The GB team picked up another three medals in the team event at the Lignano Master Open in Italy with silver medals for Ross Wilson and Aaron McKibbin in the men’s class 8 event and Tom Matthews with his Hungarian partner Endre Major in men’s class 1 and a bronze for Kim Daybell and Ashley Facey Thompson in men’s class 10.
Wilson and McKibbin started their competition with a narrow 3-2 loss to Ukraine but a 3-0 win over a combined France and Germany team took them through to a quarter-final against the experienced Belgian pair of Marc Ledoux and Mathieu Loicq who had come through their group without dropping a set. An impressive 3-0 win earned the GB pair a place in the final and another chance to take on Ukraine but the world champion and world number one Viktor Didukh and his compatriot Ivan Mai proved just too strong again in a 3-1 win.
“It went really well,” said 19 year old Wilson. “It is great to have a silver medal at a factor 40 – there is definitely a difference in the level between factor 20 and factor 40 and it is just nice to finally be able to get back into one after such a long time away. I can now knuckle down in training and I know what I have to work on – this will give me a lot of motivation for the rest of the season.”
“It was a good result,” agreed McKibbin. “It’s great to be back playing with Ross and to get to a final in our first competition. I played better in the singles here than I did in Hungary and got to the quarters finals. Ross and I played well in the doubles and we can only get better.”
Matthews and Major lost a tight first match to world champions Korea 3-2 but a 3-2 win against Sylvio Keller from Switzerland and the Russian Dmitry Lavrov took them into the semi-final against Italy, bronze medalists in the European Championships in 2013.
With the tie level at 2-2 it came down to the final rubber between Matthews and Falco and the 22 year old from Aberdare showed great character and determination to fight back from 2-0 down to win 11-6 in the fifth and take his team into the final against Jae-kwan Cho and Ki-Won Nam of Korea. The Koreans are both world top ten players and their combined experience showed in a 3-0 win but Matthews has had a great competition, including a win over world number six Andrea Borgato in the singles, and was understandably delighted with his performance.
“It hasn’t really sunk in that I beat Borgato,” admitted Matthews. “The semi-final against Falco was hard work. At 2-0 down I just got my head back together and started to relax and play my game and it worked. This is definitely a step on again from Hungary – I controlled my nerves a bit more and I’m getting better all the time so I’m happy with that.”
Daybell and Facey Thompson progressed from their group in second place after wins over Japan and a combined team from Hungary and Ireland and a narrow 3-2 loss to France. They came through a quarter final against Igor Misztal from Poland and the Israeli Aviv Gordon 3-1 to set up a semi-final against the class 10 world number six Denislav Kodjabashev from Bulgaria and Filip Radovic from Montenegro but had to settle for bronze after a 3-1 loss.
“It was a good start to the season,” said Leeds University medical student Daybell, “and overall it was a good performance. I lost in the semi-finals of the singles to Lukyjanov who had a really good tournament and beat all the top players and I still felt it was a really tight match. After my exams I’ll be able to train full time and I’m looking forward to that and seeing what kind of level I can get myself to. Ash had a really good competition and played well in the singles; he has shown great improvement and is competing with class ten players and I think a lot of teams will be scared to come up against us now.”
Class nine player Facey Thompson, 20, had enjoyed a great win in the singles competition against the Ukrainian world number three and said: “To beat a player like Shchepanskyy in a factor 40 was definitely one of my best wins. I played better than in Hungary; I was more positive and I’m really happy with my performance here.”
Paul Karabardak just missed out on a medal in the team event with Martin Perry but was encouraged by his silver medal in the singles in his first factor 40 tournament in class 6.
“It was a tight match and I didn’t take my opportunities in the final,” said the Swansea player. “Simion played really well but I think I can play better and hopefully beat him next time we play. It would have been nice to have won the gold but it’s still quite pleasing to get silver in a factor 40.”
GB Performance Director Gorazd Vecko said: “We were without Will Bayley, Rob Davies and Paul Davies so to get eight medals in the first factor 40 of the season is very encouraging. It’s not all about medals in the first tournaments of the season and we can build on some great performances here. Ashley Facey Thompson beating Shchepanskyy was the result of the tournament for us; Tom Matthews beat the world number six Borgato and young Megan Shackleton, although she lost 3-2 against the world number 4, is going to be a top player in the next two or three years. We aim to have the players at their best for the major competition which this year is the Europeans in October and we know what we need to work on now over the next few weeks before the next tournaments in May.”