Rob Davies and Tom Matthews took gold in the men’s class 1 team event on the final day of the ITTF PTT European Championships in Vejle, Denmark today after Germany withdrew from their final match due to injury. There were silver medals for Will Bayley and Billy Shilton (men’s class 7) and Paul Karabardak and David Wetherill (men’s class 6) and Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson took bronze in men’s class 8 to bring the total number of medals won by GB at these championships to 11.
Davies, 31, was delighted to successfully defend the European team title as well as his singles crown and for Matthews it was a first major title in his first major championship.
“I’m really happy to retain both titles and this team one with Tom is a brilliant experience for him,” said Davies. “I know we didn’t get to play the last match against Germany because they are injured but you can only play who is in front of you. I’m very happy with the way I’m playing. I feel more at ease with myself and a bit more confident at the moment and going into next year that can only be good. I’ve just got to take it to the other continents now and try and beat the Koreans and whoever else comes our way as well as the Europeans.”
“I’m over the moon,” said Matthews, “it’s been a great experience playing with Rob again. If someone had told me before I came out here that I would take two medals I would have bitten their hand off. I’m really happy at the moment. I’ve been in control of my nerves and just enjoyed playing my table tennis instead of getting all worked up about points. I’ve just been playing the way I can play and obviously it works.”
Although unable to defend the team title with Paul Davies, who is recovering from injury, Davies was pleased to win a second European team gold with another fellow Welshman.
“It is obviously good for the guys back home in Wales,” he said, “and good for the development of table tennis in Wales so the future is bright.”
Having beaten the World champions Spain earlier in the championships Bayley and Shilton were hoping to take out the double European champions Ukraine in today’s final. But World number two Maksym Nikolenko and World number three Mykhaylo Popov are a formidable team with years of experience playing together while Bayley and his 17 year old partner Shilton were playing together here for only the third time.
With the new team format the doubles is even more crucial and although the GB pair levelled the match at 1-1 Ukraine took the next two sets to win the match 3-1 and take a 1-0 lead. Bayley then played a superb match to beat the former European champion Popov 3-0 which left Shilton with the huge task of beating World silver medalist Nikolenko to take the gold.
Understandably the importance of the match proved too much for the Gloucestershire teenager at this stage of his young career and Nikolenko used all his experience to win 3-0 and secure the gold for Ukraine. It was nevertheless a great performance by Bayley and Shilton to take silver in their first major championship together.
“The doubles was massive,” said Bayley, “and we were always behind. I didn’t play so well in the doubles and it was a shame because if we had taken that we would have won the match but - next time! I thought I produced my top play against Popov - I was using the table so well and playing really clever so I’m pleased with that. I’m really proud of what Billy has done. We’re disappointed to walk away with the silver medal and that shows you what a good team we are - we’re disappointed with coming second in the European Championships - that’s not bad is it for a few months playing together? It’s been a real pleasure to play with him.”
“I think it was a good final,” said Shilton, “but I was a bit nervous especially in the last match against Nikolenko. I felt like I was really under pressure but I think we did really well to beat Spain and Germany on the way so I’m really happy with silver. I’m really enjoying playing team with Will as he is the best player in the world and to get experience with someone like that is really good - the pressure in the big matches and how he copes with it is something I need to bring into my game.
My motivation is really high now after losing that match and the semi-final in the singles. Playing in a major final is not something I am used to so to get the experience at such a young age is really good for me.”
Karabardak and Wetherill had to battle the home crowd as well as the might of former World, Paralympic and European champion Peter Rosenmeier and his team partner Michael Jensen. The Danish pair is an experienced doubles partnership and although Karabardak and Wetherill started well the Danes took the doubles 3-1.
In the first singles 30-year-old Karabardak from Swansea took on Rosenmeier in a repeat of their singles semi-final which the Danish world number two won in five sets. Rosenmeier, who was beaten in the final of the men’s class 6 singles by Alvaro Valera of Spain, was determined to give his home crowd something to cheer about and winning a tense second set 14-12 gave him a 2-0 advantage. Although Karabardak fought back to win the third 11-6 some inspired play from Rosenmeier took the fourth set 11-5 and clinched the gold for Denmark to the delight of the crowd.
“I need to stop giving him the initiative and 2-0 leads,” said Karabardak. “At 2-0 down it is always hard. But it was a good match and he played really well so credit to him. He is a great player and he seems to play his best at the tight situations when it is most important. But I can take confidence because I think I have gone toe-to-toe with him and I was matching him so I’ll take confidence from that ready for next year if I play him in Rio.
“I’ve had some good wins here and I’ve been playing quite well so it is nice to know that I am one of the top players and if I play well I can beat anyone really so that will give me the confidence to try and take a medal in Rio.”
“We got off to a pretty good start,” said Wetherill, “but they won two or three points and the crowd got behind them and you could feel the momentum building and to be fair to Peter, in particular, when it was close he played some unbelievable shots. We had some great support from our teammates and the people back home so we can’t complain in terms of our support. We did our best and although it is obviously disappointing to lose it is really encouraging because we haven’t really played together before and we can only get stronger. I’ve been carrying a bit of an injury and I’ve still come away with a bronze and silver so it’s quite pleasing really.”
Despite his obvious ability 25 year old Wetherill has struggled in the past to show his best form at major championships but with Rio less than a year away he has proved with two medals here that he can compete with the best on the biggest stage.
“It hasn’t been a mental problem really,” he explained, “it’s been more of a technical thing. My game has probably been a little too risky in the past and now I feel I’m getting more and more solid and when you’ve got that much confidence in your game you don’t feel as tight in the big situations no matter what stage it is. I’m pretty comfortable with my game and I know I’ve done the training and I know I can compete with these guys no matter what stage it is and I’m looking forward to it.”
In their semi-final McKibbin and Wilson faced the number one seeds Ukraine and the GB pair never really recovered from a slow start in the opening doubles match that they lost 3-0. Wilson, 20, then needed to beat the World and European champion Viktor Didukh in the first singles and although he competed well and had chances to win all three sets the Ukrainian World number one, who was a good able bodied player before losing a leg to cancer, just had the edge in a 3-0 win.
“We knew the doubles was obviously going to be quite vital with Didukh playing,” said 24 year old Londoner McKibbin, “and we were quite confident we could do it but I feel like we just forced it a bit much knowing they are a good side and to be fair even when we got the balls into play they played very well. But it is our first major together since London and with Ross being injured we haven’t practiced any doubles and we can only go up from here.”
“Obviously playing against the World number one is always going to be difficult,” said Wilson, “but I think I am on quite a similar level to him and that is the biggest positive I can take from it. It is always nice to get a major medal and we have had some good results to get it. I would definitely have liked to have challenged them (Ukraine) a bit more. In doubles we could maybe have done a bit better and I just don’t like giving away a match that is not going to make the other person fight for their life for it as well so I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t play as well as I hoped I could. But it is still good to get a medal in the end. Rio has always been the main aim and hopefully the lead up to Rio can be good. I’m putting a lot of work in off the table to make sure that happens and I’ll work my hardest for Rio.”
London 2012 bronze medalists Jane Campbell and Sara Head were bitterly disappointed to lose out on a medal in the women’s class 1-3 team event after losing their final match in the round-robin event to Croatia. They played well in the doubles despite losing in four close sets and Head put up a battling performance against Andela Muzinic, taking the second set against the World number four and pushing her all the way in a 3-1 loss.
The result meant that Croatia took the gold and with Italy beating France GB were one of three teams with two wins and lost out on a medal on countback.
“We came out fighting,” said Head. “We knew it was going to be on countback or we were going for gold. We fought as hard as we could it just wasn’t our day today.”
Campbell was able to take some positives from her performance here.
“I think I have been consistent under pressure when it mattered in the singles, particularly in the team event, and I can get a little bit of confidence from that. We need to put ourselves in a stronger position in the doubles and we know what we need to work on.”