After the success of the singles competition it was a mixed start to the team event for the British team at the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Slovenia today.
Highlight of the day was the performance of Kim Daybell and Ashley Facey Thompson who are through to the quarter-finals of men’s class 10 after topping their group. There were also wins for David Wetherill, Paul Karabardak and Martin Perry in men’s class 6 and Aaron McKibbin, Ross Wilson and Billy Shilton in men’s class 8 but disappointment for Sue Gilroy and Megan Shackleton who lost both their opening matches in women’s class 4-5.
Paralympic champion Rob Davies and his fellow Welshmen Paul Davies and Tom Matthews have been denied the opportunity to defend their men’s class 1 European team title by the withdrawal of Hungary, as a minimum of four teams is required and with only three remaining the class was cancelled.
Men’s class 10:
Daybell and Facey Thompson started their team event with a 2-0 win against Latvia, taking the doubles 3-0 before Daybell secured the tie with a 3-0 win against Aleksandrs Sinica.
In their second match against France, after dropping the first set they came back to win the doubles 3-1. Daybell won the first set against World number four Mateo Boheas and then held his nerve to take a crucial second set 14-12 having led 10-5. The 20 year old Frenchman came back to win the third but Daybell is in great form at these championships and recovered from 4-0 down to win the fourth 11-7 and take the match 3-1. The 2-0 win against France means that Daybell and Facey Thompson go through to tomorrow’s quarter finals as group winners.
“The second set was a big one to win,” admitted Daybell. “I think we could both feel it in the game. It is always close when I play against him and I just played a little bit better today so it was nice to do that after the singles yesterday. With the field being as strong as it is winning the group is massive to avoid some of the top seeds so we’ll just see who we get and hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to come out and do the same thing.”
Class 9 player Facey Thompson is playing against class 10 players but is maturing all the time and has developed a good partnership with Daybell.
“In the first match we did a professional job,” said Facey Thompson. “The second match was harder and we started a bit slow but we got into the match and started doing the basic things right. We played really well and our level was a bit higher than the opposition’s today. We haven’t played doubles together since Rio but with me training full time now it has given me a lot of confidence and I feel that I can be with Kim as a partner and not just as the second player.”
Men’s class 8:
Rio team bronze medallists McKibbin and Wilson were comfortable winners against Norway, starting with a 3-0 win in the doubles and taking the tie 2-0 after Wilson beat Pablo Jacobsen in three sets 3, 4 and 5.
Against the London 2012 Paralympic champions Poland, Wilson and McKibbin lost the doubles 3-0 and 18 year old Billy Shilton found the Rio singles bronze medallist Piotr Grudzien just too strong in the first singles, losing in three close sets. The British trio will have to wait for the result of Poland’s match against Norway tomorrow to see if they will progress to the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
“I felt that I played well,” said Shilton. “It was just a few points at the end of each set that cost me – I think when I look back on it later I’ll be quite pleased with how I played. It is massive for me to be here in this environment when we’ve got two really strong players on the team so I’m benefiting a lot from it.”
“We went into the match against Poland with a tactic,” said McKibbin, “and we tried to play to it but to be fair they played really well. We definitely didn’t bring our best level but hopefully Poland will get the win tomorrow (against Norway) and we will get through to the quarter-final. We can definitely improve our performance. Ross and I are experienced and play really well together – it is not often we have bad matches so we can use that experience if we get through to the quarters.”
“I’m still feeling positive,” said Wilson. “We beat Norway which was a good performance and it was unfortunate against Poland. Billy has joined our team for the first time at a major and he is a brilliant addition to the team – he lost the singles in three close sets to a very good player but he will be a great talent for the future. We are just going to keep our heads up and keep going for the rest of the competition now.”
Men’s class 6:
After three tough matches yesterday in the singles silver medallist Wetherill was back in action today in the team event against Russia and after combining with Karabardak to win the doubles 3-0 he secured the tie for his team by beating Alexander Esaulov 3-0. The 27 year old from Torpoint was happy to win both matches 3-0.
“That was quite key to be honest,” said Wetherill. “I think the team event will be less intense, not in terms of winning matches but in terms of the schedule. We’ve got a good team where we can rely on three players but it was good to get it over and done with relatively quickly. We could have played better; we played well – we did enough and that was perfect really. Perfect 3-0, 3-0.”
Karabardak was unlucky to go out of the singles competition at the group stage on countback and is using that disappointment as extra motivation for the team event.
“It has given me a lot of motivation,” said the 31 year old from Swansea, “because the team has been so successful and I don’t want to leave here without a medal so I’m really up for the team event and looking forward to it. It was a good start today. I think we are getting better at doubles and today we played well and it was nice to get off to a good start because I think the doubles is going to be really important in order for us to do well. Dave then played really well in the singles and I’m really happy to get a 2-0 win against a good team.”
Perry looked on from the bench today but is an important part of the team and gaining valuable experience from the three-time Paralympians Karabardak and Wetherill.
“I’m learning loads,” said Perry. “I feel that I can improve a lot in the doubles when I get the opportunity so watching these two guys and what they do, how they move and where they place the ball is key in terms to my own development in the game. So it is great to watch these guys – they’ve got a lot of experience and it is good that we can bring that to the team.”
The trio play their second group match tomorrow against Greece.
Women’s class 4-5:
Sue Gilroy and Megan Shackleton won a team bronze in the 2015 European Championships but lost their opening match today 2-1 to Slovenia. After a slow start the GB pair combined well to win the doubles 3-0 but Barbara Meglic levelled the tie for Slovenia with a 3-0 win against Sue Gilroy, who had beaten Meglic by the same score in the singles competition. That left 18 year old Shackleton needing to win the deciding singles but the former European team gold medallist Andreja Dolinar used all her experience and the enthusiastic support of the home crowd to win the match 3-1.
In their second match against Russia, Gilroy and Shackleton lost the doubles 3-0 but Gilroy levelled the tie with a battling 3-0 win against Alexsandra Vasileva. Once again Shackleton had to win the deciding match and although she started well against Nadejda Pushpasheva, the former class 2 European champion proved too experienced and came back to win 3-1.
“I definitely felt a lot of pressure in that last match,” said Shackleton. “I think for me it is just going to be a learning curve of how to manage that situation and even though it is a pressure situation to make sure that I am enjoying the match as well and not necessarily putting myself under so much pressure that I don’t allow myself to play to my full potential. Overall there were some positives in the match and hopefully tomorrow is another day and the performance will be a lot better.”
“We can both play a lot better,” said Gilroy. “We normally never lose the singles against Slovenia and then obviously with the second match against the Russians she (Pushpasheva) has a lot more experience than Megan. We need to do a lot more work on our doubles – that is key. A disappointing day but we need to come back fighting.”
Gilroy and Shackleton have a day to regroup tomorrow before they play their final two matches on the round-robin event against Germany on Tuesday and Serbia on Wednesday.