Commonwealth champions Jack Hunter-Spivey and Joshua Stacey dominated the 2023 Michael Hawkesworth British Para Table Tennis National Championships, taking the Open Wheelchair and Open Standing titles respectively as well as their individual classes.
Hunter-Spivey (pictured above) also took the Wheelchair Doubles title with Meg Shackleton, beating Andrew Green and Romain Simon in the final, but Stacey had to settle for silver in the Standing Doubles after he and Martin Perry lost the final to Aaron McKibbin and Billy Shilton.
This was the first time the National Championships had been held for four years and it produced some great matches and intense competition.
While experience came to the fore there were some promising performances from some of the young and up-and-coming players in the Pathway and Development squads who are coming through to challenge the established players in the Performance squad.
After winning the combined class 4 and 5, Hunter-Spivey had to fight to retain his Open singles title, beating the improving Lee York 3-1 in the final.
“Being British champion is something I’ll never take for granted,” he said. “It is an absolute honour to be the best player in this country at the level that this sport is going up and up every year.
“I’ve been pushed all the way and I’m just thankful I managed to do it again and hopefully I can do it again next year.
“Playing doubles with Meg is really good for me – we’re really good friends off the table and really understand each other’s games. I’ve been in the squad as Megan has come through and now we compete together internationally. I’ve really got high hopes for our doubles partnership and hopefully we can do well at the Europeans later this year.”
Stacey was impressive in beating Ross Wilson 3-0 in the Open Standing final and also retained his title in class 9, which was reduced to a five-man round-robin competition following the withdrawal of Ashley Facey due to injury.
“It is always a pleasure to play Ross who I know is going to push me,” said Stacey, “and I’m pretty pleased with how I’ve played. In the open I was able to force my game on anyone I played and I prepared really well.
“I’ve been out for a while dealing with a few niggling injuries and to be able to win it is fantastic. We train with each other all the time and essentially anyone can win on any given day but within myself I believe I’ll win on that given day.
“I wasn’t able to play the Welsh nationals a couple of months ago so just to be able to compete here yet alone win it is a really nice feeling.”
Megan Shackleton retained her Women’s Wheelchair title after beating Beth Kyte and Bethany Kelf.
“It’s nice to be back at the Nationals playing,” she said, “and a good opportunity for the girls to have an event to themselves. Going into match play sessions over the next few weeks it’s going to be a big part in how I perform in Montenegro and Slovenia, so it’s been great preparation for those tournaments.”
Newcomer Lianna Shillani was a surprise winner of the Women’s Standing title after beating world doubles champions Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams.
“I really wanted to play here,” said the 14-year-old from Ukraine, who was born in London and started playing table tennis five years ago. “It was very exciting to beat Fliss and Grace because they are very good players so it was nice to be able to play against them.”
Class 1 was reduced to three players in the absence of Tom Matthews and was won by four-time European champion Rob Davies.
Classes 2 and 3 were combined and produced a tremendous final in which the evergreen Kevin Plowman, class 3 winner the last time the Nationals were held four years ago, beat Romain Simon 3-2, 12-10 in the fifth having come through another five-set match in the semi-final against Andrew Guy.
“It’s good to come back to the Nationals,” said Plowman, “and it was a test – especially the final which could have gone either way. It was a tough match and Romain is a good player and he’ll be back.
“I play in the local able-bodied leagues, and I do like to play a wheelchair tournament now and again because it is a different style of game. I’ll keep coming back as long as I’m playing to a good standard in the local leagues.”
Class 6 was played in a round-robin format and featured two world doubles champions in Paul Karabardak and Fliss Pickard and a world bronze medallist in Martin Perry. The final match proved to be decisive with Welshman Karabardak beating Scotsman Perry in three close sets to take the title.
“I’m really pleased,” said Karabardak. “I knew it was going to be difficult because Fliss has been playing so well in the last few years so to beat her was a big thing and I’m really happy to beat Martin for the gold because he has been excellent this last year or so.
“He has really improved and pushed up the rankings so I knew I had to be at the top of my game and I think I played as well as I could. Maybe I had a bit of luck but I’m over the moon to have become National champion again.
“I think I’m improving and I’ll be ready for Slovenia in a month or so – I think I can keep improving again to the place where I want to be.”
World champion Will Bayley successfully defended his class 7 title but he was pushed all the way in the final by Theo Bishop who went down fighting 3-1.
“It is brilliant to see young players coming through and pushing me and that is what I want really,” said Bayley.
“I’ve been doing a lot of training with Theo this week because I know how good he can be and after most sessions I’ve been doing an extra hour with him so we know each other’s style so well now and understand each other’s game. He has so much potential so I hope this season he can really push on and try and qualify for Paris.
“I was playing a 14-year-old in the group today – Dan Mead – who has a lot of potential as well and I’ve had to work hard for every single match. I remember when I first started around 15 years ago we didn’t have that strength in depth but now even the development players are solid players so it has changed a lot for the better and it will push everyone’s level up. Even the top players have to be right on their game from the start.”
Ross Wilson, Aaron McKibbin and Billy Shilton are all ranked in the top 10 in the world in class 8 and it was Wilson who came through to retain his title, beating Shilton 3-0 in the final having earlier won their group encounter in five sets.
“It is obviously good to win and it’s always an honour to play this competition,” said Wilson. “You can see it is getting stronger – with the development of the Pathway squad it is really nice to see all of the young players progressing and improving.
“I’m really happy to win and it was a tough one today especially against Billy in that first match in the group – it was a tough old game and I had to pull through.
“I don’t think getting stuck in the lift was a great preparation for the final but luckily it all went well.”
Kim Daybell retired from table tennis last year to focus on his medical career but he proved the old adage ‘class is permanent’ by retaining his class 10 title, beating Jack Stockdale in the final 3-0.
“It’s really nice to be back playing,” said Daybell. “I didn’t come here with any expectations to win – obviously my level is still quite high and I’m still ranked number one in class 10 – but I mainly wanted to come and see everyone.
“I’ve really missed that competition element and the tournament side of things and just fighting for something. As international players we forget what an honour it is to win the nationals. I can’t remember how many times it has been now, but it is a real honour to be national champion again. (Could this be the start of a comeback?) We’ll take it one step at a time but maybe one day you’ll see me back playing again.”
Joseph Fortnum-Adams won the Junior title after beating Max Flint in the final 3-1 and other class winners were Chris Ryan (Open Wheelchair Band B), Tom Hepburn (Open Wheelchair Band C), Bailey Page (Open Standing Band B) and Adnan Janoowalla (Open Standing Band C).