Bayley and Davies head British squad for European Championships

Paralympic champions Will Bayley and Rob Davies head a 16-strong British squad that will compete in the European Para Table Tennis Championships in Lasko, Slovenia from September 28-October 4.

Bayley, who is also the current World champion in men’s class 7, will be looking to take the European crown and hold all three major titles at the same time. The 29 year old from Tunbridge Wells won the European title in 2011 but has taken silver on the last two occasions, losing in the final in 2013 to the Ukrainian Mykhaylo Popov and in 2015 to Jean-paul Montanus from the Netherlands. Bayley won the German Open in June beating the current World number one Maksym Nikolenko from Ukraine in the final.

Davies is bidding for his third consecutive European singles title and with fellow Welshmen Paul Davies, the London 2012 bronze medallist, and Tom Matthews will also defend the men’s class 1 team title won in 2013 and 2015. The 33 year old lost the World number one ranking after a below-par performance in the German Open in June but came back to win gold in the Czech Open earlier this month.

The full squad for the European Championships is:

Will Bayley MBE – men’s class 7 singles
“I might never have the opportunity again to hold all three titles at the same time and it would be a dream so I just want to put myself in with a chance of doing it. I’m also realistic enough to know that sport is unpredictable and anything can happen so I don’t really put myself under too much pressure in that way. It’s been a really good build-up – probably one of the best that I’ve had – and I’ve been working harder than ever before and trying to improve because I don’t want people to say that I settled for gold in Rio and now I’ve taken my foot off the gas.  Winning the German Open gives me massive confidence because Nikolenko has been brilliant this season and only lost one match so it is going to be a massive challenge to beat him but I’m looking forward to it.”

Paul Davies – men’s class 1 singles and class 1 team
Paul Davies action 1“I’m really looking forward to the Europeans. It would be nice if I could repeat what I did in 2013 and get to the final but you never know. We are definitely favourites for the team gold and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ve had some good tournaments this year already and beaten the players who are the main threats in the Europeans except for a certain Rob Davies. Experience counts for a lot and having played in the Excel in 2012 and in front of the Brazilian crowd in Rio I think I can cope with anything but you’ve still got to keep your head together. You never stop learning but as you get older you mature more in the sport and your mind-set is different. I don’t get nervous playing in major tournaments – I just enjoy the buzz of it.”

Rob Davies MBE – men’s class 1 singles and class 1 team
Rob Davies action 3“I just like competing and trying to be at my best for the major competition every year – whether it is Europeans, Worlds or Paralympics. It was good to get the gold in the Czech Open. I’d lost a few matches earlier in the season but I wanted to concentrate on other things in my life after Rio – including getting married in July. It is nice to be World number one – I think I was on honeymoon when I heard that I had gone down the rankings - but to be honest it is not as important for me as winning the major titles. I’m looking forward to going to the Europeans and hopefully playing my best table tennis. The Czech Open was really good match practice and I was happy with my performance there so I’ve just got to try and up my level again for the Europeans.”

Kim Daybell – men’s class 10 singles and class 10 team
“It has been a really hard year at medical school and you really have to put the time in so table tennis has had to take a bit of a back seat post Rio but now I’m happy to be back in the hall and training more regularly and I’m feeling quite good. Although my preparation has been very different to Rio I’ve been working with the team psychologist because you don’t want to go in too relaxed. It is still a major event and you need that nervousness and intention and I’ve still got high expectations in terms of how I want to perform. I think I am coming in with a more mature mind-set as every time I play I’m a little bit older. I’m not unhappy with my form – I need to sharpen up a bit and there are a few things I need to do before the Europeans. Obviously the preparation hasn’t been how it was for Rio for me with my timetable and studies over the last 12 months but there is no reason why I can’t perform well and I’m looking forward to getting back into the competition hall.”

Ashley Facey Thompson – men’s class 9 singles and class 10 team
“I moved to Sheffield after my degree because I thought it was the right time to become a full time athlete. Since I’ve moved I’ve changed as an athlete. I’m more professional and more committed - I’ve got the athlete psychology and mental attitude so I’m really happy with how I’m playing. I’ve only been here for a month or two but I’ve really improved and I can see that day-in and-day out and I’m getting to be the athlete I want to be. Rio showed me that I want to be an athlete and gave me the belief that I can challenge for a medal in Tokyo.  Kim and I haven’t done a team event since Rio so I’m happy that I’ve got my team mate back. It is good to play team event with a friend – we reached the quarter-finals in Rio and hopefully we can do well at the Europeans.”

Sue Gilroy MBE – women’s class 4 singles and class 4-5 team
“I’ve only been back in training a few weeks after having major surgery on my arm so I’m still limited on how much training I can do but from where I was four weeks ago when I didn’t think I would make the Europeans I’m playing a lot better now. I always put pressure on myself and have high targets so it is a big ask to be going in to a major championship and trying to win a gold but I can only do my best and try and play as well as I can. I’ll rely on my experience and my knowledge of my opponents and just go in without any real expectations. It would be great if I could win a medal but it is a long shot with the preparation I’ve had.”

Jack Hunter-Spivey – men’s class 5 singles
Jack Hunter-Spivey action 1“I’m feeling great going in to these Europeans. I’ve only played one international tournament since Rio but I’ve been training really hard and my game has massively improved. I think I know who I am as a player now and I think I know my style. I’m seeded five for the Europeans but I’ve beaten all of the top four players so I feel I’m really in a position now where I’m the guy you don’t want to meet in the next round and I’m really looking forward to seeing what I can do. The experience of Rio helped massively. I went to Rio wanting to be a Paralympian – that was the goal and I’ve done that now. That was my downfall in Rio and why I didn’t succeed there in the way I wanted to. The positives are that I now have more experience in major championships and I can use that going forward and hopefully do well.”

Paul Karabardak – men’s class 6 singles and class 6 team
Paul Karabardak action 2“Preparation has been really good and I’ve been training really hard. I’ve had some competitions at home and been playing really well so I’m excited about playing in the Europeans. Hopefully I can draw on my experience and that can set me up for a good competition. I need to play my game and not let my opponents dictate the matches – just do what I do best.  I did well two years ago and I think I’m playing better now and I’m more used to class 6. We also have a fantastic chance in the team event – I’m playing with two really good players and I think we have a great chance to do really well.”

Tom Matthews – men’s class 1 singles and class 1 team
Tom Matthews action 1“Training has been going really well. Having taken a singles medal and team gold in 2015 definitely gives me confidence and hopefully we can retain the team title. Playing with Rob and Paul has helped me a lot. It is great to have a Paralympic champion alongside you in the team event telling you to calm down and giving you little techniques to help with concentration. I think my mentality has improved over the last two years. Before I could easily get frustrated if I wasn’t playing well but now it takes a lot to get me frustrated. I’m feeling quite confident going in to the Europeans and I’m looking forward to it – I can’t wait to get out there.”

Aaron McKibbin – men’s class 8 singles and class 8 team
Aaron McKibbin action 1“Preparation has gone really well. We’ve just come back from a training camp in Slovenia which is our normal routine before a major and as a squad it was one of our best camps. We’ve all matured a lot since Rio and I think we are in a great place going in to the European Championships. I think I’ve improved a lot since Rio and the result definitely helped my confidence – it was the most pressure I have played under and it was obviously the best feeling in the world to be able to secure a medal for the team. This season I’ve had really good results in singles as well as team – I reached the final of the Slovenia Open and lost a close match to the World number one in Germany so I feel that I am in a good position and the experience and maturity has helped me a lot. I’ll focus on the singles first and then hopefully we’ve got a great shot at the team event but every nation wants to win a medal at the European Championships so we know it won’t be easy.”

Martin Perry – men’s class 6 singles and class 6 team
Martin Perry action 2“The whole team is playing some really good stuff at the moment and I am feeding off that. I feel that I am playing really well and I’m feeling confident about going out there. It is my first major and I know that I have had the best preparation because the guys I have been training with are all top of their classes so I’m just looking forward to getting out there and learning as much as I can. It is going to be a great experience and it will be a good opportunity to see how well I can perform on the big stage. It is a great benefit for me playing in the team event alongside Dave and Paul. They have the experience of six Paralympics between them and numerous World and European championships so it is an incredible team to be a part of and hopefully we can come together as a team out in Slovenia. We are all looking to go out there and win medals for our country.”

Felicity Pickard – women’s class 6 singles
Felicity Pickard action 1“I’ve changed a lot of my training over the summer with a lot more intensity and it is doing me good so I’m really looking forward to the Europeans. I think overall I’m a completely different person on and off the table to four years ago. My mentality towards the game has changed massively and I’m a lot stronger – I’ve done a lot more work in the gym and technically I am a lot better.  I need to play to my strengths. If I am mentally on my game then my opponents struggle because I am a big fighter. I’m playing well at the moment and hopefully I can keep it going and peak at the European Championships and be ready for some big challenges. It means a great deal to be going to another major championships and I’m really looking forward to getting out there and putting in some good performances.”

Megan Shackleton – women’s class 4 singles and class 4-5 team
“We’ve just come back from a really intense training camp in Slovenia; I’m playing at a good level and I’m really excited about the Europeans. I think I’ve learnt how to manage my expectations in matches now and through winning a few team medals in major events as well I’ve built on my experience of those big tournaments and how to manage myself as an athlete.  Having beaten a top player gives me a lot of confidence. I’ve been working hard over the last couple of years and it is good to see the improvements in my game and that I’m tapping into my potential a little bit. I believe that I am now really competing with the top ten players.”

Billy Shilton – men’s class 8 singles and class 8 team
Billy Shilton action 2“My improvement not just in table tennis but in the gym as well has been a massive part of my progression in the last couple of years. Movement is a big thing for me – I’ve been working a lot in the gym on making my movement quicker and sharper around the table. This will be my first Europeans as a class 8 but I’m really looking forward to it. Preparation has been really good so I’m excited to get out there now. Ross and Aaron are one of the best teams in the world and what they did in Rio shows that, so to be in a team with those two will be a great opportunity for me to learn from – just watching them in the doubles will be really good experience for me. Tokyo is always in the back of my mind – going to a Paralympics has been a dream since I started playing table tennis but I am focused on the Europeans as it is a really big tournament for us.”

David Wetherill – men’s class 6 singles and class 6 team
David Wetherill action 1“I’m going to do my best. I really enjoy playing the team event because I’ve only played two team events in major competitions – one in the Worlds and one in the Europeans – so I’m looking forward to that. We have Martin in the team now as well and we can definitely look to improve in our silver medal in 2015.”

Ross Wilson – men’s class 8 singles and class 8 team
Ross Wilson action 1“We’ve had a really good training camp in Slovenia and it was great to get some good match practice out there. Since then it has been good to get back in the training hall in Sheffield and I’ve been working hard every day to see if I can find a bit more and see where I can improve my game. It was good to win in Germany and hopefully people know that I’m back now competing with the top guys again. That is where I want to be - pushing for the medals. It is a different feeling knowing that I am going in to a major competition with plenty of training behind me and that is definitely a positive. It is good to be on the table a  lot more now – I can’t say that just because I have had more time on the table that I am going to do better but it is definitely good for my confidence and makes me a lot more positive so hopefully I can do well.”