Brighton teenager Bly Twomey continued her meteoric rise since making her international debut in March this year by beating the Asian Para Games champion to take gold in the women’s class 7 singles at the ITTF SQY French Para Open at the Paris 2024 Velodrome in Saint Quentin en Yvelines. Welsh student Grace Williams followed up her impressive performance at the European Championships by taking bronze in women’s class 8.
Women’s class 7
Bly Twomey lost to Smilla Sand in a five-set final at the Finland Para Open last month having beaten the Swedish world No 6 at the European Championships and the 13-year-old avenged that loss in her first group match here with a 3-0 win. A 3-1 win against 20-year-old Tiziana Oliv from Germany, silver medallist in the Al-Watani Para Championships last year, ensured that she went through to the semi-finals as group winner.
She edged a tight first set against Nora Korneliussen 13-11 and took the second 11-5 to lead their semi-final 2-0. The Italian Open champion from Norway took the third 11-7 but Twomey ran away with the fourth 11-2 for a 3-1 win.
She started well in the final against Wang Rui and led 8-4 before the world No 3 from China came back to level but Twomey showed what a great competitor she is already by edging the first set 14-12 and went on to take the second 11-5 and the third 11-9 to secure her first gold medal on her fifth match point.
“I was so happy to beat Smilla because it was a really tough game for me,” said Twomey. “She played really well and I think I coped so much better this time – I changed my style and that was all I had to do. In Finland I was so nervous about the match as it was my first final but this time (against Wang), I felt less nervous, and I just focused on every point at a time.
“It was so important for me to win that first set because I was more confident having won it. If I lost that first set, then I wouldn’t have been so confident, but I won it, so I was more confident after that and able to attack more.
“Winning gold means a lot because this is my first factor 40 tournament and I believe now that I can get to the Paralympics and win gold. I feel I’ve played a lot better in this tournament and I’m getting used to the different styles. I’m used to attacking players so if someone is defending against me I need to know how to play against that style. I just feel I’m learning all the time.”
With two wins against higher-ranked opponents here Twomey has improved her chances of qualification for the Paralympic Games in Paris next year.
“Competing in a Paralympics is all I’ve been dreaming of since I started playing sport,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to go to the Paralympics, and it would mean a lot to go to Paris because I’ve only been playing for two years, and I will only be 14.”
Women’s class 8
Grace Williams was beaten in the European Championship final by Aida Dahlen and the world No 1 from Norway was again too strong in a 3-0 win, but Williams secured second place in the group with a 3-0 win against the African champion Hagar Elsayed from Egypt, silver medallist in both the Egypt Para Open and Saudi Para Open this year.
She then produced a great performance to beat the Japanese world No 4 Yuri Tomono 3-2, holding her nerve after the Asian Para Games silver medallist had fought back from 8-5 down to level at 8-8 in the deciding set, and she took the match 11-9 in the fifth.
In the semi-final Williams faced the world No 3 Huang Wenjuan and the Asian Para Games champion and Tokyo Paralympic silver medallist from China took the match 3-0.
“I’ve been busy with Uni work since September,” said Williams, “so to have this tournament in the middle of deadlines has been quite stressful. However, getting to a semi-final and beating Tomono has proved that hard work does pay off and I think this tournament has shown me what I can do even if I’m struggling and in tough situations. I’m happy with my performance and excited to start training again for the rest of the year.”
Women’s class 4
Megan Shackleton won her first match 3-0 against Ahad Alresheedi, the Al-Watani Para Championships bronze medallist from Kuwait. In her second group match she faced Irem Oluk, the world and European bronze medallist who had won their last two meetings in five sets including the European Championships quarter-final in September. Once again their match went the distance and it was the world No 7 from Turkey who came out on top, taking the deciding set 11-7.
Shackleton went through to the knockout stages after a 3-0 win against Alexandra Stepanova from Kazakhstan but lost her quarter-final to the Asian Para Games champion Gu Xiaodan from China 3-0.
Men’s class 9
Ashley Facey lost 3-0 to Ander Cepas in the European Championships in September but it was a different story here as he twice came back to level the match at 1-1 and 2-2 and then edged the deciding set 12-10 to beat the world No 5 from Spain, gold medallist in Spain, Poland, Korea and Thailand this year, 3-2.
He secured top place in the group with a 3-0 win against Francis Chukwuemeka from Nigeria, the African Championships silver medallist, and received a bye into the quarter-finals where he lost 3-0 to world No 6 Daniel Gustafsson, the European bronze medallist from Sweden.
Men’s class 2
Chris Ryan had lost 3-1 to Federico Crosara in his last two tournaments – at the European Championships in Sheffield and the Finland Para Open – and he came up against the world No 10 from Italy again in his first match. After a slow start Ryan had a chance to win the second before losing it 12-10 but came back strongly to win the third 11-6 before Crosara took the fourth 11-4 for another 3-1 win.
Ryan fought hard against Martin Zvolanek from Czechia, taking the third set 11-8 and saving four match points in the fourth before the former European champion and World and Paralympic medallist secured a 3-1 win.
Men’s class 7
Theo Bishop was drawn in a tough group, but he had chances in the third set against world No 10 Liao Keli, leading 10-8 before the Tokyo bronze medallist from China edged it 15-13 to win 3-0. He was involved in a titanic struggle in his second match against Paulo Fonseca, twice fighting back to level before the Brazilian, gold medallist in the Finland Para Open last month, edged the deciding set 12-10.
Bishop did not progress after a 3-0 loss in his final group match to Bjoern Schnake from Germany, the world No 8 and European bronze medallist.
Men’s class 8
Pathway athlete Ryan Henry made a great start by beating the very experienced Marc Ledoux 3-2, showing great resilience to secure the win 11-9 in the fifth after the Belgian former world No 1 had fought back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2. He won his second match against Paul van der Oord from Netherlands, bronze medallist in the Finland Para Open last year, 3-1, and was then beaten 3-0 by Peng Weinan from China, the 21-year-old Tokyo bronze medallist and former Asian Para Games gold medallist.
With Ledoux beating Peng, three players in the group finished with two wins and Henry was unlucky to miss out on a place in the knockout stages on countback.
The tournament continues with the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles events.