Date and place of birth: 17/01/1988, Poole
Home town: Tunbridge Wells
Family: mum Chrissie, step-father Gary, brother Tom
TT Class: 7
Current world ranking: 2
TT Style: Shakehands attack
International debut: 2006, Las Vegas
Will became one of the stars of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, featuring in a series of inspirational advertisements for Channel 4’s coverage of the event and winning individual silver and team bronze medals. The experience of playing in front of a packed crowd in his home country was both nerve-wracking and inspirational. “I put myself under a lot of pressure in London,” he admits, “and when the crowds were there supporting me I didn’t want to let them down. At times I used it positively but at other times I didn’t. Table tennis is such a technical sport; it is a touch game so when you are nervous it shows. I think I’ve learnt from London and I can take that experience and use it for other tournaments. I’ve trained so hard since London as I feel like I’ve still got something to prove to myself. It has made me more determined to work extra hard to try and improve.”
Born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that affected all four of his limbs, Will underwent numerous operations at Great Ormond Street Hospital from the age of three months old. He returned to Great Ormond Street for chemotherapy when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of seven and it was while recovering from cancer that his grandmother bought him a table tennis table. The rest, as they say, is history.
Having joined Byng Hall Table Tennis Club in Tunbridge Wells he went on to represent Kent men’s abled bodied team and after moving to Bristol to continue his studies Will trained at the Bristol Table Tennis Academy with former international player Kevin Satchell. He joined the GB Para table tennis team in 2006 and after representing ParalympicsGB in Beijing in 2008 he returned to China on his own for several months to train with the best in the world.
In October 2011 Will won gold in the European Championships in Croatia and was voted Players Player of the Year. In 2012 he became world number one and reached the Paralympic final in his class, losing an emotional match to his nemesis Jochen Wollmert from Germany, who had ended Will’s challenge in Beijing. True to form Will came back stronger and regained the world number one ranking in April 2013.
“Being world number one means everything to me,” he says. “I’m always pushing myself to try and improve and be as good as everyone else and sometimes it’s frustrating because you want to make a shot that you can’t make but I like to challenge myself so that’s what I love. I’m lucky that my mum and dad encouraged me from a very young age and never saw my arthrogryposis as a disability. I’ve always played sport and pushed myself and if I hadn’t had that behind me I wouldn’t be the player I am.”
In 2013 Will was involved in a battle for the world number one ranking with Maxym Nikolenko from the Ukraine and he beat his great rival in the semi-finals of the European Championships in Italy, only to lose 3-1 to another Ukrainian Mykhaylo Popov in the final. Although disappointed to lose his European crown Will was determined to use the experience to improve his game.
“I’ve reached the last three major finals and played different players in each of them,” he said afterwards, “so my consistency is good but I’ve lost the last two and it really hurt so I want to try and do everything I can do to find the edge that will help me to win these titles.”
World ranked number two at the start of the 2014 season, Will avenged his European Championship final defeat by Popov on the way to winning gold in the Lignano Master Open in Italy and won gold in Slovenia as well in his build up to the World Championships in China in September. After beating Paralympic champion Jochem Wollmert in the group stages of the tournament he defeated Popov again in the semi-finals and then beat world number one Nikolenko in the final to become World champion.
“To win the World Championship was one of my dreams,” he says. “I’ve worked for all my life to get that moment when I can say I’m the best in the world and to come here and win the World Championships and say I’m world champion means a lot to me.”
In December 2014 Will received recognition for his achievement in becoming world champion when he won the Disability Sport award at the inaugural Daily Mirror and Sport England Pride of Sport Awards.
Take 5 with Will:
Favourite sport apart from table tennis: Football (Arsenal fan)
Most admired sportsman: Rafael Nadal
Favourite film: Rocky
What’s on your ipod: Rap, R&B
Three words that describe you best: fighter, loving, passionate
and finally – Will attended the Brit School for Performing Arts in Croydon and appeared in a DVD ‘We’ve Got The Toaster’
World Championships, Beijing, China – gold, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 6-7)
Slovakia Open – silver, men’s teams (class 7); QF men’s singles (class 7)
Slovenia Open – gold, men’s singles (class 7); gold men’s teams (class 7)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – gold, men’s singles (class 7); silver, men’s teams (class 6-7)
National Championships – winner, singles (mixed class 7)
2014: World Championships, Beijing, China – gold, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 6-7)
2013: European Championships, Lignano, Italy – silver, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 7)
2012: Paralympic Games, London – silver, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 6-8)
2011: European Championships, Split, Croatia – gold, men’s singles (class 7), silver, men’s teams (class 7)