Rob Davies and Thomas Matthews (men’s class 1), Will Bayley and Billy Shilton (men’s class 7) and Paul Karabardak and David Wetherill (men’s class 6) are all one match away from winning team gold medals in the European PTT Championships in Vejle, Denmark tomorrow. The GB team could also reach the final of the men’s class 8 team event if Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson can win their semi-final in the morning and Sue Gilroy and 16 year old Megan Shackleton secured a bronze medal today in women’s class 4-5.
In the round robin men’s class 1 team Davies and Matthews had to fight hard for a 3-0 win in the doubles against Hungary. In the first singles Endre Major as always proved a tough opponent but having retained his European singles title Davies is playing with great confidence again and after losing the second set he took the next two for a 3-1 win.
“It was another tough match against him,” admitted Davies. “He is an awkward player and to beat him again in the singles - I’m really pleased. In the doubles Tom and I are just getting better and better through the tournament. We lost to them in Germany earlier in the year so to beat them 3-0 in the doubles shows just how far we have come on. So I’m really chuffed with the way things are going.”
Davies and Matthews will retain the European team title for GB if they beat Germany in their final match tomorrow.
“I’m staying more composed and just playing my table tennis,” said Matthews. “Germany tomorrow will be a really tough match so we’ve got to prepare for that in the same way as we’ve prepared for our other matches and just carry on doing what we’re doing.”
Bayley and Shilton had earlier assured themselves of a medal with a 2-0 win over Denmark in their final group match, winning the doubles 3-0 before Bayley beat Patrick Otte 3-0 to secure top position in their group and a semi-final against Germany. They made a good start in the doubles taking the first set before the experienced German pair of Jochen Wollmert and Thorsten Schwinn came back to take the second. Bayley and Shilton then pulled away and took the next two to secure a 3-1 win.
Bayley against Wollmert is always box office and the three time World and Paralympic champion is still a formidable opponent but 27 year old Bayley was in command today and a 3-1 win clinched the tie 2-0 and took GB into tomorrow’s final against Ukraine.
“I’m very pleased,” said Bayley. “We have had some tough matches particularly against Spain and Germany so I’m pleased to come through. It wasn’t our best - I still think we have more to give in terms of ability but we’ll see what happens in the final. I can’t wait to play Ukraine - we are going to be really up for it. We haven’t beaten them for a long time so I’ll be giving it everything I’ve got to win that first European team title.”
“We played a really good doubles against Germany,” said Shilton, “and Will finished it off with a good singles performance so I’m really looking forward to the final tomorrow. In the first set against Germany we didn’t know what to expect as I haven’t played them before with Will and it was a good win in the end. Hopefully me and Will can get revenge for Germany earlier this year when we lost in the final to Ukraine so I’m looking forward to it.”
Paul Karabardak and David Wetherill are playing in a team event together for the first time in 10 years but they have formed a good partnership already and came through a tough semi-final against Sweden 2-0, combining to win the doubles in four close sets before Karabardak clinched their place in tomorrow’s final with a 3-0 win over Michael Azulay.
They will play Denmark in tomorrow’s final after the home team overcame Russia 2-1 in their semi-final to the delight of the crowd.
“Sweden are quite a good side and are in good form as they had beaten Germany so I knew it would be tough,” said Karabardak. “We struggled a bit in the doubles but we came through and then I had a bit of confidence from that which meant I went into the singles and played well. It was tough in the third set but I knew that if I just kept to my game plan I’d eventually sneak it.”
“I think we’ve played well considering we haven’t played together for so long,” said Wetherill. “It’s quite encouraging really as we’re in the final and we can only get better. We’ve got to take massive confidence from that and hopefully we can get the job done tomorrow.”
After their superb win against Poland yesterday Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson needed to beat Denmark to win their group. They got off to a slow start in the doubles but after losing the first set 11-4 they came back to win the next two. The fourth was point by point from 4-4 but Denmark finally took it 17-15 and when they reduced a 5-9 deficit in the final set to 9-9 the match was in the balance. But McKibbin and Wilson held their nerve to take the next two points and win the match 3-2. Wilson then completed a 2-0 win for GB with a 3-0 win over Kenneth Bech that put them through to the quarter-finals and they received a walkover when their intended opponents Hungary withdrew.
“I think we always felt we were going to come through in the doubles but they played a really good game,” said McKibbin. “We didn’t get going straight away and managed to pull ourselves into the game slowly. They are up and coming young players and they also had the home crowd behind them so the pressure was on us. We were happy that we could hold our nerve and pull through.”
“It was quite difficult in the doubles,” agreed Wilson, “but we are just getting back to how we used to be in doubles and really trying to work on that. The singles was an expected win for me but against the home nation is always difficult as they have a lot of support here. I’d loved to have played Hungary as I was looking to try and get revenge on Csonka from the singles so I’m quite disappointed not to play. You want to earn your medal but I think because of the results we’ve had to top our group we maybe deserve to be in the semi-final.”
The GB pair play the number one seeds Ukraine tomorrow for a place in the final.
“We played them in Italy earlier this year and lost to them in the final,” said McKibbin, “but we’re feeling confident so we’ll go out there and see what we can do.”
Gilroy and Shackleton took on Germany in their final group match with a place in the semi-finals awaiting the winners. In the doubles the GB pair combined well to win the first two sets 11-9, 12-10 and then recovered from losing the third to take the fourth 11-6 and the match 3-1. Gilroy made a good start against Sandra Mikolaschek winning the first set 11-5 but the 18 year old World number five from Germany levelled at 1-1 and again at 2-2 after Gilroy had taken the third 11-9. With all to play for Gilroy used all her experience and determination to race into an 8-0 lead in the final set and a great forehand winner followed by a cry of ‘Come On!’ took her to 10-2. She only needed one of her eight match points to clinch the match 3-2 and take GB into a semi-final against Sweden.
The combined talent of class 3 World number one and Paralympic champion Anna-carin Ahlquist and three time class 5 European champion Ingela Lundback proved too strong in the semi-final, although Gilroy and Shackleton competed well in the doubles in a 3-1 loss before Ahlquist showed all her class in a 3-0 win over Gilroy to win the tie for Sweden 2-0.
However, it was a good performance from the GB pair and they can be proud of their bronze medal.
“I lost to Mikolaschek twice in Germany earlier this year so to beat her here is a really good win,” said Gilroy. “To be honest once we knew we were playing Sweden we were so happy to beat Germany and Israel and get through to the semi-final we just wanted to relax and enjoy it. They are two such high class players and we are a very new team. She (Ahlquist) was too strong for me today but it’s great to have a team partner again and hopefully we’ll go onwards and upwards now and get stronger as we go on.”
“I’m so happy to come away with a medal at my first major championships,” said Shackleton. “It means a lot to me - I always come out to tournaments hoping to win things. I’ve gained a lot of experience through the pressure of the situations I’m in and I think I’ve handled it quite well.”
Daybell and Facey Thompson reached the quarter-finals with a thrilling 2-0 win against the Czech Republic in their final group match. At 2-0 and 9-5 down in the opening doubles match it did not look good for the GB pair but they came storming back to win the third set 11-9 and took the next two 11-4 and 11-7 to win the match 3-2.
Daybell was bitterly disappointed to lose in the quarter-final of the singles to the Czech Republic’s Ivan Karabec and he faced the former World and European champion again in the first singles match. After winning the first set Daybell was 10-6 up in the second only for Karabec to come back and win it 14-12 and take the next 11-9 for a 2-1 lead. But the 23 year old, who has taken a year out from his medical studies at Leeds University to prepare for Rio, responded with some great play to win the fourth set 11-4 and held his nerve superbly to win the fifth 11-7 for a memorable victory over the World number six.
In the quarter-finals they came agonisingly close to beating France in the doubles - twice fighting back to level the scores but eventually losing 3-2. Facey Thompson, a class 9 player, made a great start against the class 10 World number 10 Mateo Boheas taking the first set 11-6 but the young Frenchman came back strongly to take the next three and win the match 3-1 and take France into the semi-finals.
“We’ve pushed all the best teams in doubles,” said Daybell, “and we’ve proved we can compete with the best teams in the world. I think the match against Karabec was a great match to watch - we both played really well and I was pleased that I was able to pick myself up after not having the best singles competition here. I was really pleased to win because he is still one of the top players and I proved to myself that I am still up there with him. I definitely feel that I’m up there and competing - I just need to bring it to the tournaments and I feel confident that I’ll be able to do that.”
“We are improving step by step,” said Facey Thompson. “Me and Kim are working well together and we are getting there. My backhand let me down a bit against Boheas and I think after the first set he was more on top of games and I was always trying to get myself back into it. To be fair he played well.”
The women’s class 1-3 team event is being played in a round robin format and Jane Campbell and Sara Head kept their medal hopes alive with a gutsy 2-1 win over Italy. After the GB pair lost the doubles 3-0 Head produced her best singles form of the tournament to beat World number six Michela Brunelli 3-1 and Campbell then won the deciding singles against Giada Rossi 3-1.
“I think the fact that we lost the doubles inspired me on,” said Head. “We had nothing to lose at that point. She was getting nervous and I was getting more confident and that is what I’ve lacked in this competition so far. At least I’ve managed to bring some confidence back in to my game.”
“It was a must win match for us,” said Campbell, “and I was nervous but once Sara has done something so amazing I can’t not do it can I? We are in a countback position for a medal so we just have to go out tomorrow and try our best.”
The GB pair are still in with a chance of a medal and play their final match against the number one seeds Croatia tomorrow.