The British Para Table Tennis Team made a great start to the 2022 international season today when Ross Wilson (men’s class 8), Joshua Stacey (men’s class 9) and Fliss Pickard (pictured above, women’s class 6) all won gold in their respective singles events in the Costa Brava Spanish Para Open in Platja d’Aro, while Billy Shilton (men’s class 8) and Sue Bailey (women’s class 4-5) took bronze.
Men’s class 8
Wilson, who will bid to defend his world and Commonwealth titles this year, began with a comfortable 3-0 win against 23-year-old Spaniard Ricard Sabio Ruiz. He secured top place in group 1 with a 3-0 win against the Tokyo Paralympic team silver medallist Nathan Pellissier from Australia, fighting back from 8-1 down in the third set before taking it 13-11.
The 26-year-old made a good start to his quarter-final against the Frenchman Thomas Bouvais winning the first set 11-4 but was pushed all the way in the second by the former world No 2 before edging it 14-12. He secured a 3-0 win by taking the third set 11-5 and beat another Frenchman, 22-year-old French Open gold medallist Clement Berthier, 3-1 in the semi-finals.
In the final he took on Piotr Grudzien, the former world and Paralympic team gold medallist from Poland. Wilson had won 13 of their last 14 matches but the former world No 1 has been in great form here and led 2-1 before Wilson showed his class and determination to come back and win the fourth 11-5 and the fifth 11-6 to take the gold.
“It means a lot to win and come back strong in the first competition of the year after having such a big break after Tokyo,” he said. “I feel that I’ve put in some strong performances here and I’m proud of the way I’ve played and how much I’ve enjoyed playing this competition.
“I just changed a bit on the serve and receive at 2-1 down in the final and then I found I could exploit his weaknesses and get the win as I don’t feel that I played very well at the beginning of the match.”
Shilton lost a close opening set to the 19-year-old Spaniard Alejandro Diaz but fought back well to edge a close second set 11-9 and went on to take the match 3-1. He then put up a great performance to beat the Rio Paralympic silver medallist Andras Csonka from Hungary 3-0, clinching the match 12-10 in the third.
In his final group match he faced Borna Zohil and after some great play the 15-year-old from Croatia led 2-0 but Shilton fought his way back into the match to level at 2-2 and took the deciding set 11-8 to book his place in the quarter-finals where he took on Andrianus Van Amerongen.
He lost the first set to the Dutchman 11-9 but came back to win the next three 11-5, 11-7, 11-8 to progress to the semi-finals where he faced Grudzien. Shilton had won their previous meeting last year in Tokyo in five sets, but it was the Polish player who proved stronger today, taking the match 3-1.
“The semi-final was a difficult match and I think I played a bit silly at times,” said Shilton. “I had a lot of opportunities to get into the rally, but I rushed it and pushed too hard.
“I was really pleased with my win against Csonka – I had a couple of tough battles in the group and I was pleased with how I coped in those pressure situations. So there’s a lot to learn from and I’m looking forward to getting back into the hall in Sheffield and working on all those things.”
Aaron McKibbin got off to a good start with a 3-0 win against Marco Makkar, the PanAmerican Championships team silver medallist, and took top place in group 2 with a 3-0 win against Gyula Zborai, the world and European team medallist from Hungary.
His quarter-final opponent Grudzien had won their last meeting in Tokyo 3-0 and although it was much closer this time and McKibbin led 2-1 the Polish player came back strongly to win the match 3-2.
Men’s class 9
In his first group match Stacey faced a set point in the third set against Lucas Dos Santos Carvalho from Brazil but came through 13-11 to secure a 3-0 win against the 22-year-old PanAmerican bronze medallist. The 22-year-old Welshman dropped the third set against Lucas Didier, the French teenager who won gold in the French Open last November, but went on to take the match 3-1.
Stacey looked sharp in winning the first set against the unranked Ho Ka Sing 11-5 but the 54-year-old from Hong Kong came back from 8-4 down to win the second before his young opponent took control of the match to take the next two sets 11-6, 11-4 and secure his place in the semi-finals as the winner of group 2.
He had lost 3-0 to the Chinese born world No 2 Ma Lin when they last met in Tokyo but took the first set today 11-9 and although the former world and Paralympic champion who now represents Australia led 2-1 Stacey fought back to edge the fourth 13-11 and beat his illustrious opponent 11-9 in the fifth.
That took him through to the final against the talented 17-year-old Spaniard Ander Cepas who had won gold here last year. Stacey made a flying start to take the first set 11-3 but Cepas levelled at 1-1 and led 10-8 in the third before the Welshman came back to take it 12-10 after a great rally ended with Cepas sending his forehand long.
At 10-7 in the fourth Stacey had three match points but could not convert any of them and Cepas edged the set 12-10 to level again at 2-2 and looked to have the momentum heading into the deciding set. However, Stacey showed great character to refocus and take the fifth set 11-5 and the match 3-2.
“It was really good to be able to beat Ma Lin after losing to him quite comfortably in Tokyo,” said Stacey. “I feel that all the work we have done in the winter months has really started to come to fruition and I’m playing a lot better than I was before or during Tokyo.
“I think I was just able to take my chances against Ma Lin and again in the final against Cepas. I had match points in the fourth and he managed to squeeze past me in that one but in the fifth I felt that I took control quite well and it was a good experience overall.”
Women’s class 6
Pickard, who was defending her singles title here and bidding for a hat trick after winning her last two tournaments, began with a comfortable 3-0 win against the unranked 15-year-old from Spain Ariadna Ardevol. She had to fight much harder against Morgen Caillaud, the 20-year-old world No 8 from France who levelled the match at 1-1 before Pickard took the next two sets 11-8, 11-9 to move into the semi-finals.
A 3-0 win against Park Nam-mi from Korea set up a rematch in the final against Caillaud and after losing the first set she once again fought back to win the next three 11-7, 11-3, 11-8 and take the gold.
“It feels incredible to win three gold medals back-to-back,” said Pickard. “It’s really exciting to see the things I have been working on in training coming into my match play.”
Women’s class 4-5
Bailey started with a 3-0 win against Cristina Rubio from Spain and then put up a brave fight against the class 5 world champion Kang Oejeong, coming back from 2-0 down to take a titanic third set 17-15 on her eighth set point and then level at 2-2. Bailey had match point at 10-9 in the fifth but the Korean took the set 12-10 and the match 3-2.
The 49-year-old schoolteacher from Barnsley recovered from the disappointment of losing such a close match to beat the Oceania champion Lisa Di Toro 3-1 in her final group match and clinch her place in the semi-finals. Her opponent was Moon Sung-hae from Korea, the former world and Paralympic medallist who returned from 10 years away from the sport to win gold in the French Open last November. The 43-year-old former world No 2 has clearly retained all her ability and although Bailey rallied to win the third set 12-10 Moon went on to take the match 3-1.
“I couldn’t find my form today,” said Bailey. “I played well in patches but the Koreans are strong players and I was just making too many errors. It’s my first tournament for six months so hopefully in my next tournament in France I’ll be able to find my form and play the way I know I can.”
Men’s class 6
Martin Perry was a 3-0 winner against Mario Bastardo, the 19-year-old from Portugal who was making his international debut, before facing old rival Kazuki Shichino from Japan. The 23-year-old had defeated Perry – and ended his dreams of competing in Tokyo – on his way to taking silver in the World Qualification Tournament last summer but the Scotsman had avenged that defeat in the French Open last November.
It was Shichino who had the edge this time in a 3-1 win although Perry took second place in the group and went through to the quarter-finals against another familiar rival Esteban Herrault, who beat Perry on his way to winning gold here and in France last year. Perry had chances to win the first set before the Frenchman edged it 14-12 and came back to take the second 11-7 but Herrault proved just too strong in a 3-1 win.
Women’s class 7-8
Grace Williams had a tough start against one of the legends of Para table tennis Kelly Van Zon from Netherlands but the teenager from Wrexham put up a good fight despite losing 3-1 to the women’s class 7 Paralympic, world and European champion.
She secured second place in group 1 with a 3-1 win against 23-year-old Pilar Gonzalez from Spain but was beaten 3-0 in the quarterfinals by the very experienced class 8 world number seven Zsofia Arloy from Hungary, the three-time European bronze medallist who won the women’s class 8 singles at the World Qualification Tournament last June.
The tournament continues with the doubles events that have replaced team events this year.