The British Para Table Tennis Team is assured of five team medals at the PTT Slovenia Open tomorrow.
Paralympic champion Will Bayley and 18 year old Billy Shilton (men’s class 8), Paralympic team medallists Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson (men’s class 8), Sue Gilroy and 18 year old Megan Shackleton (women’s class 4-5) and Jack Hunter-Spivey with his Norwegian team partner Tommy Urhaug (men’s class 5) are all through to the semi-finals while London 2012 medallist Paul Davies and new team partner Tom Matthews are still in with a chance of taking gold in the round-robin men’s class 1 team event.
After their great win against Belgium yesterday evening, Bayley and Shilton secured their progress to the knockout stages with a 2-0 win against Netherlands2. After combining with Bayley to win the doubles Shilton had to work hard to beat Devin Wassink in the first singles match but as he showed when beating the Belgian World number 10 Marc Ledoux yesterday the 18 year old has a great future and he recovered from a second set dip to beat the Dutchman 3-1.
Bayley and Shilton are National doubles champions and they played superbly in the quarter-final against European silver medallists Hungary – fighting back from 2-0 down, saving five match points to edge the fourth set 17-15 and clinching a famous victory 11-6 in the fifth. Class 8 World number three and Rio silver medallist Andras Csonka beat Bayley in three close sets in the first singles and Shilton was leading Gyula Zborai, the World and European team medallist 2-0 and 5-1 when the Hungarian retired injured.
“It is always hard to win a match like I did against Ledoux yesterday and come back and do the same,” said a delighted Shilton. “We had a great doubles match again today – we were 2-0 down and we managed to get through so I’m really happy. It is great to play in a tournament like this with so many top players – it is so beneficial to my game.”
Class 7 World number one Bayley is relishing the challenge of playing in class 8 and facing the Paralympic silver medallists Sweden tomorrow.
“It is fun to be a part of a match like that with lots of good rallies,” he said. “It was just a crazy match and we had to save a few match points. It could have gone either way but Billy played some great shots on the big points and kept us in there. We are looking forward to tomorrow – we haven’t got anything to lose as we are the underdogs so we can go for it and enjoy ourselves. If we play as well as we can we have a good chance against anyone.”
McKibbin and Wilson had qualified for the quarter-finals as group winners yesterday with two wins from two against Australia and Netherlands1. Against Australia they combined to win the doubles and Wilson then defeated Nathan Pellissier 3-0 in the first singles match for a 2-0 win. After a 3-1 win in the doubles against Netherlands1 Wilson came through a great battle against the class 7 European champion Jean-paul Montanus 11-8 in the fifth to secure a 2-0 win.
In today’s quarter-final they lost the first set of their doubles against the Slovakian pair of former World champion and World number one Richard Csejtey and Jozef Krsiak but came back to win the next three 9, 10 and 8. Wilson was a comfortable 3-0 winner against Krsiak in the first singles to earn the chance to take on Paralympic champions Ukraine in the semi-final tomorrow.
The match will be a repeat of their semi-final in Rio in which the doubles proved to be crucial.
“With the new system the doubles is always very important,” said McKibbin, “and Ukraine are probably a bit stronger than they were in Rio as they have Mai in the team. Ross and I are playing well and we have both had a good tournament so far but this is obviously preparation for the World Team Championships next week so we can try a few a things out tomorrow and see what works and what doesn’t and go from there.”
Wilson pushed Ukraine’s World number one Viktor Didukh to five sets in the singles competition here but knows that it will be a tough challenge tomorrow.
“We are playing OK in doubles,” he said. “We are not fully ready yet for the highest level I don’t think but we are building up to it and that is all we can do. We’ve been working well together and hopefully we can carry that on.”
Paul Davies and Matthews will represent Britain in the World Team Championships later this month and with that in mind men’s class 1 Paralympic champion Rob Davies was left on the bench today. Davies and Matthews did not get off to the best start and lost their doubles to the Swiss/Croatian partnership of Sylvio Keller and Daniel Lazov 3-1 but Davies showed all his old skill in beating Keller 3-0 and Matthews put the disappointment of losing a long first set 17-19 behind him to beat Lazov 3-1 and win the tie 2-1.
In their second match against the combination of Endre Major from Hungary and the Frenchman Alan Papirer they led the doubles 2-0 but Major and Papirer came back to win it 11-8 in the fifth. Matthews fought hard against Major but the Rio semi-finalist used all his experience to beat his younger rival 11-7 in the fifth and win the tie 2-0.
Playing together for the first time today the two Welshmen improved match by match and took the doubles against the Argentinian/Russian partnership of Fernando Eberhardt and Dmitry Lavrov 3-0. Davies went 2-1 down to Lavrov and looked to be on the way to defeat but rallied bravely to edge the fourth set 12-10 and then, cheered on by the watching GB team, he clinched the match 11-8 in the fifth.
“That was like a flashback of London,” said Davies. “All the team were there supporting when I really needed it – it was amazing and a lovely feeling. If we can beat the Italians we have a chance of gold which would be nice to take on to the World Champs next week. To be fair Tom has developed well throughout the day – – he has listened to the older fella and it is showing in the results in the doubles. Fantastic results today and another day tomorrow.”
“Our partnership has developed throughout the day,” said Matthews. “It is great to play alongside Paul – he is keeping me calm and controlled and saying ‘calm down, take your time and be composed’. We are doing quite well together considering it is our first time so bring on the Italians tomorrow.”
Alena Kanova and Pui Yi Wong, losing the doubles 3-0. Gilroy won her singles against Wong 3-0 but Shackleton could not find an answer to the experience of former class 3 World and Paralympic champion Kanova, who won the deciding singles 3-0 and the tie 2-1.
That left them needing to beat Turkey in their second match to progress. They edged a tight doubles match 11-9 in the fifth and Gilroy then clinched their quarter-final place with a 3-0 win against Irem Oluk. Drawn against Mexico in the quarter-finals the GB pair showed improved form in the doubles for a 3-0 win and Gilroy took her team through to a semi-final against Serbia by defeating Edith Sigala Lopez 3-1.
“We haven’t played together for a while now,” said Shackleton, “but throughout the day we just remembered that we do have good experience together and we carried on battling through and won even if it was ugly.”
“Doubles is such a vital part of team now,” said Gilroy, “and obviously we need to start improving that in the future but as the day has gone on we have tried a few things out. Coming closer together seems to have worked a lot better for us today – there was a big gap down the middle this morning. Overall I’m really pleased with how we played.”
Hunter-Spivey and his Norwegian team partner Tommy Urhaug began with 2-0 win against Argentina yesterday, winning the doubles 3-0 before Hunter-Spivey defeated Elias Romero 3-0 in the first singles. In their second group match against Turkey they came through a great battle in the doubles 3-2 and Hunter-Spivey repeated his win against Hamza Caliskan in the singles competition yesterday 3-1 to take the British/Norwegian team through to the semi-finals.
“I learnt a lot from the quarter-final yesterday,” said Hunter-Spivey, “and we played a great doubles today against a good team. To beat Caliskan a bit more comfortably today and learn from that was a good thing for me to do.”
Fliss Pickard and her fellow class 6 Polish team partner Katarzyna Marszal lost their opening match in the women’s class 6-7 team competition yesterday against a combined team of class 7 players from Turkey, Netherlands and Canada including the World, Paralympic and European champion Kelly Van Zon. In their second match against Romania today they combined well to win the doubles 3-1 and although Pickard lost her singles to the experienced Gabriela Constantin, Marszal beat Camelia Ciripan in the deciding singles to secure a 2-1 win for her team.
They needed to win their final group match against the class 7 Argentinian/Russian partnership of former Pan-American champion Giselle Munoz and the 23 year old class 7 World number 11 Diana Gilmanova and played well in the doubles despite a 3-1 loss. Marszal then lost a very close match to Munoz 3-2 which meant that Argentina/Russia progressed to the semi-finals.
“It’s all about experience and I feel that I’ve grown as this tournament has gone on,” said Pickard. “I feel that I’ve implemented some of the things I’ve been trying to work on in the doubles. It is all coming together and obviously I’ve a lot to work on back at home. It has been good experience playing with a more experienced class 6 player – seeing how she can deal with certain points and maybe plays with a bit more confidence whereas I back off a little. I’m really looking forward to my next tournament. I‘ll go back home now, work really hard and come back stronger.”