies. “I just couldn’t do anything wrong today – the old tiger is back. It didn’t matter what Borgato did, I reached everything and it just all came together. I’m in shock. The World team medal was good but this could be the icing on the cake. I haven’t played like this for years.”

Tom Matthews had a walkover in his first match when Endre Major from Hungary withdrew from the event. Matthews plays his final group match tomorrow against Sylvio Keller from Switzerland.

Men’s class 5:
Jack Hunter-Spivey defeated Milan Zelen from Serbia 3-0 in his first match and plays his final two group matches tomorrow against his friend and regular team partner Tommy Urhaug, the former Paralympic champion and World number one from Norway, and Gerardus Van Grunsven from The Netherlands.

“I played OK today,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I was a bit nervous as it was the first match at the Europeans but I played good in patches and played well when I needed to. There are always things I can improve on – it wasn’t my best level but I did enough to win and that is the main thing. Tommy and me are very good friends but we leave it all on the table. We have played each other many times; I think it will be a great battle and the best man will win on the day hopefully.”

Men’s class 6:
Martin Perry had a tough start against Peter Rosenmeier, the Paralympic and European champion, but acquitted himself well despite a 3-0 loss and he can still progress to the knockout stages with a win against Valentin Kneuss from Switzerland tomorrow.

“In the first set I put myself in a really good position by going up early on,” said Perry, “and I showed signs that I’m playing quite well but then I was unable in the closer points to put the ball away. He showed real class in the second set and I had really good chances to take the third set so I can take positive points going forward. I’ve got to continue that fight tomorrow. I’ve not come here to go out in the group stage so tomorrow is a massive match.”

WETHERILL David Paul 71Dave Wetherill started with a 3-0 win against Tim Laue from Germany and clinched his place in the last 16 with a 3-0 win against the Italian Raimondo Alecci

“I guess that what matters is the score line at the end of the match,” said Wetherill, “and I can get a good night’s sleep tonight and get ready for tomorrow. I think I did really well today although I lost a bit of concentration in the last match but the win is what matters so I’m pleased.”

Paul Karabardak had to show all his fighting qualities in his first match against Asaf Gofer from Israel, coming back from 2-1 down to win 11-8 in the fifth. In his second match he came up against an in-form Bobi Simion and the Romanian took the match 3-0 but the 31 year old Swansea player can go through to the last 16 if he beats Marios Chatzikriakos from Greece tomorrow.

 “I had a difficult match this morning,” said Karabardak, “against a player who was playing really well and pushed me but I felt mentally strong and I played clever and tactically well to see him off in the end. So I was pleased with that. I played well against Bobi but he was playing really well and I ran out of ideas in the end. I still feel I’m playing well and I’m still quite confident so I’ll try my best to win my next match tomorrow.”

Men’s class 7:
Will Bayley played his first match against Thomas Rosenast from Switzerland and was happy to come through in three sets having lost two of his four previous matches to the Swiss player.

BAYLEY William John 420“I was actually really happy with the way that I played,” said Bayley, “because he is a different style and an awkward style that we don’t practice against much. The first match is always difficult so it was a good win for me. Trying to win all three titles would be amazing and I am playing really well but you’ve got to do it in the tournament. It doesn’t matter how well you are training and how well the preparation has gone, if you don’t do it in the tournament it doesn’t count for anything. I want to prove to myself more than anything that I can keep winning major titles.”

Bayley plays his final group match tomorrow against Nicklas Westerberg from Sweden.

Men’s class 8:
Billy Shilton looked sharp in his opening match against Rubinco Risteski from Macedonia and was a comfortable 3-0 winner. He played well against the World champion and World number one Viktor Didukh but the Ukrainian had just too much experience for the 18 year old who reached the last 16 when his final opponent Gyula Zborai from Hungary withdrew from the tournament.

“I’m really pleased with the first day,” said Shilton. “It was a good first match for me and it helped me to get a feeling for the hall and the tournament so I was very happy. Against Didukh I played a lot better than I did in Germany – I was in the rallies a lot more and competing so I’m really happy and looking forward to tomorrow.”

Ross Wilson came through his first match against Samuel De Chiara from Italy 3-0 but was very disappointed to lose in three close sets to the Polish former European champion Marcin Skrzynecki. The 22 year old from Minster needs to beat Pablo Jacobsen from Norway tomorrow to ensure his progress to the last 16.

“It is not how I wanted it to go so I’ve just got to move on and come back tomorrow,” said Wilson. “Competitions are full of ups and downs and I’ve just got to try and improve for the rest of the competition.”

MC KIBBIN Aaron 355Aaron McKibbin began with a comfortable 3-0 win against Fredrik Johansen from Norway and had his chances against Emil Andersson but the former World number one from Sweden used all his experience in a 3-1 win. McKibbin can also reach the last 16 if he beats Joshua Wagner from Germany tomorrow.

“He (Andersson) is a good opponent and I haven’t played him for some time,” said McKibbin. “He’s been World team champion this year and was team silver medallist in Rio and I was really looking forward to the match. I went in with a game plan and looking back I maybe overplayed the game plan and wasn’t free enough. In the first couple of sets I was really tentative and struggling to get used to him. I’ve had a great year so far and I know what I did wrong which is a positive so I need to focus on my next match now and try to get through the group.”

Men’s class 9:
Ashley Facey Thompson had a tough start against the former World number two Iurii Nozdrunov and the tall Russian, who was European silver medallist in 2015, was a 3-0 winner. The 22 year old Londoner then dropped the first set against Pawel Jablonski but came back in style to win the next three – 1, 2 and 6. He plays his final group match tomorrow against Tonnie Heijnen from The Netherlands.

“All credit to Nozdrunov he is a great player and he played really well” said Facey Thompson. “He was on form and played tactically the best against me I have seen him play. I was a bit disappointed because I am in full time training now and although I wasn’t expecting to win I thought I could have pushed myself a bit harder. In the first set against Jablonski I was thinking about everything and was just a bit nervous but then I settled down and played my game and I was really happy with the outcome. I’m looking forward to my next match now.”

Men’s class 10:
Kim Daybell started with a potentially difficult match against an unfamiliar opponent Gustav Wiesenhofer, the Austrian who won gold in this year’s Hungarian Open, but the 25 year old from Sheffield was always in control in a 3-0 win. He had come close to beating Jose Ruiz Reyes in the Slovenia Open in May but was still looking for his first win against the former World and European champion in 16 matches. He made a great start by taking the first two sets and recovered from the disappointment of losing a tight third set 14-12 to take the fourth 11-9 and the match 3-1 with some superb play – turning spectacular defence into blistering attack.

Kim Daybell action 1“He has always been a really tough opponent,” said Daybell, “and that is the first time I’ve managed to beat him so I’m really pleased that I was able to hold it together at the end and it was a good performance. I was quite disheartened at the end of the third set as I’ve been in a winning position against him before and he has come back. He is a very clever player and makes it very difficult but losing in the past has helped me to know what to do right this time and luckily I was able to do that. I think every match is important now at European level – every match is really tough so tomorrow I will just have to come out and do the same thing again and see how it goes.”

Daybell plays his final group match tomorrow against Lorenzo Cordua from Italy.

Women’s class 4:
Megan Shackleton recovered from a nervous start to defeat Jelena Sisic from Croatia 3-0 in her first match and plays her final group matches tomorrow against Nada Matic from Serbia and Helke Koller from Austria.

“I think I was a little bit shaky going in to my first match,” said Shackleton. “I’ve been working really hard and I think I maybe put a little bit of pressure on myself to show what I can do and maybe that came out a little bit in the first few points but I think I managed it well in the end and came out with the win so I’m really happy. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow – I’m playing Matic who won bronze in Rio so it is a good challenge for me to test where I am at against the top players in my class and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Sue Gilroy also started with a 3-0 win against the Serbian Biljana Ubovic and was happy with her form after a restricted preparation due to surgery on her elbow.

“I’m really pleased with how I played,” she said, “because it has been a bit up and down training wise because of my surgery and obviously the nerves were setting in a little bit regarding where I was in relation to everyone else.  But everything went really well so it was a good start to my Europeans.”

Gilroy completes her group matches tomorrow against Caroline Tabib from Israel and Barbara Meglic from Slovenia.

Women’s class 6:
Fliss Pickard had a difficult start against the bronze medallist from Rio Maryna Lytovchenko but she put up a great performance against the Ukrainian World number two despite a 3-1 loss, levelling at 1-1 after losing the first set 14-12. The 23 year old can still progress to the knockout stages if she beats Gabriela Constantin from Romania in her second group match tomorrow.

 “I’m really pleased with the way I played,” said Pickard. “I had big chances and the biggest thing was I could see the improvements I’ve made over the summer and I was just trying to put them in place. Obviously there is frustration that I couldn’t consistently do it to win the game but looking back to the last time I played her it is an unbelievable difference so I’ve just got to keep going. It will definitely give me a bit more confidence now and I’ve just got to look forward to the next match and go in there with the same positivity and same belief.”

Live streaming of the European PTT Championships 2017 can be found at: http://www.epint2017.com/

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British team ready for European challenge

The British Para Table Tennis Team is ready to take on the best in Europe at the 2017 European Para Table Tennis Championships which start tomorrow in Lasko, Slovenia.

Athletes and coaches Euros 2017Paralympic champions Will Bayley and Rob Davies head a 16-strong squad for the singles events which will conclude on Saturday, September 30. The team events run from October 1-4.

Bayley, 29, will be looking to add the European crown to his World and Paralympic titles and warmed up for the championships by winning his first match for top Croatian league team Star on Monday.

“I might never have the opportunity again to hold all three titles at the same time so it is a dream and something I never really thought was possible,” said Bayley. “I think I thrive off the pressure and really enjoy being the player that people expect a lot of – it shows that I am playing well and training well. I’m also realistic enough to know that sport is unpredictable and anything can happen but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

In the opening round-robin group matches Bayley has been drawn against Nicklas Westerberg from Sweden and Thomas Rosenast from Switzerland.

Davies is bidding for his third consecutive European singles title in men’s class 1 and will start the defence of his title in a group against the Italian Federico Falco and Dmitry Lavrov from Russia.

“I love going to the European Championships because it was the first major I won,” said the 33 year old Welshman. “I just like competing and trying to be at my best for the major competition every year – whether it is Europeans, Worlds or Paralympics. That is always the goal every year and I’m really looking forward to it and hoping I can do my best.”

The full British squad for the European PTT Championships is:
Will Bayley – 29, from Tunbridge Wells, men’s class 7 singles
Kim Daybell – 25, from Sheffield, men’s class 10 singles & class 10 team
Paul Davies – 50, from North Cornelly, men’s class 1 singles & class 1 team
Rob Davies – 33, from Brecon, men’s class 1 singles & class 1 team
Ashley Facey Thompson – 22, from London (Stratford), men’s class 9 singles & class 10 team
Sue Gilroy – 44, from Barnsley, women’s class 4 singles & class 4-5 team
Jack Hunter-Spivey – 22, from Liverpool, men’s class 5 singles
Paul Karabardak – 31, from Swansea, men’s class 6 singles & class 6 team
Tom Matthews – 25, from Aberdare, men’s class 1 singles & class 1 team
Aaron McKibbin – 26, from London (Wandsworth), men’s class 8 singles & class 8 team
Martin Perry – 23, from Paisley, men’s class 6 singles & class 6 team
Felicity Pickard – 23, from Burnley, women’s class 6 singles
Megan Shackleton – 18, from Todmorden, women’s class 4 singles & class 4-5 team
Billy Shilton – 18, from Stonehouse (Glos), men’s class 8 singles & class 8 team
David Wetherill – 27, from Torpoint, men’s class 6 singles & class 6 team
Ross Wilson – 22, from Minster, men’s class 8 singles & class 8 team

Live streaming of the European PTT Championships 2017 can be found at: http://www.epint2017.com/

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Bayley and Davies head British squad for European Championships

Paralympic champions Will Bayley and Rob Davies head a 16-strong British squad that will compete in the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Lasko, Slovenia from September 28-October 4.

Bayley, who is also the current World champion in men’s class 7, will be looking to take the European crown and hold all three major titles at the same time. The 29 year old from Tunbridge Wells won the European title in 2011 but has taken silver on the last two occasions, losing in the final in 2013 to the Ukrainian Mykhaylo Popov and in 2015 to Jean-paul Montanus from the Netherlands. Bayley won the German Open in June beating the current World number one Maksym Nikolenko from Ukraine in the final.

Davies is bidding for his third consecutive European singles title and with fellow Welshmen Paul Davies, the London 2012 bronze medallist, and Tom Matthews will also defend the men’s class 1 team title won in 2013 and 2015. The 33 year old lost the World number one ranking after a below-par performance in the German Open in June but came back to win gold in the Czech Open earlier this month.

The full squad for the European Championships is:

Will Bayley MBE – men’s class 7 singles
Will Bayley action 3“I might never have the opportunity again to hold all three titles at the same time and it would be a dream so I just want to put myself in with a chance of doing it. I’m also realistic enough to know that sport is unpredictable and anything can happen so I don’t really put myself under too much pressure in that way. It’s been a really good build-up – probably one of the best that I’ve had – and I’ve been working harder than ever before and trying to improve because I don’t want people to say that I settled for gold in Rio and now I’ve taken my foot off the gas.  Winning the German Open gives me massive confidence because Nikolenko has been brilliant this season and only lost one match so it is going to be a massive challenge to beat him but I’m looking forward to it.”

Paul Davies – men’s class 1 singles and class 1 team
Paul Davies action 1“I’m really looking forward to the Europeans. It would be nice if I could repeat what I did in 2013 and get to the final but you never know. We are definitely favourites for the team gold and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ve had some good tournaments this year already and beaten the players who are the main threats in the Europeans except for a certain Rob Davies. Experience counts for a lot and having played in the Excel in 2012 and in front of the Brazilian crowd in Rio I think I can cope with anything but you’ve still got to keep your head together. You never stop learning but as you get older you mature more in the sport and your mind-set is different. I don’t get nervous playing in major tournaments – I just enjoy the buzz of it.”

Rob Davies MBE – men’s class 1 singles and class 1 team
Rob Davies action 3“I just like competing and trying to be at my best for the major competition every year – whether it is Europeans, Worlds or Paralympics. It was good to get the gold in the Czech Open. I’d lost a few matches earlier in the season but I wanted to concentrate on other things in my life after Rio – including getting married in July. It is nice to be World number one – I think I was on honeymoon when I heard that I had gone down the rankings – but to be honest it is not as important for me as winning the major titles. I’m looking forward to going to the Europeans and hopefully playing my best table tennis. The Czech Open was really good match practice and I was happy with my performance there so I’ve just got to try and up my level again for the Europeans.”

Kim Daybell – men’s class 10 singles and class 10 team
Kim Daybell action 2“It has been a really hard year at medical school and you really have to put the time in so table tennis has had to take a bit of a back seat post Rio but now I’m happy to be back in the hall and training more regularly and I’m feeling quite good. Although my preparation has been very different to Rio I’ve been working with the team psychologist because you don’t want to go in too relaxed. It is still a major event and you need that nervousness and intention and I’ve still got high expectations in terms of how I want to perform. I think I am coming in with a more mature mind-set as every time I play I’m a little bit older. I’m not unhappy with my form – I need to sharpen up a bit and there are a few things I need to do before the Europeans. Obviously the preparation hasn’t been how it was for Rio for me with my timetable and studies over the last 12 months but there is no reason why I can’t perform well and I’m looking forward to getting back into the competition hall.”

Ashley Facey Thompson – men’s class 9 singles and class 10 team
Ashley Facey Thompson action 3“I moved to Sheffield after my degree because I thought it was the right time to become a full time athlete. Since I’ve moved I’ve changed as an athlete. I’m more professional and more committed – I’ve got the athlete psychology and mental attitude so I’m really happy with how I’m playing. I’ve only been here for a month or two but I’ve really improved and I can see that day-in and-day out and I’m getting to be the athlete I want to be. Rio showed me that I want to be an athlete and gave me the belief that I can challenge for a medal in Tokyo.  Kim and I haven’t done a team event since Rio so I’m happy that I’ve got my team mate back. It is good to play team event with a friend – we reached the quarter-finals in Rio and hopefully we can do well at the Europeans.”

Sue Gilroy MBE – women’s class 4 singles and class 4-5 team
“I’ve only been back in training a few weeks after having major surgery on my arm so I’m still limited on how much training I can do but from where I was four weeks ago when I didn’t think I would make the Europeans I’m playing a lot better now. I always put pressure on myself and have high targets so it is a big ask to be going in to a major championship and trying to win a gold but I can only do my best and try and play as well as I can. I’ll rely on my experience and my knowledge of my opponents and just go in without any real expectations. It would be great if I could win a medal but it is a long shot with the preparation I’ve had.”

Jack Hunter-Spivey – men’s class 5 singles
Jack Hunter-Spivey action 1“I’m feeling great going in to these Europeans. I’ve only played one international tournament since Rio but I’ve been training really hard and my game has massively improved. I think I know who I am as a player now and I think I know my style. I’m seeded five for the Europeans but I’ve beaten all of the top four players so I feel I’m really in a position now where I’m the guy you don’t want to meet in the next round and I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can do. The experience of Rio helped massively. I went to Rio wanting to be a Paralympian – that was the goal and I’ve done that now. That was my downfall in Rio and why I didn’t succeed there in the way I wanted to. The positives are that I now have more experience in major championships and I can use that going forward and hopefully do well.”

Paul Karabardak – men’s class 6 singles and class 6 team
Paul Karabardak action 2“Preparation has been really good and I’ve been training really hard. I’ve had some competitions at home and been playing really well so I’m excited about playing in the Europeans. Hopefully I can draw on my experience and that can set me up for a good competition. I need to play my game and not let my opponents dictate the matches – just do what I do best.  I did well two years ago and I think I’m playing better now and I’m more used to class 6. We also have a fantastic chance in the team event – I’m playing with two really good players and I think we have a great chance to do really well.”

Tom Matthews – men’s class 1 singles and class 1 team
Tom Matthews action 1“Training has been going really well. Having taken a singles medal and team gold in 2015 definitely gives me confidence and hopefully we can retain the team title. Playing with Rob and Paul has helped me a lot. It is great to have a Paralympic champion alongside you in the team event telling you to calm down and giving you little techniques to help with concentration. I think my mentality has improved over the last two years. Before I could easily get frustrated if I wasn’t playing well but now it takes a lot to get me frustrated. I’m feeling quite confident going in to the Europeans and I’m looking forward to it – I can’t wait to get out there.”

Aaron McKibbin – men’s class 8 singles and class 8 team
Aaron McKibbin action 1“Preparation has gone really well. We’ve just come back from a training camp in Slovenia which is our normal routine before a major and as a squad it was one of our best camps. We’ve all matured a lot since Rio and I think we are in a great place going in to the European Championships. I think I’ve improved a lot since Rio and the result definitely helped my confidence – it was the most pressure I have played under and it was obviously the best feeling in the world to be able to secure a medal for the team. This season I’ve had really good results in singles as well as team – I reached the final of the Slovenia Open and lost a close match to the World number one in Germany so I feel that I am in a good position and the experience and maturity has helped me a lot. I’ll focus on the singles first and then hopefully we’ve got a great shot at the team event but every nation wants to win a medal at the European Championships so we know it won’t be easy.”

Martin Perry – men’s class 6 singles and class 6 team
Martin Perry action 2“The whole team is playing some really good stuff at the moment and I am feeding off that. I feel that I am playing really well and I’m feeling confident about going out there. It is my first major and I know that I have had the best preparation because the guys I have been training with are all top of their classes so I’m just looking forward to getting out there and learning as much as I can. It is going to be a great experience and it will be a good opportunity to see how well I can perform on the big stage. It is a great benefit for me playing in the team event alongside Dave and Paul. They have the experience of six Paralympics between them and numerous World and European championships so it is an incredible team to be a part of and hopefully we can come together as a team out in Slovenia. We are all looking to go out there and win medals for our country.”

Felicity Pickard – women’s class 6 singles
Felicity Pickard action 1“I’ve changed a lot of my training over the summer with a lot more intensity and it is doing me good so I’m really looking forward to the Europeans. I think overall I’m a completely different person on and off the table to four years ago. My mentality towards the game has changed massively and I’m a lot stronger – I’ve done a lot more work in the gym and technically I am a lot better.  I need to play to my strengths. If I am mentally on my game then my opponents struggle because I am a big fighter. I’m playing well at the moment and hopefully I can keep it going and peak at the European Championships and be ready for some big challenges. It means a great deal to be going to another major championships and I’m really looking forward to getting out there and putting in some good performances.”

Megan Shackleton – women’s class 4 singles and class 4-5 team
Megan Shackleton action 1“We’ve just come back from a really intense training camp in Slovenia; I’m playing at a good level and I’m really excited about the Europeans. I think I’ve learnt how to manage my expectations in matches now and through winning a few team medals in major events as well I’ve built on my experience of those big tournaments and how to manage myself as an athlete.  Having beaten a top player gives me a lot of confidence. I’ve been working hard over the last couple of years and it is good to see the improvements in my game and that I’m tapping into my potential a little bit. I believe that I am now really competing with the top ten players.”

Billy Shilton – men’s class 8 singles and class 8 team
Billy Shilton action 2“My improvement not just in table tennis but in the gym as well has been a massive part of my progression in the last couple of years. Movement is a big thing for me – I’ve been working a lot in the gym on making my movement quicker and sharper around the table. This will be my first Europeans as a class 8 but I’m really looking forward to it. Preparation has been really good so I’m excited to get out there now. Ross and Aaron are one of the best teams in the world and what they did in Rio shows that, so to be in a team with those two will be a great opportunity for me to learn from – just watching them in the doubles will be really good experience for me. Tokyo is always in the back of my mind – going to a Paralympics has been a dream since I started playing table tennis but I am focused on the Europeans as it is a really big tournament for us.”

David Wetherill – men’s class 6 singles and class 6 team
David Wetherill action 1“I’m going to do my best. I really enjoy playing the team event because I’ve only played two team events in major competitions – one in the Worlds and one in the Europeans – so I’m looking forward to that. We have Martin in the team now as well and we can definitely look to improve in our silver medal in 2015.”

Ross Wilson – men’s class 8 singles and class 8 team
Ross Wilson action 1“We’ve had a really good training camp in Slovenia and it was great to get some good match practice out there. Since then it has been good to get back in the training hall in Sheffield and I’ve been working hard every day to see if I can find a bit more and see where I can improve my game. It was good to win in Germany and hopefully people know that I’m back now competing with the top guys again. That is where I want to be – pushing for the medals. It is a different feeling knowing that I am going in to a major competition with plenty of training behind me and that is definitely a positive. It is good to be on the table a  lot more now – I can’t say that just because I have had more time on the table that I am going to do better but it is definitely good for my confidence and makes me a lot more positive so hopefully I can do well.”

 

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