Kim Daybell has come so close to winning a major medal, losing in 12 quarter-finals, and it proved to be lucky 13 today as he and Ashley Facey Thompson put up a brilliant performance to beat the World team silver medallists Russia 2-1 to reach the semi-finals of men’s class 10 team at the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Lasko, Slovenia. On a good day for the British team Paul Karabardak, David Wetherill and Martin Perry also reached the semi-finals of men’s class 6.
After topping their group Daybell and Facey Thompson were unlucky to be drawn against the experienced Russian team of Pavel Lukyanov and Iurii Nozdrunov but they played superbly to win the vital opening doubles match 14-12 in the fourth. Facey Thompson fought hard against Nozdrunov but the World number three had just too much experience for the 22 year old Londoner and levelled the tie with a 3-1 win in the first singles.
That left Daybell to play the deciding singles against Lukyanov and he made a great start taking the first set 11-5 before the Russian came back to edge the second 12-10. Daybell’s spectacular defence can so often frustrate opponents and so it proved in the third set. The Russian coach called time out with Lukyanov leading 10-9 but Daybell levelled at 10-10 and then hung on tenaciously, saving several game points before clinching the set 14-12. It proved to be the pivotal point in the match as the 25 year old Leeds University medical student ran away with the fourth set 11-1 for an emotional win.
“The doubles was massively important,” admitted Daybell. “We’ve played better here than we have ever played before – really working well together – and it goes to show that if you do win that one you really put yourself in with a massive shot. They were the number three seeds and we were unlucky to draw them so it was a really nice way to win. The third set against Lukyanov was a difficult set; it wasn’t pretty and I think we were both quite nervous and I just had to find a way to crawl over the line and it was nice to be able to come through. I think it settled me; I knew I had stolen it away from him a little bit and I think that was in his mind as well. I just thought as long as I put in a solid performance here then I think I will be able to take it and that is what I did.
“I’ve been part of a lot of quarter finals and it has been a real hard struggle. Class 10 is such a tough class but it means even more to win it in team because Ash and me have been trying for a long time to win a medal together and I think when you share something like that it just makes it all the better.”
Facey Thompson is also assured of his first major medal and the class 9 player is starting to fulfil his potential since moving to Sheffield to train full time with the British squad in the summer.
“We played very good doubles against France and Russia,” he said, “better than we have ever played together. Training full time has improved me a lot as a player and to be with Kim and to feel that we have an equal partnership now is great. I felt really good against Nozdrunov and was buzzing from the doubles. I tried my hardest but he came through at the end with quality and experience but I’m happy. Words can’t describe how it feels to win a major medal – we have been close four times but we’ve worked hard and the outcome is at least a bronze so I’m really happy. I’m looking forward to tomorrow now – we have nothing to lose and we can give it our all.”
Daybell and Facey Thompson will face Spain in the semi-finals tomorrow.
Paul Karabardak and David Wetherill came through their final group match in men’s class 6 against Greece, using their experience to good effect in the doubles to win 3-0 before Wetherill overcame a spirited challenge from Mario Chatzikyriakos in the first singles 3-1 after dropping the first set.
“It was one of those matches where we just needed to get the job done,” said Wetherill, “and we managed to do that. I think we will be a lot fresher tomorrow. Paul and me have just been analysing how much risk we need to take and doing enough to make sure we get the win. But if we get put under a bit more pressure we know we can up it several levels so we have that confidence in each other. I think today we played really clever and we did nothing apart from place the ball in the right places so I am very pleased with that.”
“I think we can improve a bit more,” agreed Karabardak, “but I was really pleased with the doubles again because we are playing some of our best doubles and the doubles is really important in team. I think we can get better but we will have to because there will be tougher tests in the semi-finals. We’re guaranteed a medal but I’d like to get the gold and I think we are more than capable of getting the gold.”
Martin Perry looked on from the bench and was always confident that his team partners would get the win.
“These two guys have got a lot of experience,” he said, “and really drew on that today and I always thought they were going to win. They both put in really good performances, especially in the doubles, and then Dave had to work hard in his singles but he got the win so I was in more than capable hands on the bench.”
The British trio will play Israel tomorrow for a place in Wednesday’s final.
In the last round of group matches in men’s class 8 Poland beat Norway to win their group which meant that the British team of Aaron McKibbin, Ross Wilson and Billy Shilton, who did not play today, took second place and will progress to the quarter-finals tomorrow where they will face France.