Will Bayley and Rob Davies are both guaranteed a Paralympic medal after winning their semi-finals in Rio de Janeiro today while Sue Gilroy will play for a bronze medal.
Bayley beat Jordi Morales from Spain 3-1 in the men’s class 7 semi-final but had to survive a tense fourth set before taking the match on his fourth match point.
“I got used to the way he was playing in the second and third sets,” said the World number one. “In the fourth set he started off playing really clever tactics but in the deuce points he changed back to the way he was playing when it was 11-1 11-3. I just snatched a bit at the match points because I was a bit nervous but I felt that if he had carried on playing that style it would have been difficult because he really did stitch me up at times and if I had lost the fourth it would have been anyone’s game in the fifth. He’s one of my favourite players – he’s a superb player.”
On his third match point Bayley also had to contend with an ecstatic Brazilian crowd whose cheers nearly took the roof off Riocentro3 when Israel Stroh clinched a five set victory in the other men’s class 7 semi-final against Yan Shuo from China to take him through to the final.
“I thought it could happen,” said Bayley, who lost his opening match in the group stages to the Brazilian. “He was playing so well when he was playing me – I ‘m not surprised he’s got to the final but I’m excited about playing him again.
“It is going to be a different final to London – less pressure on me – but I’m just looking forward to it. I’ve played a final before; I’ve got the experience now so I can’t wait and it is a great opportunity for me. I’ve worked very hard to get here. I think we might be a bit outnumbered but the Brazilian crowd is fantastic and I can’t wait to play in front of it – even if they are cheering against me I have massive respect for the Brazilian people and the way they have supported their players – it’s been fantastic. Stroh has played superbly and beaten a lot of good players. I believe I can beat him but we’ll see.”
Davies made a great start to his men’s class 1 semi-final taking the first two sets against the experienced Endre Major but the Hungarian, who had beaten the World champion Chang-ho Lee yesterday, is a tough competitor and came back to win the third. The fourth was nip and tuck all the way but Davies held his nerve to take the set 14-12 on his second match point.
“I’ve played him so many times,” said the Welshman, “and I just wanted to get my preparation right like I did yesterday. That was my main focus and to play like I can – and I think I did in the first two ends. My level dropped off a bit in the last two ends maybe but it was a difficult game; he is an awkward player and I’ve got to give him credit for giving me a good battle and it puts me in good stead for the final. In the fourth set I think my experience got me through – all the performance team and the psychologist have been working with me a lot and it has really paid off particularly these last few matches. I feel more confident mentally and a lot more prepared to battle it out and be strong in the points where I need to be.”
Davies will play the Korean Young Dae Joo in the final on Tuesday.
“I’ll approach the final exactly the same as every other match,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of practice against the pimples ready for the Koreans because we knew they were going to be strong here so I just want to prepare exactly the same – go out there and hopefully put in a good performance, put him away and go for that gold.”
Gilroy faced Borislava Peric-Rankovic in her semi-final and the Serbian, who has so often been Gilroy’s nemesis proved to be again today in a 3-0 win. But the Barnsley schoolteacher still has a chance of securing her first Paralympic medal as she will play another Serbian Nada Matic in the bronze medal match tomorrow.
“I felt so good going in to the match and I’m bitterly disappointed with how I played,” said Gilroy. “She was tempting me in and I just wasn’t spinning the ball enough. We had some good rallies but it just wasn’t enough today unfortunately. I just need to give myself a bit of time today and then start again to prepare for tomorrow. Matic is a really good player so I’ve just got to go out there tomorrow and give it everything.”
Kim Daybell went out at the quarter-final stage to World number five Lian Hao from China. After losing a tight first set 11-13 he came storming back to win the second 11-5 but Lian took the next two 9 and 8 to win the match 3-1.
“I think he was maybe just a bit bolder than me on the big points,” said a disappointed Daybell, “when he needed to make shots he was making them. He had that little bit of luck just when he needed it but I’ve had little pieces of luck throughout this tournament when I’ve needed it so its swings and roundabouts. He played well today and I gave it my best shot. I think overall I am pleased. I can look back on it and think that I brought my best table tennis which is always what I said I wanted to do. It’s a shame I couldn’t quite get there today but I think I can be proud of what I achieved.”
Daybell will be back for the men’s class 9-10 team event with Ashley Facey Thompson and said: “I don’t see why Ash and I can’t do well in the team competition; I feel in good form and in team anything can happen. A lot rests on the doubles and we can play good doubles when we play well so I’m looking forward to it.”
“I played her earlier in the year and I played her so much better here,” said Head. “I set myself up for some shots and I came back at her so I was really pleased with my fight and determination. I’ll get some rest now – both Jane and I have been doing 4am starts so it will be nice to have some rest, practice in the training hall and get back out there on Wednesday for the team event – I can’t wait.”