World champion Will Bayley and his 16 year old team partner Billy Shilton reached the final of the men’s class 7 team event at the Slovenia Open today after beating France in the semi-final 3-1.
The Welsh combination of Rob Davies and Tom Matthews will take bronze in the men’s class 1 team event after losing their semi-final to Korea-2 and GB are assured of two more medals as London 2012 medalists Jane Campbell and Sara Head are through to the semi-finals of the women’s class 3 team and 16 year old Megan Shackleton reached the semi-finals of the women’s class 4 event with her Slovakian partner Alena Kanova.
The French team of Kevin Dourbecker and Stephane Messi had beaten the number one seeds from Ukraine in the last 16 but Shilton almost caused an upset in the first singles, fighting back from 0-2 against Dourbecker to level at 2-2 but the world number eight used all his experience to take the final set 11-7 and the match 3-2. Bayley also had to fight back from 1-2 down against 2004 Paralympic champion Messi before closing out the match 11-4 in the fifth and the GB pair then combined brilliantly to win the crucial doubles 3-1. When Bayley took the first set against Dourbecker 11-0 he looked to be on course for a comfortable win but the Frenchman came back strongly and in the end Bayley had to find his best form to win the match 11-8 in the fifth and take GB into the final.
“The French guys are both top players,” said Bayley, “but what we did well was we stayed together as a team because there were lots of highs and lows in that match and we got through it. Billy kept really calm and cool and he was superb in the doubles which was a key match. It is going to be a great test for us to play Spain - they are World champions and have won so many major medals but we have got nothing to lose so we’ll go out and enjoy it.”
“I’m really pleased with the way I played today,” he said. “To play the top players is really good experience for me and there are loads of different styles so it’s really good and it is great to play with someone as experienced as Will. Spain will be a tough match - they are two very good players so we’ll see what happens.”
Davies and Matthews are playing together here for the first time and made a great start by beating a team from Germany and Brazil 3-0 in the quarter-final. Davies was given a fight by the German Marcus Sieger and recovered from losing the first set to win 3-1 before Matthews also dropped the first set in a 3-1 win against Bruno De Paulo. The GB pair then combined to win the doubles 3-0.
In the semi-final against the Korea-2 team Matthews lost in three close sets to Young Dae Joo before Davies beat Jae Kwan Cho 3-0. The GB pair were no match for the Koreans in the doubles and Davies could never find his form against Joo in a repeat of their singles final yesterday and the Korean took the match 3-0 to win the tie 3-1.
“In that last game I struggled basically,” said Davies. “I’m not really sure why - I just need to pick myself up now for Slovakia. It is a tough game table tennis - it is all about fine margins and you can lose to anyone if you don’t play well. He was a better guy on the day today so I need to pick my game up and come back another day and try and beat him.”
“I’m learning all the time,” said Matthews, “so it is really good for me. I had my chances but I didn’t take them. I had no nerves this time - I was relaxed and it was just my shot selection so if I can get that right and improve my consistency it is going to come together.”
Campbell and Head were involved in a titanic battle against a combined team from France and Turkey and when they lost the doubles 9-11 in the fifth they had to win both reverse singles. With Head beating Marie-Christine Fillou 3-1 it was all down to Campbell and she responded with a determined 3-1 win over Kezban Cakir to clinch the tie and take them into tomorrow’s semi-finals.
“After losing the doubles there was a lot of pressure,” admitted Head, “and I was really pleased with how I handled it.”
The London 2012 bronze medalists have a great partnership and Campbell said of her win over Cakir: “It always inspires me that Sara has just done it. What she did was hard so I couldn’t let her down - I had to do it.”
In their quarter final Shackleton and Kanova beat a team of Helke Koller from Austria and the Slovenian Barbara Meglic. After Kanova had won the first singles against Meglic, Shackleton beat Koller 3-1 and then combined with Kanova to win the doubles 3-0.
“I’m really pleased because I played Koller in the final in Hungary,” said Shackleton, “and we had a fifth set match and it was really close so to have a 3-1 win is quite promising and it shows my training is paying off. Alena is very supportive and gives me lots of advice on how I can improve and she helps me stay focused so she’s a really great team partner to have.”
In men’s class 10 Kim Daybell was partnered by Aaron McKibbin against a very strong Russian team in their quarter final. Daybell had his chances against Vladimir Glasov but could not find a way past the imposing Russian who took the first singles 3-1. McKibbin, a class 8 player, played well against the class 10 Pavel Lukyanov and came close to repeating his win over the Russian here last year but at 2-2 the world number nine took the deciding set 11-4 and the match 3-2
Daybell and McKibbin then needed to win the doubles but the Russian combination of Glasov and Iurii Nozdrunov were always in control in a 3-0 win to secure the tie 3-0.
“Glasov is very different to a lot of players in class 10 in the way he plays,” said Daybell. “He has definitely improved his level over the past year and I find it really hard to play him as have a lot of other players. I’m disappointed not to win today but next time I will have to find a way around him.”
McKibbin said of his match against Lukyanov: “In the 4th set at 4-1 I felt in quite a good position but he is a top player and quite experienced so I knew the fourth set was key. Even though I didn’t get the win I can definitely use the performance as a positive to take into Slovakia next week.”
After seven matches yesterday Paul Karabardak was entitled to feel tired but the Welshman is a fighter and he gave everything to beat Raimondo Alecci 12-10 in the fifth set of their opening singles in the men’s class 6 quarter final against a combined team from Thailand and Italy. Martin Perry, who celebrated his 21st birthday today, understandably found the experience of Paralympic champion Rungroj Thainiyom too much in a 3-0 loss but then combined well with Karabardak to win an exciting doubles match 11-5 in the fifth.
It was a great effort and although Karabardak then rallied to level his singles match against Thainiyom at 1-1 the world number four took the next two sets for a 3-1 win and with Perry losing 3-0 to the wily Italian Alecci the GB pair went out 2-3.
“I was tired because I’ve played a lot of matches,” admitted Karabardak, “but I’ve got to give him (Thainiyom) credit because he is an excellent player and he deserved to beat me. Hopefully I can play him next time when I’m fresh and we’ll see what happens then -maybe I can beat him.”
The partnership of Karabardak and Perry is new for GB this year and their win in the doubles showed that it has great promise.
“I think we are improving all the time,” agreed Karabardak. “To beat two top players is a great result and I think we can take confidence from that because doubles is very important in team matches.”
In men’s class 5 Jack Hunter-Spivey and his French partner Emeric Martin lost 3-2 to a strong Korean team but Hunter-Spivey had a good win in his singles over the world number eight Ki-Young Kim.
“That was a good win for me,” said Hunter-Spivey, “and revenge for my loss to him in the Worlds which I had in the back of my head a little bit. So I can end the tournament on a bit of a positive for me and kick on to Slovakia.”