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).
Men’s class 1:
Paul 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 former 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 Russian 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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.”