On a dramatic day at the Slovenia Open in Lasko four GB teams have made it through to tomorrow’s semi-finals against some of the best teams in the world.
In men’s class 8 Will Bayley, Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson were playing together for the first time since they won a memorable bronze medal in London 2012, but class 7 World champion Bayley was left on the bench as they began with a 2-0 win against a strong Hungarian team of men’s class 8 European silver medalist Gyula Zborai and European bronze medalist Andras Csonka. McKibbin and Wilson gave their team the perfect start with a 3-0 win in the doubles and Wilson then clinched the tie with a determined 3-2 win against World number 6 Csonka.
In their second match against Russia McKibbin and Wilson made a good start in winning the doubles 3-0 but when McKibbin lost a close match to the talented 17 year old Artem Iakovlev 2-3 it meant that Wilson needed to beat Aleksei Saunin in the deciding singles. The 20 year old survived a fight back from the Russian in the third game to win the match 3-1 and take GB into a quarter-final against Belgium.
Marc Ledoux and former Paralympic champion Mathieu Loicq are a very experienced team and they used all that experience to win the doubles 3-1 which left GB needing to win both singles. Wilson showed great character to come through against Loicq 11-8 in the fifth and McKibbin took his team into the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against Ledoux.
“The Belgians have been playing doubles together for a long time,” said Wilson, “and it is always hard to play teams like that. Going into the singles on the back of losing the doubles is quite difficult - it’s quite hard to pick yourself back up straightaway but I think where I’ve improved is now I can do that and I can just grind wins out. So it is really nice to know that even when I’m not playing my best I can still get the wins sometimes. I think we play China in the semi tomorrow but no matter who we’ve got it’s great experience for Rio and we’ll give it our best shot.”
“I wanted to do my bit for the team,” said McKibbin, “because I felt I let them down in the last game against Russia losing my singles, but it made me more determined to go out there and prove to myself that it was a one-off mistake and I could put it right and thankfully I did. We come here to play these sort of matches before Rio - we haven’t played China since 2011 and it is always a big game and we’re really looking forward to it. It will be exciting.”
In men’s class 6 Paul Karabardak and Martin Perry began with a great win against European champions Denmark, combining really well to win the doubles 3-2 before Karabardak defeated Michael Jensen 3-0 in the first singles to win the tie for GB 2-0.
They followed that up with a 2-0 win against the Spanish/Irish partnership of Alberto Seoane and Des Ryan to progress to tomorrow’s semi-finals as group winners.
“It was good to beat Denmark,” said Karabardak. “They are a top side and the European champions and it was crucial to beat them and win the group so we get a better draw in the semi-finals. Martin and I played well and in the second match we kept our focus which was good as sometimes you lose that after such a good win, but we were professional and got the job done.”
“With the new format playing doubles first puts a lot of emphasis on it,” said Perry, “so we were under a lot of pressure to win the doubles going into the match against Denmark. I thought Paul and I played really well - we played some very clever table tennis at times and dug deep when we had to so it was great to get a win over the European champions.”
In women’s class 4, 17 year old Megan Shackleton and her German partner Sandra Mikolaschek had a tough start against China but they competed well in the doubles against Paralympic champion Zhou Ying and World champion Zhang Miao in a 1-3 loss. Zhou then won the tie for China with a 3-1 win against Mikolaschek.
They then needed to beat Serbia 2 to progress from the group and after combining with Mikolaschek to win the doubles 3-0 Shackleton put up a great performance to beat Zorica Popadic, the World team gold medalist, 3-1, and take her team through to tomorrow’s semi-finals.
“I’m really pleased with that because I’ve been waiting for that first big win for a while now,” said Shackleton. “It’s nice to see that everything I’ve been doing in training is finally coming through and I’m now starting to really compete with these players and cause a few upsets.”
Felicity Pickard is partnering former class 6 European champion Yuliya Klymenko from Ukraine in the women’s class 6-7 team event and they also had a tough first match against the class 7 World number one Kelly Van Zon from the Netherlands and World number two Kubra Korkut from Turkey. They competed well in the doubles, losing in three close sets, and 21 year old Pickard, a class 6 player, then played really well against Van Zon - the Paralympic, World and European champion - despite a 3-0 loss.
Although playing together here for the first time Pickard and Klymenko have formed a good partnership and they produced some great play to win the doubles 3-2 against their next opponents Russia2. Klymenko then beat Svetlana Nesterenko 3-0 to take them through to the semi-finals.
“I got a lot of confidence from this morning,” said Pickard, “because even though it was a tough match I felt that I played well. I just wanted to carry that on and be aggressive and positive and I feel that I did that well. We seem to click in the doubles a lot more than some other partnerships I’ve had in the past. We seem to be able to move well together so it is a good partnership and obviously she is a top player. We play Russia1 in the semi and I can’t wait. I’m up for it and let’s see what happens.”
In men’s class 10, 23 year old Kim Daybell and Ashley Facey Thompson, 21, faced Paralympic champions China in their first match. The combined experience of class 9 World number one Ma Lin and class 10 World number seven Lian Hao took the doubles 3-0 and although Daybell fought hard against Ma in the first singles the World and Paralympic champion took the match 3-1 to win the tie for China 2-0.
Daybell and Facey Thompson then had to beat a combined team from Thailand and Japan and recovered from dropping the opening game in the doubles to win it 3-1 before Daybell won the tie with a 3-0 win against Bunpot Sillapakong.
That took the young GB pair into a quarter-final against the very experienced Spanish team of former World champion Jose Ruiz and class 9 World number five Juan Perez and they played a superb match to win the doubles 3-0. Daybell then outplayed Ruiz for two and a half games before the class 10 World number five’s experience came to the fore and he recovered to win the match 3-2.
Facey Thompson also showed his potential by taking the first two games against Perez before being edged out 11-8 in the fifth but both he and Daybell can be very proud of the way they played and will certainly learn from the experience.
“Against Ruiz the third game was crucial,” admitted Daybell. “His coach called a really good time out when I was up 7-4 and he (Ruiz) has been around for a long time and played a lot of matches and he used that experience. It’s a shame that I couldn’t quite cross the line as I was playing really well and I felt that I was the better player but credit to him he dug in and made life very difficult for me. My level is there - it just needs a few little tweaks and I’ll be winning those matches instead of losing them.”
“We felt we had nothing to lose in the doubles and we were really up for it,” said Facey Thompson. “I played well at the start of my singles but I think the score got to me a bit - I knew I was up and beating a top player but I couldn’t execute the finish but I’m proud of how I played as well. I still thought I could win in the fifth game but his experience showed and he was the better player at the end of the match. I feel that I can compete with the top players now so I will try to push on from here and see what I can do in Slovakia next week.”
Women’s class 3 is being played in a round-robin format and London 2012 medalists Jane Campbell and Sara Head took on the World and Paralympic team champions from China in their second match. Despite a 0-3 loss in the doubles the GB pair competed well towards the end and although Campbell lost 0-3 to World champion Li Qian the score in the final game was 11-13.
“At the end of the singles against Li I gathered myself together and gave it a go,” said Campbell, “and I felt happier about that. In the doubles we were also competitive in the last game so we just need to start out the way we finished because if we had started out with that determination and confidence then it would have gone a lot better than it did.”
The pair can take confidence from a great win yesterday against Croatia and can still take a medal.
“We put a lot of effort into the doubles against Croatia,” said Head, “and for us to win that together made me more determined to try and finish it off in my singles and I’m happy that we did. We have two matches tomorrow so still all to play for and we’re looking forward to them.”
Jack Hunter-Spivey and regular team partner Tommy Urhaug from Norway made the perfect start in men’s class 5 with a 2-0 win against Chinese Taipei. The pair had to come back from 2-1 down to win the doubles 11-4 in the fifth and 20 year old Hunter-Spivey then won the first singles against Wen-hsin Lin 3-0 to secure the tie.
After winning the doubles with Hunter-Spivey, Urhaug took the first singles match against Alexandre Delarque to secure a 2-0 win against a combined team from France and Thailand which took them into the quarter-final to play the second Turkish team. After losing the doubles they went out of the competition after Urhaug lost a close match against Ali Ozturk 2-3.
“We’ve had some good results this tournament and Tommy and I are getting stronger all the time as a team,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I didn’t play my best in the doubles against Turkey but that is the way it goes sometimes. We got beat fair and square and they were the better team on the day. I feel that the stuff I’m doing in training is definitely coming through in my match play and I’m looking forward to playing all the best players and I know I can compete with them. I just want to go on to Slovakia now and see if I can do that.”
After losing their opening match in men’s class 8 yesterday against China, 17 year old Billy Shilton and his Brazilian partner Luiz Guarnieri Manara had to beat Ukraine 2 to progress into the quarter-finals but after losing the doubles 0-3 a 0-3 loss for Shilton against European team gold medalist Ivan Mai put them out of the competition.
Nevertheless Shilton can look forward to the Slovakia Open next week.
“I think I’ve played a lot more positively than in previous competitions this season,” he said. “I have a bit more belief in myself that I can take some of the top players and it showed in my matches so overall it’s been a good competition for me. “