On the first day of the ITTF PTT Slovenia Open in Lasko 12 out of 16 GB players progressed from their groups to tomorrow’s knockout stages of the singles including World champion Will Bayley and European champion Rob Davies.
There were great wins for Kim Daybell against the Chinese World number three and former World and Paralympic champion Ge Yang, Ross Wilson against former European champion Emil Andersson, 17 year old Billy Shilton against European silver medalist Gyula Zborai and a winning return to competitive action for London 2012 bronze medallist Paul Davies after two years out through injury.
Bayley was involved in a tough first set against Chalermpong Punpoo from Thailand and did well to win it 16-14 before taking the next two sets 11-8 for a 3-0 win. He looked much sharper against Katsuyoshi Yagi and beat the Japanese player 3-0 to ensure that he topped his group and received a bye into tomorrow’s quarter-finals.
“It was a tough first match,” admitted the 28 year old World number one. “I’ve trained really hard for this competition and I think it was a bit of anticipation and trying to get that first win under my belt. I’m starting to feel that I’m into the tournament now and I’m a bit more relaxed. I think I played really well in the second match because he is a tricky opponent and has had some good wins. I knew I had to be playing a lot better than I did in the first match which I think helped me mentally going into that one, knowing that I had to up my game, so it was a much better performance.”
Rob Davies recovered from 7-4 down in the first game against the Croatian Daniel Lazov to win 3-0 and then faced his old rival Endre Major from Hungary. The pair have had some great matches in the past but although Major rallied in the third game it was Davies who took it 14-12 to take the match 3-0.
“Really happy with the way I played and I quite surprised myself,” said the World number one from Brecon. “I’m playing with freedom and enjoying it. I played really well against Major although the last game was a bit dodgy but I was glad to get through it 3-0 - you can’t ask for any more than that so I’m really happy. I like the hall and the conditions here. I’m playing my game so I’ll try and keep it going tomorrow.”
In his first competition for two years Paul Davies showed all his old fighting spirit to come back from 2-1 down against the talented Federico Falco to beat the Italian 3-2 and followed that with another battling 3-2 win against Aloisio Lima Junior from Brazil. A 3-0 win in his final match against Sung Joo Park from Korea ensured that he progressed to the knockout stages as group winner - a great performance after such a long absence.
“It’s brilliant to be back,” said the 49 year old from North Cornelly. “It was a bit of a weird day for me as I didn’t really expect to get as far as I did. I’m glad I had the wins but they were some very tight matches. You can’t underestimate these new guys I haven’t seen for two years - they have developed more in that time. After only six weeks of training it’s not a bad result. It’s the old dog in Paul Davies - the experience, keeping my mind focused. It’s never over ‘til it’s over as they say.”
Daybell, 23, has taken a year off from his medical studies at Leeds University to prepare for Rio and he showed the benefit of training full time with an impressive 3-0 win against the in-form European bronze medalist Filip Radovic, the talented teenager from Montenegro who won the Italian Open in February. In his second match against Ge he showed great determination and tactical awareness to come from 2-1 down and win the match 11-7 in the fifth.
“That would have to go down as the best win of my career,” said Daybell. “Mat (coach Mat Kenny) got it tactically spot on and was able to pick out his weaknesses - we had a game plan going in and I was happy that I was able to execute it. I lost to Radovic 3-0 in Italy so to come through that 3-0 was really big mentally for me. He’s a young guy and gets in your face and it is always difficult to play against those sort of players so I was pleased to win that 3-0 and I’ll do my best to carry it on.”
Wilson began with a comfortable 3-0 win over Barak Mizrachi from Australia and then faced World number seven Andersson from Sweden, who had beaten him twice in Italy in February. At 1-2 and 4-2 down in the fourth a time out from coach Greg Baker worked wonders and Wilson took the game 11-5 to level at 2-2 and went on to take the fifth 11-6 and the match 3-2. He completed his day’s work with a 3-0 win against Parinya Chuaigate Keereerut from Thailand to go through to the knockout stages as group winner.
“Coming in to this competition I knew I needed a top 10 win,” said the 20 year old, “because I haven’t really been feeling that I am there yet but after today I think I have showed that I can play at that level and proved it to myself as well. So I’m going in positive for the rest of the competition and it’s a great feeling. Emil and I have had a lot of good matches and he’s a great player so it really did go well for me today and I’m really happy that I managed to get the result.”
Billy Shilton lost his first match 3-0 to the World number four Zhao Shuai from China and then received a walkover against Panupong Santaya from Thailand. At 0-1 and 2-6 he looked to be heading for defeat against Zborai from Hungary but came back superbly to win the second 11-9 and went on to win the match 11-9 in the fifth.
“There was definitely a lack of self-belief at the start of that match,” said Shilton, “but my coach Shaun (Marples) really picked me up and motivated me and from then I was really confident that I could do the job and I did so I’m really happy. Obviously I haven’t been playing in class 8 for very long so to get a win like that is great for my confidence and hopefully I can push on now in the knockout stages tomorrow.”
Also through to the knockout stages are Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 8), Jack Hunter-Spivey (men’s class 5), Paul Karabardak (men’s class 6), David Wetherill (men’s class 6), Ashley Facey Thompson (men’s class 9) and Sara Head (women’s class 3).
McKibbin made a good start in beating Aleksei Saunin from Russia 3-1 but a 3-1 loss to the World number six Andras Csonka from Hungary left him needing to beat Max Van Amerongen from the Netherlands to progress. After a slow start the 24 year old Londoner showed great character to fight back and win 11-9 in the fourth.
“I’m happy to win,” said McKibbin. “He’s a player I’ve played a number of times and it is always tighter than I’d like it to be. I found myself in a bad situation in the first set and lost it and when I was down in the second I felt it wasn’t going my way and I had to find some way to change it. Thankfully I did and nicked the second and I built in confidence after that. In Rio every match is going to be hard so it is good to win those games and I just want to keep on improving, take these wins and build on them.”
Hunter-Spivey took his first match 3-0 against Wira Chiaochan from Thailand but had to fight hard to clinch the win 14-12 in the third. He then took on the World champion Valentin Baus from Germany and led 2-1 before the World number three came back to win the match 11-9 in the fifth. The 20 year old from Liverpool showed his improvement by securing a vital 3-0 win in his final match against Claudiomiro Segatto from Brazil.
“It was disappointing to lose to Baus in the final set but I came out with a lot of positives,” he said. “I feel that everything in training is working and I can compete with the best players in the world and I’m feeling really good at the moment. To beat Segatto is a good win for me and to do it 3-0 is even better.”
Karabardak began with a 3-0 win over Matias Pino Lorca from Chile 3-0 but then found Alberto Seoane Alcazar in top form and the Spaniard resisted a spirited fightback from the Welshman to win the match 16-14 in the fourth. Karabardak secured his place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win against Des Ryan from Ireland.
“It’s been a tough day but I’m glad that I’ve been able to make it through my group,” said the 30 year old from Swansea. “I played OK today although not my best but credit to Seoane he played really well. Just that little bit of good play at the end of each set has cost me but hopefully I can play a bit better tomorrow and try and do as well as I can.”
Wetherill, 26, showed his fighting spirit to recover from 2-0 down to beat Vjekoslav Gregorovic from Croatia 3-2 in his first match. He lost another five set battle against Thomas Rau from Germany but progressed to the knockout stages with a 3-0 win against Thanapong Dulayaanukij from Thailand.
“I played OK today,” he said. “You win some you lose some but the main thing is that Paul (Karabardak) and I are through to the knockout stages and I don’t think it makes much difference whether you win the group or not when the standard of the competition is as strong as it is. I think you just have to play each game as it comes and no matter who you play it is going to be a tough game. Tomorrow is another day and we are both still in it so hopefully we can do as well as we can.”
Facey Thompson started well against Iurii Nozdrunov, taking the first game 11-9 but the Russian World number two took the next three games 11-8 for a 3-1 win. The 21 year old London South Bank University student needed to win his second match against Pawel Konstantyn from Poland and despite falling 5-1 behind in the first game he came back to take it 14-12 and went on to secure a 3-0 win and his place in the knockout stages.
“I started slowly but then I played well and moved much better,” said Facey Thompson. “He’s a good player and I did well to come through. I enjoyed the match against Nozdrunov - we both came off smiling and although I lost he praised me and said I was getting better which from the World number two is inspiring. Hopefully I can push on tomorrow and do better.”
In women’s class 3 Jane Campbell and Sara Head could not have had tougher first matches - Campbell against World number one and Paralympic champion Anna-carin Ahlquist from Sweden and Head against World champion and World number two Li Qian from China.
“It is always hard to come back from losing your first match 3-0,” said the 36 year old from Beddau, “but it also gave me more determination and made me think, what could I do, what can I improve and how can I prepare? So I can thank Li for making me work harder. I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the knockout stages due to my health so to have beaten a player I’ve not played before who is ranked number ten I’m thrilled. I’m going to enjoy that tonight and prepare hard in the morning.”
Campbell also lost 3-0 to Ahlquist and fought hard against Hatice Duman in her second match but the Turkish player was just too strong in a 3-1 win.
“It was a very tough draw,” said Campbell. “I felt competitive and I’m sure when I reflect on the day I’ll come up with a plan to try and win those matches.”
Teenager Megan Shackleton showed her potential in winning the first game against the World number four Sandra Mikolaschek but the German came back strongly to win 3-1. A 3-0 win against Spomenka Hrabetinkova from the Czech Republic gave her a chance of progressing from her group but she needed to beat Nada Matic from Serbia in her final match and the greater experience of the World number six prevailed 3-1.
“I’ve taken a lot of positives that everything I’ve been working on in training I’m finally being able to put into place in matches,” said the 17 year old from Todmorden. “I’m starting to feel that I’m becoming the player that I want to be.”
Felicity Pickard had pushed the World number two Raisa Chebanika all the way in a 3-2 loss in the Italian Open in February and the Russian was taking no chances today in a 3-0 win. The 21 year old from Burnley battled back from losing the first two sets against Yuliya Klymenko from Ukraine to take the third 11-5 but the World number five clinched the match 11-9 in the fourth.
“I’m pleased with the way I reacted after a poor performance this morning,” said Pickard. “I‘m happy that I came back fighting. I wasn’t playing my best but I gave it everything and that is a positive - to be able to dig deep when it is not going well.”
Paisley’s Martin Perry played well in a 3-0 loss to Paralympic champion Rungroj Thainiyom from Thailand and then found the experienced Raimondo Alecci in top form and the Italian took the match 3-0.
“Ever since I moved down to Sheffield my game has been improving all the time,” said the 21 year old, “and to have two really close sets against the Paralympic champion is obviously a confidence booster. Knowing that I’m still learning the game and I’m still trying to develop my own game gives me the confidence going forward that I’m going to have chances against top players.”