GB Team – Tom Matthews

Tom Matthews

Date and place of birth: 19/08/1992, Merthyr Tydfil
Home town: Aberdare
Lives: Cwmbach
Family: mum Mandy, dad David
TT Class: 1
Current world ranking: 11
International debut: 2013, Hungarian Open
Major titles: European team champion 2015

 

 
Tom’s story:
Tom was a promising mountain biker when he had a fall while out riding with his uncle and a friend in March 2009, which left him wheelchair bound at the age of 16. “I was racing down a mountain and I went over the handle bars and broke my neck,” he recalls. “I’ve always been competitive and also played rugby and football before my accident. I was looking to become a professional mountain biker but then my accident changed all that.”

While undergoing rehab in Rookwood Hospital he was encouraged to try table tennis by Jim Munkley from Disability Sport Wales. “I wasn’t very keen initially,” says Tom, “as part of me was still thinking that I might go back to what I was doing before my accident. But Jim and GB international Sara Head kept encouraging me to give table tennis a go and the first time I played they couldn’t get me off the table. I just fell in love with it.”

After leaving hospital Tom played table tennis with the Welsh squad for several months before taking a break from the sport. “I wanted to spend time going out with the boys and get back to normality,” he explains, “but after about a year and a half I realised that I missed table tennis and came back to the Welsh squad in March 2013.”

Tom made his international debut at the Hungarian Open that month and in October was asked to join the GB Pathway Squad. In December he was part of the GB squad in the US Open in San Diego and he exceeded all expectations by taking silver in the class 1 men’s singles and a bronze in the class 1-2 men’s teams.

“Getting to the final against the number seven in the world just blew me away,” he says. “I took him close in the group match, losing 11-8 in the fifth, but when I played him in the final I’d never been in that situation and he just showed his experience. Getting to the final and getting a medal was unbelievable and it was amazing to be on the podium. It has made me more positive as I can see I’m going places and climbing the ranking list. It makes me more ambitious to go out there and try even harder.”

In 2014 Tom picked up team medals in Slovenia and Romania and acknowledges that the achievements of fellow Welsh players Rob Davies and Paul Davies are a huge inspiration. “I’ve just got to push on as hard as I can,” he says, “and I’m going to put every effort into making the team for Rio and hope for the best. It’s amazing to have Rob and Paul to look up to and train with. They give me advice and every little bit of advice helps.”

Tom began 2015 with a bronze in the singles in Hungary and made steady progress through the year, replacing the injured Paul Davies as Rob Davies’s team partner and taking team medals in Italy (with Endre Major from Hungary), Slovenia, Slovakia and Germany. A win over the Italian World number six Andrea Borgato in Italy proved that he could compete with the best in the world and he showed his improvement again in Germany, taking bronze in the singles and gold in the team with Rob Davies, beating the very experienced Silvio Keller 3-0 in the final singles match to secure the gold medal for his team.

He was selected to compete for GB in the European Championships in Denmark – his first major championship – and he played superbly to take bronze in the men’s class 1 singles and then partner Rob Davies to gold in the men’s class 1 team event.

“I’m over the moon,” said Tom. “If someone had told me before I came out here that I would take two medals I would have bitten their hand off. I’m really happy at the moment. I’ve been in control of my nerves and just enjoyed playing my table tennis instead of getting all worked up about points.  I’ve just been playing the way I can play and obviously it works.”

Having made a breakthrough in the European Championships Tom consolidated that performance with two silver medals in the Copa Costa Rica in December. He reached the final of the singles but was forced to retire with heat exhaustion against the World number five Young Dae Joo with the Korean leading 2-1. However, in the team event he faced Joo again and came back from 2-1 down to beat him 11-9 in the fifth and then followed that with a 3-2 win over World number seven Jae-Kwan Cho.

“Overall this tournament has been one of my best performances all year,” said Tom. “I’m so proud to be part of a great team and can’t wait to get back training in the New Year to get stronger and more consistent.”

Tom began 2016 by taking bronze in the men’s class 1 singles in Italy but a broken leg in April put him out of action for most of the year. However, he returned better than ever in the US Open in December to take gold in the singles, coming from 2-0 down in the final to beat the Korean World number five KiWon Nam 11-9 in the fifth.

“I knew my training had gone well up to the event,” said Tom, “but it was just settling my nerves and playing with confidence and consistency that got me through. Going 2-0 down was always going to be difficult to fight back against a top player but I just thought to myself ‘fight for every ball and just get it on the table’ and it paid off.”

Tom also acknowledges that his competitive nature has helped him, not only to focus on his future goals, but also put his accident behind him. “Being competitive by nature helps a lot,” he admits, “as it makes you determined to want something again and to go out there and do it. If it wasn’t for sport I don’t know where I’d be now – it does take over your life but you get to do something you enjoy and travel the world.”

In February 2017 Tom moved from the GB Pathway Squad to the Performance Squad.

Take 5 with Tom:

Most admired sportsman – Shane Williams

Place in the world you would most like to visit – Australia because of the weather and the beaches

Three words that describe you best – determined, friendly, positive

What’s on your ipod – Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, J Cole, Miguel

If you had to appear in a reality TV programme which one would it be – Geordie Shore

and finally – Thomas’s interests include driving, photography, mountain biking, technology, gym

2017 Results:
European Championships, Lasko, Slovenia – silver, men’s singles (class 1)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – gold, men’s teams (class 1); group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
World Team Championships, Slovakia – bronze, men’s class 1
Slovenia Open – silver, men’s teams (class 1); group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – bronze, men’s singles (class 1); silver, men’s teams (class 1)

2016 Results:
US Open – gold, men’s singles (class 1)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – bronze, men’s singles (men’s class 1); runner-up, men’s teams (class 1)

2015 Results:
Copa Costa Rica – silver, men’s singles (class 1); silver, men’s teams (class 1)
European Championships, Vejle, Denmark – gold, men’s teams (class 1); bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
Korea Open – 3rd, men’s singles RR (class 1); 2nd, men’s teams RR (class 1-2)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – gold, men’s teams (class 1); bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovakia Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1); group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovenia Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1); group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – silver, men’s teams (class 1); QF men’s singles (class 1)
Hungarian Open – bronze, men’s singles (class 1); silver, men’s teams (class 1)

2014 Results:
Cote d’Azur International, France – group stages, men’s singles (class 1); 4th men’s teams RR (class 1)
Spanish Open – group stages, men’s singles (class 1-2); 5th men’s teams RR (class 1-2)
Romania Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1-2); group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovakia Open – group stages, men’s singles (class 1); group stages, men’s teams (class 1)
Slovenia Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1); group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – group stages, men’s singles (class 1)
National Championships – winner, men’s singles (class 1-2)
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Career Highlights:
2017: World Team Championships, Slovakia – bronze, men’s class 1
2016: US Open – gold, men’s singles (class 1)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – bronze, men’s singles (men’s class 1)
2015: Copa Costa Rica – silver, men’s singles (class 1); silver, men’s teams (class 1)
European Championships, Vejle, Denmark – gold, men’s teams (class 1); bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – gold, men’s teams (class 1); bronze, men’s singles (class 1)
Slovakia Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1)
Slovenia Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – silver, men’s teams (class 1)
Hungarian Open – bronze, men’s singles (class 1); silver, men’s teams (class 1)
2014: Romania Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1-2)
Slovenia Open – bronze, men’s teams (class 1)
2013: US Open, San Diego – silver, men’s singles (class 1); bronze, men’s teams (class 1-2)

Further results are available at: http://www.ipttc.org/players/men/matthews_thomas/index.htm