The GB Para Table Tennis Team made a good start to their European Championships campaign in Italy with eight of the 12 players in action today all recording wins in the initial round-robin group stages.
Rotherham based Will Bayley began the defence of his European crown with a 3-0 victory over the experienced Italian Davide Scazzieri and the 25 year old from Tunbridge Wells was pleased to start with a win against an awkward opponent.
“It was good to get that out of the way,” said Bayley. “The first match is always difficult and he obviously wants to do well in front of his home crowd so it’s nice to get a win under my belt. I played pretty good, not my best, but for the first match I was quite happy with that.”
Bayley’s class 7 team mate Paul Karabardak also started his campaign with a 3-0 win and was never really troubled against Patrick Otte from Denmark. The Swansea player knows there are tougher tests to come but will take confidence from an emphatic win.
“At the majors I’m always really nervous in the first match,” said Karbardak, 27. “I struggled against him the last time I played him and so to beat him as comfortably as I did was good. It shows that I’m playing better than I was a few months ago and it shows that the training and hard work has paid off.”
Aaron McKibbin put up a gutsy display to battle past the Slovakian Josef Krsiak 3-2 in his first match and then showed his talent with a 3-0 win over the experienced world number 10 from Belgium, Marc Ledoux.
“After the scare in the first match I felt a bit more pumped up and a bit more focused,” said the 21 year old Londoner, “so I think it helped in some ways. I think I played solidly all the way though the match against Ledoux – I stuck to my tactics really well and didn’t get nervous when it was getting tight.”
Sheffield’s Kim Daybell had to face an unknown quantity in the powerful Russian Vladimir Glasov but came through a tricky match 3-1.
“It was a good start,” said Daybell, 21, “and I was pleased to come through today. I’ve never seen him play before and he made it difficult for me so I was pleased that I could just battle through it. The most important thing was to get the win and then move on and see if I can do the same tomorrow.”
Rob Davies, silver medalist in 2011, was impressive in beating Martin Polkorab of Slovakia 3-0 despite admitting to first match nerves.
“I was really nervous,” said the 29 year old from Brecon, “but I got in there and just rolled the ball on and tried to be consistent. It won me the game so I’m happy. By the last game I was feeling quite comfortable. It was very hot in the hall so I’ll rest up and recover ready for the matches tomorrow.”
Fellow Welshman and class 1 team mate Paul Davies also came through his first match successfully but had to recover from losing the second game before winning 3-1.
“The first set was quite comfortable but in the second set I took my foot off the gas and you just can’t do it at this level,” explained Davies, bronze medalist in London 2012. “You’ve got to play flat out all the way through as it’s never over till it’s over, as they say.”
Paralympic bronze medalist Jane Campbell, from Clerkenwell in London, looked to be on course for a comfortable win in her first match but in the end had to show all her fighting spirit to defeat the Italian Federica Cudia 3-1.
“I always feel quite nervous before the first match,” admitted Campbell, “so I’m really glad to get that one over and to get a win. It’s always a good sign of determination when things aren’t going as well as they were and you’ve got to up your game somehow and learn to deal with it.”
Barnsley’s Sue Gilroy became the first GB player to reach the quarter-finals after winning both of her group matches but had to fight hard in her second match before coming through against the Serbian Nada Matic 3-1.
“I haven’t played particularly well but I’ve done what I needed to do,” said the former Commonwealth champion. “I know I can do a lot better but it doesn’t matter because winning is the important bit and hopefully I’ll improve through the next couple of days.”
Torpoint player David Wetherill had a disappointing start to his competition, losing 3-1 to Bobi Simion of Romania after taking a 1-0 lead, but can still qualify for the knockout stages if he can win his second group match tomorrow.
Jack Hunter-Spivey and Ashley Facey Thompson, both 18 years old, and 19 year old development squad player Felicity Pickard all acquitted themselves well in losing against much more experienced opposition. Hunter-Spacey, from Widnes, won his fair share of great tactical rallies against the reigning European champion and world number four from France Nicolas Savant-Aira during a fighting 3-1 defeat. Londoner Facey Thompson, now based in Rotherham, lost 3-0 against the double Paralympic and six times European champion from Austria Stanislaw Fraczyk, the current world number two, while Burnley’s Felicity Pickard won the first game against the world number four Yuliya Klimenko of the Ukraine before losing the match 3-1.
The competition continues tomorrow with the final group matches and the first of the quarter-finals.