The British team secured eight singles medals on day three at the ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships in Sheffield.
Rob Davies (pictured above) will play for his fifth consecutive European title in men’s class 1 today and Jack Hunter-Spivey (men’s class 5), Martin Perry (men’s class 6), Will Bayley (men’s class 7) and Grace Williams (women’s class 8) are all through to the semi-finals while Tom Matthews (men’s class 1), Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6) and 13-year-old Bly Twomey (women’s class 7) secured bronze in their respective events.
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Pictures by Michael Loveder
Men’s class 1
Rob Davies had won the last six meetings with Federico Falco, but the last two matches went to five sets including last year in the World Championships and it was another tough battle again today. The Italian world No 8 twice came back to level at 1-1 and 2-2 but Davies used all his skill and experience in the deciding set to take it 11-5 and reach another European final.
“I’m really proud of all the results so far,” he said. “It was a hard match today and I had to dig deep. It was another game of chess really – I was struggling to get into gear a little bit but as I know from experience sometimes it is just about getting the ball back any way you can. To get to the final is quite unexpected for me, to be honest, and I’m just really chuffed.
“I used my experience in the fifth set. I didn’t feel as if I was playing great and my heart rate was going, and it was just remembering things from when I’ve been in these situations before. I haven’t done it for a long time but in my last two tournaments I seem to be remembering things that I used to do, and I’m really chuffed to come away with the win.
“I’m in a completely different position to 2019 although I probably wasn’t in the best nick then either but I’m still on the ladder coming back and making improvements and I just hope I can perform in the final. I’m just going to keep calm and try and put one ball on at a time.”
Hopes of an all-British final were dashed when fellow Welshman Tom Matthews was not able to produce his best form in his semi-final against Endre Major, who was silver medallist in 2019. The world No 8 from Hungary also used his experience to establish a 2-0 lead and although Matthews took the third set Major was just too strong and took the match 11-9 in the fourth when Matthews missed a smash on match point.
“Obviously I’m really disappointed to have given him a 2-0 start,” said a disconsolate Matthews. “I haven’t played him since 2017 and to be fair he started really well and I have to take it on the chin and come back strongly. I think it was partly nerves, I knew what was at stake but I’m really happy for Rob and let’s hope he can win it. I’m proud of the medal but I didn’t want that colour.”
Men’s class 5
In the quarter-final Jack Hunter-Spivey played his great friend Tommy Urhaug, the former world and Paralympic champion from Norway. The pair last met in the Paralympic Games in Tokyo when Hunter-Spivey won in five close sets and it went the distance again yesterday, with Hunter-Spivey twice levelling at 1-1 and 2-2 before taking the deciding set 11-5 when Urhaug went long with a backhand.
“I feel great,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I’ve now got a European medal having been in the quarter-finals a few times, so it is a big stepping-stone for me and it was a really good performance. Tommy is a legend of the sport and a guy I’ve always looked up to so beating him is an incredible win for me.
“I’m just really happy that I’ve played my best table tennis when it matters and proved a lot to myself as well. Credit where it’s due Tommy played amazing and I’m just happy that I came out on top again. I’m looking forward to the next round and I really believe I can do well in this tournament.”
Men’s class 6
Martin Perry also had to battle hard in his quarter-final against Michael Azulay. The world No 14 from Sweden had won their last meeting in Italy in March and he came back to level at 2-2 after Perry led 2-1. The Scotsman always held the advantage in the fifth set, and he let out a roar of triumph as he clinched the match 11-6 in the fifth to reach his second consecutive major singles semi-final.
In the last 16, Paul Karabardak was involved in a five-set battle with Esteban Herrault and the world No 11 from France, gold medallist in the Egypt Para Open and finalist in Italy, Greece and Montenegro this season, fought back from 2-1 down to level at 2-2 and then took the deciding set 11-8 to deny the Welshman a place in the quarter-finals.
Men’s class 7
Will Bayley received a bye into the quarter-finals and progressed to the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against Henrik Meyer, looking comfortable in the first two sets for the loss of only six points and holding off a spirited challenge from the German in the third, 11-9.
“I think I played really well today.” said Bayley. “I was very solid in the first two sets and then I think I took my foot off the gas a bit in the third set, but I got the job done. I’m just really happy and proud to be in another semi-final of a major and playing probably my best table tennis.
“I’ve got a big job to do – I’m playing Kevin Dourbecker and he is a good player so it should be a great game and I’m looking forward to it.”
In his first major championship, Pathway athlete Theo Bishop had made it through to the last 16 to face the very experienced Miroslav Jambor from Slovakia, bronze medallist in 2019 and a former class 8 Paralympic medallist. Bishop played superbly to lead 2-0 and held his nerve when Jambor fought back from 8-4 down to lead 10-8 in the third, showing all his character and determination to clinch victory 15-13 on his fourth match point.
In the quarter-final he took on the reigning European champion Jean-paul Montanus and having lost a close first set 13-11 he took the second 11-7 to level the match and the world No 2 from the Netherlands had to dig deep to secure a 3-1 win, 11-7 in the fourth.
Men’s class 8
Aaron McKibbin won his last 16 match against 18-year-old Marcin Zielinski from Poland 3-0 but lost out in the quarter-final to another Polish player in Maksym Chudzicki, the former class 7 world & Paralympic medallist, who took the match 3-0.
Billy Shilton has had some great matches with Clement Berthier and won their last meeting at the World Championships in five sets. Shilton led 2-1 but the world No 9 from France raced through the fourth set to level at 2-2 and appeared to have the momentum but Shilton produced some great backhands and clever serves to take control of the deciding set and take the match 3-2, 11-5 in the fifth.
His quarter-final opponent was another Frenchman, Thomas Bouvais, who had won their last two meetings in straight sets. It was a lot closer this time with Shilton twice levelling at 1-1 and 2-2 but the world silver medallist took the deciding set 11-3.
Men’s class 9
Competing in class 9 for the first time, former class 8 world champion Ross Wilson was impressive in beating Jorge Cardona, the former world and Paralympic team medallist from Spain 3-0 in the last 16 which took him through to a quarter-final against world No 1 Laurens Devos. The 23-year-old Belgian has dominated men’s class 9 since winning his first European title in 2015 and is a two-time world and Paralympic champion but he had to produce his brilliant best to defeat Wilson, who produced some superb play of his own and edged the second set 14-12 to level at 1-1 before Devos secured the match 3-1.
Despite recovering from 6-1 down to take the opening set 13-11 world silver medallist Joshua Stacey could not find his best form in his quarter-final against the Tokyo bronze medallist Ivan Mai and after taking a close second set 11-9 to level at 1-1 the world No four from Ukraine went on to win 3-1.
Women’s class 4-5
After a slow start in her quarter-final against the world No eight Irem Oluk, Megan Shackleton fought back to lead 2-1 before the world bronze medallist from Turkey levelled at 2-2. At 7-7 in the deciding set the match was finely poised but Oluk proved just the stronger and she took the next four points and the match 3-2.
Women’s class 6
Fliss Pickard may by her own admission be struggling with her confidence levels at this tournament, but the 29-year-old from Burnley never lacks determination, and she played a great match in her quarter-final to beat the German world No 2 Stephanie Grebe 3-1. That took her through to a semi-final against the world No 1 Maryna Lytovchenko and the world and Paralympic champion from Ukraine was at her best in a 3-0 win.
“I’m really proud of the performance that I gave this morning against Steffi,” said Pickard. “She’s always been one of the opponents that I’ve struggled with – she’s a top player which is what I expect but it was good to get that win especially as I’ve been struggling a bit at this tournament so to come back and face my demons and get the win – I’m proud of that.
“Maryna is obviously a very good player and very sharp. You can’t get away with being 80% you’ve got to be on it, but I think I did a lot of learning especially in that last set. I’ll take that forward into training ready to come back better and stronger for the next time I face her.
“I’m unbelievably proud to be able to get a European singles medal, especially after the disappointment in the singles in the worlds last year. I feel that I’m always learning, always growing. I’m on that journey and I feel I’m heading in the right direction.”
Women’s class 7
Bly Twomey lost her semi-final to world No 1 Kelly Van Zon from Netherlands 3-0 but the respect that the three-time Paralympic champion already has for the 13-year-old was obvious and a bronze medal in her first major championship is an incredible achievement and an indication of her huge potential.
Women’s class 8
Grace Williams had lost her previous eight matches against Lucie Hautiere but the 20-year-old showed great determination to beat the world No 9 3-2 in her final group match to progress to the quarter-finals, taking the deciding set 11-5 after the Frenchwoman had levelled the match at 2-2.
The 20-year-old from Llanfyllin showed just how much she has improved with a brilliant performance against Frederique Van Hoof, the world bronze medallist from Netherlands, playing superbly to lead 2-0 and then holding her nerve in a tense fourth set to take it 15-13 on her fourth match point.
“It honestly hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Williams, “but I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved in this tournament regardless of the outcome tomorrow.”