On the first day of the ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships in Sheffield Paul Karabardak (men’s class 6), Will Bayley (men’s class 7) and Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 8) became the first British players to reach the knockout stages of their respective singles events, but the outstanding performance of the day was provided by 13-year-old Bly Twomey, who trains with Bayley in Brighton and beat the Swedish world No 6 Smilla Sand in her first major championship match.
“I’m so proud of Bly,” said Bayley. “I said to her that to be here is a huge achievement and it doesn’t really matter about results at her age – just enjoy it – but to see her out there enjoying it that’s the biggest win for me.
“Not the way she won and not because she won the match but because she enjoyed it and she played the way she can play so it was brilliant.”
You can also follow the event on social media – follow @EPTTC2023 on X (formerly Twitter).
Pictures by Michael Loveder
Men’s class 1
Rob Davies started his bid to win a fifth consecutive European singles title with a comfortable 3-0 win against Alexandru Imbuzan from Romania. He plays his second group match on Tuesday against world No 8 Endre Major from Hungary, who lost the last European final to Davies in 2019.
Fellow Welshman Tom Matthews also started with a 3-0 win against Gregorios Chryssikos from Greece, silver medallist in this year’s Greek Para Open, and plays his final group matches on Tuesday against world No 11 Timo Natunen from Finland and Adam Urlauber from Hungary.
Men’s class 2
Chris Ryan, who led the GB wheelchair rugby team to Paralympic gold in Tokyo, showed plenty of promise in his first match against Federico Crosara from Italy, taking the first set before the world No 10 used his greater experience to come back and take the match 3-1. Ryan plays his second group match today against Oleksandr Yezyk from Ukraine, the former European and World team medallist.
Men’s class 3
Romain Simon showed the improvement he has made in his first match against Vasyl Petruniv from Ukraine. The 34-year-old from Chigwell edged a tight second set 13-11 to level at 1-1 before the world No 10, a world and European team medallist, took the next two sets for a 3-1 win. Simon then secured his first major championship win by beating Benjamin Marotte from Belgium 3-0 and plays his final group match today against Maciej Nalepka from Poland.
Men’s class 5
Jack Hunter-Spivey plays both his group matches today against world No 5 Mitar Palikuca from Serbia, the European silver medallist and former world and Paralympic medallist, and Sem Roelofs from Netherlands.
Men’s class 6
Paul Karabardak was a comfortable 3-0 winner against the unranked 15-year-old Valters Voicis from Latvia and then came back from 8-2 down in the first set against Michael Azulay to take it 12-10 on the way to a 3-1 win against the world No 14 and former European team medallist from Sweden. He is through to the knockout stages on Wednesday.
“I did what I needed to do this morning and it was a professional job,” said Karabardak. “This evening I knew it would be a difficult match because I lost to him last time I played him but I had a good record (against him) so I knew I could draw on that and that gave me a bit of confidence.
“He played really well at the beginning of the first set, and I thought I would be in big trouble but then I managed to start playing my best table tennis and that was thankfully enough. I felt I had too much quality in the big moments, and I had confidence in that which got me through in the end.”
Martin Perry put up a great performance to beat the world No 7 and European silver medallist from Romania Bobi Simion 3-0. He plays his final group match today against Aaro Makela from Finland.
Men’s class 7
Will Bayley started confidently with a 3-0 win against 19-year-old Sam Gustafsson from Sweden, medallist in Italy and Czech Republic this year, and secured his place in the knockout stages and a bye into the quarter-finals on Wednesday with a 3-0 win against the former European bronze medallist Daniel Horut from Czechia.
“I think I’ve played quite well today,” said Bayley. “To give him (Horut) credit he played some nice shots and really good points, but I was really solid today so I’m really happy with the way I played.
“It’s special to play in front of your supporters and family – we don’t get the opportunity to do that very much so to do it at a major tournament is really cool and I definitely want to soak it up and enjoy it.”
Pathway athlete Theo Bishop came agonisingly close to beating the world No 11 Michal Deigsler in his first match, having two match points saved in a tight final set that the Czech Para Open gold medallist from Poland eventually won 13-11. The 20-year-old from Rossendale plays Luka Trtnik from Slovenia in his second group match tomorrow.
Men’s class 8
Aaron McKibbin was a 3-0 winner against Roy Van der Burg from Netherlands, the 22-year-old bronze medallist in Spanish Costa Brava Open earlier this year and secured his place in the last 16 with a 3-0 win against 21-year-old Aleksej Radukic from Serbia after edging a tight first set 14-12.
“It’s really nice to be playing in front of a home crowd,” he said. “The first couple of matches are always a bit shaky so I’m very happy to come away with two 3-0 wins. I wouldn’t say I played my best, but I feel like I’m going to move on now. I’ve got a day’s rest and I can start to focus on the last 16.
“We train here so often and the staff have provided incredible facilities to make sure we feel at home and I feel that is definitely going to be an advantage for us but at the same time we’ve got the buzz of playing a major championship so it is incredible.”
Billy Shilton started with a 3-0 win against 15-year-old Yehonatan Levi from Israel and then beat Maksym Chudzicki from Poland, the former class 7 world and Paralympic bronze medallist, 3-0. He plays his final group match against Robert Boroleanu from Romania on Tuesday.
Men’s class 9
Ross Wilson was a 3-0 winner against world No 25 David Pulpan from Czechia and then lost a very tight match to Juan Perez Gonzalez. The world No 8 and former world and European bronze medallist from Spain came back from 2-1 down to edge the fourth set 12-10 and saved match point before clinching the match 12-10 in the fifth. The group placings will be decided today with the final match between Perez Gonzalez and Pulpan.
Joshua Stacey received a walkover in his first match against Tigran Petrosyan from Armenia and was impressive in beating Jorge Cardona from Spain, the world No 7 and former world and Paralympic team medallist, 3-0. He plays the unranked German Jan Reinig in his final group match today.
“I just thought there is nothing I can do about the fact that my opponent didn’t turn up this morning,” said Stacey, “so I just had to take it in my stride, and I went in all guns blazing and came out with a win.
“I’m very pleased – I think that was probably the most accurate representation of how I’ve been feeling in training and for it to come out on what you’d call the big stage is very positive and I’m looking forward to playing again tomorrow.”
Ashley Facey has been drawn in a tough group and he was beaten 3-0 by the world No 2 from Spain, Ander Cepas who has been in great form this season taking gold medals in Spain, Poland, Korea and Thailand. Facey plays the world No 10 Daniel Gustafsson from Sweden, the European bronze medallist, in his second group match today.
Women’s class 4-5
Megan Shackleton had a difficult first match against world No 4 Sandra Mikolaschek from Germany and the world silver medallist was too strong in a 3-0 win. Shackleton plays her final group matches today against former two-time European team gold medallist Andreja Dolinar from Slovenia and Ingela Lundback, the class 5 world No 7 and former three-time European champion and World silver medallist from Sweden.
Women’s class 6
Fliss Pickard gained revenge for a 3-2 loss in the Czech Para Open to Emelie Endre with a 3-0 win against the world No 9 from Sweden and was then beaten 3-1 by the world No 8 Gabriela Constantin from Romania. She plays her final group match today against Merethe Tveiten from Norway.
Women’s class 7
Bly Twomey showed a maturity beyond her years at her first major championship and having taken the first two sets against Smilla Sand she held her nerve as three match points came and went in the third set before securing a 3-0 win 13-11. Twomey plays her final group matches today against 18-year-old Jenny Slettum from Norway and world champion Kubra Korkut from Turkey.
“It was really good,” she said. “It’s my first major tournament and I didn’t think I would beat the world No 6.
“I was a bit nervous, but I thought if I played my best that was all I could do. I’ve improved so much from my last tournament – I used to be so nervous, and my forehand has got so much more spin on it now.”
Women’s class 8
Grace Williams was beaten 3-0 by Juliane Wolf, the world No 7 and former European team gold medallist from Germany. She has to wait until Wednesday to play her final group match against the world No 9 Lucie Hautiere from France.