On the final day of the ITTF Slovenia Para Open in Lasko, Aaron McKibbin & Joshua Stacey won gold and Ashley Facey & Ross Wilson took silver after an all-GB final in the men’s class 18 doubles.

Bly Twomey & Fliss Pickard took silver in women’s class 14 and there were bronze medals for Billy Shilton & Paul Karabardak (men’s class 14) and Martin Perry & Grace Williams (mixed class 14).

With both men’s class 18 pairs competing together for the first time there were plenty of positives for the British team ahead of the Paralympic Games in Paris later this year.

Men’s class 18

Ross Wilson & Ashley Facey lost their opening match to Alejandro Diaz & Jose Ruiz Reyes from Spain 3-1 and then combined really well to beat Emil Andersson & Daniel Gustafsson from Sweden 3-0.

A 3-0 win against Manuel Echaveguren Farias from Chile & Hamza Taleb from Belgium in their final group match took them through to the quarter-finals to face Maksym Nikolenko & Lev Kats from Ukraine. Wilson & Facey took the first two sets and then won a marathon third set 19-17 to take the match 3-0 and go through to the semi-finals.

They got off to a flying start against Rio 2016 class 8 silver medallist Andras Csonka from Hungary & 20-year-old class 10 Asian Para Games bronze medallist Su Jin Sian from Chinese Taipei, taking the first set 11-2 but then had to fight hard to come back from 2-1 down to take the fourth 11-8 and secure their place in the final 11-5 in the deciding set.

Aaron McKibbin & Joshua Stacey looked sharp in beating Hiromi Sato & Hayuma Abe from Japan 3-0 but then lost 3-1 to the class 9 pair of Koyo Iwabuchi from Japan & Lucas Didier from France. They recovered from a slow start to beat Lin Chun Ting & Hu Ming-Fu from Chinese Taipei 3-1 and secure their place in the quarter-finals, where they showed their character and determination to come back twice and level against Ander Cepas & Jorge Cardona before taking the deciding set 11-4 to beat the European bronze medallists from Spain 3-2.

Josh Stacey & Aaron McKibbin

They produced an even better comeback in the semi-finals from 2-0 down against class 9 world No 1 Laurens Devos & class eight former world No 1 Marc Ledoux from Belgium. McKibbin & Stacey took the third 11-5 and the fourth 11-6 to level at 2-2 and led 7-3 before Devos and Ledoux came back to level at 8-8. But the British pair were not to be denied and held their nerve to take the deciding set 11-8 and set up an all-GB final.

McKibbin & Stacey made the better start, taking the first set 11-4, but Facey and Wilson led 10-6 in the second before losing it 12-10 and they led again in the third 10-7 before McKibbin and Stacey came back to edge it 13-11 for a 3-0 win.

Ash Facey & Ross Wilson (left) and Josh Stacey & Aaron McKibbin with Performance Director Gorazd Vecko

“I personally find it harder playing team-mates,” said McKibbin, “because you want them to do well and we want to do well and I do find it harder to fight, to be honest. At the end of the day, it’s a final and once it’s done we’re back to normal – it’s not personal and we just went in there wanting to carry on playing how we’d been playing.

“Everyone knows how good Devos is but we knew as a team we could beat them. With the game against Spain yesterday we got better as the tournament went on and it was good the way we played so I’m happy with that.”

“I think it was a very solid performance,” said Stacey. “Yesterday we were still trying to feel each other out in terms of what we both like and don’t like and we definitely got better as today went on. The confidence of winning against Spain in the fifth set yesterday helped us a lot going into today so I’m just very happy with how well we’ve played as a whole and we’ve got better game by game.

“It definitely breeds confidence when we’ve come back twice now to win. In the last two sets in the final we were down quite heavily as well and managed to claw it back and I think those are the kind of moments in a match when if you’ve got the confidence you can bring it back and that will pay dividends in the majors.

“Obviously, the doubles will never be perfect regardless of how well we’ve played so there are things to work on but I’m definitely pleased with how it’s gone here.”

“They know us inside out tactically, so it was difficult, but they played well,” said Facey.

“I think we’ve played a lot of good matches,” said Wilson. “This is our first competition together as well so it has been nice to build through the tournament and have that team chemistry. Obviously when you’re playing your team-mates it’s a bit different so that feeling wasn’t there as much in the final, but we have had a good competition and we’ve tried to build on what we started.”

Wilson heads to Thailand later this month hoping to secure his place in Paris at the World Paralympic Qualification tournament.

“I’m not very happy with my (singles) competition here,” he said, “but I think Thailand will be a completely different competition and I’m looking forward to getting out there and challenging myself with that.”

Women’s class 14

Bly Twomey & Fliss Pickard

Bly Twomey & Fliss Pickard began with a 3-0 win against Kubra Korkut from Turkey & Kim Seongkok from the Republic of Korea, a second defeat for world No 2 Korkut against Twomey after losing to the British teenager in the singles.

Twomey and Pickard secured top position in their group and a bye into the semi-finals with a 3-1 win against Camelia Ciripan & Gabriela Constantin from Romania.

A 3-0 win against Smilla Sand & Emilie Endre from Sweden took them into the final to face the European champions from Norway, Aida Dahlen & Merethe Tveiten. After a slow start they started to play well and fought back from 2-0 down to take the third set 11-8 before the Norwegian pair secured the gold 11-8 in the fourth.

“They are a really strong team,” said Pickard, “especially with Aida being one of the best class 8s in the world but I was pleased with the way we battled back. We can learn a lot from this performance and hopefully come back stronger in Paris.

“This is only the start for us and the relationship is only going to grow and the communication. We are getting better as players and pushing each other, and we’ll get stronger as a team and as a unit.”

“I’m learning so much from doubles about playing different classes and different styles,” said Twomey, “because everyone has different styles. It is really great to play doubles with Fliss and I love it and am learning a lot.

“This tournament has given me a lot of confidence going forward because I had a really good win in the singles and I think Fliss and I did amazingly well in the doubles and we can learn a lot from this tournament.”

Men’s class 14

Paul Karabardak & Billy Shilton

World champions Paul Karabardak & Billy Shilton had to dig deep to come through their first match against Piotr Manturz & Michal Deigsler from Poland 12-10 in the deciding set. They lost 3-1 to Paulo Salmin Filho & Israel Pereira Stroh, the Para PanAmerican silver medallists from Brazil but secured their place in the quarter-finals with a 3-0 win against Matthew Britz from New Zealand & Samuel Altshuler from USA.

Karabardak & Shilton then produced a great performance to beat the Para PanAmerican champions Matias Pino Lorca & Ignacio Torres Orostica 3-0 to go through to the semi-finals where they were disappointed to lose 3-0 to the Swedish pair of Jonas Hansson & Sam Gustaffson.

“I don’t feel I played my best level,” said Shilton. “I made a lot of mistakes in tight moments in the game and I’m disappointed with that, but I think on the whole it has been another good tournament for me and Paul. Another medal – so I’m pleased with that and always pleased to play with Paul.

“There are a lot of things we need to practise and work on which I think is good. If we were coming into tournaments and not really learning anything that wouldn’t be great so we have got a lot of things to work on and I think once we get a bit of time to do that in Sheffield we will be in a much better position for Paris.”

“There’s things we can improve on going into the Paralympics,” agreed Karabardak. “I started to play well as we got through the group in the doubles especially against Chile and I thought we played some really good stuff in the doubles, and it is always nice to play with Billy.

“This is a difficult competition and I think it is better to have things to work on rather than it being perfect and then maybe you take your foot off the gas going into the Games.  We know we’re not at our best and we know that we’ve got stuff to work on which we’ll do going into Paris. Overall, it was a good doubles competition and I think we did well, and it is nice to get another medal.”

Will Bayley & Martin Perry began with a 3-0 win against Gonzalo Rodriguez from Spain & Lee Se Ho from the Republic of Korea. They produced some great play to level at 1-1 against Clement Berthier & Esteban Herrault and made the European champions from France fight all the way despite losing the next two sets 12-10.

A 3-0 win against Bobi Simion from Romania & Yehonatan Levi from Israel took them through to the quarter-finals and after losing the first set to Jonas Hansson & Sam Gustaffson11-9 they edged the second 12-10. They led 7-3 in the third but Hansson & Gustaffson came back to take it 11-9 and went on to take the fourth 11-8 for a 3-1 win.

Theo Bishop teamed up with Ben Despineux, the world doubles bronze medallist from Belgium, and they were 3-1 winners against Tomaz Rabuzin & Luka Trtnik from Slovenia. They lost 3-1 to the former world team champions from Spain Jordi Morales & Alvaro Valera and then beat Matias Pino Lorca & Ignacio Torres Orostica 3-1 to progress to the quarter-finals, where they lost 3-1 to Berthier & Herrault.

Mixed class 14

Martin Perry & Grace Williams made a promising start despite a 3-1 loss to Clement Berthier & Morgen Caillaud, the European bronze medallists from France. They came through a five-set battle against Yehonatan Levi from Israel & Stephanie Grebe from Germany, taking the deciding set 11-8 to secure their place in the quarter-finals and after dropping the first set against Bobi Simion, the class 6 former European silver medallist from Romania, & the class 8 European doubles bronze medallist Zsofia Arloy from Hungary they edged the next two 13-11, 12-10 and took the fourth 11-5 for a 3-1 win.

In the semi-finals they faced Ignacio Torres Orostica & 14-year-old Florencia Perez and the Para PanAmerican champions from Chile were 3-0 winners.

“The two matches we’ve lost have been to the finalists so we can’t complain about that,” said Perry. “We’ve not played doubles together for a long time and it was good fun. Me and Grace get along well on and off the table, so the chemistry is there.

“Doubles is all about communication and we have that, and we beat a couple of good teams along the way and it is only going to get better from here.”

“Obviously they are champions and top players in their classes,” said Williams, “and they are very awkward to play. Because I haven’t really played against that style before it was really difficult but to be fair we played well and worked really well together.

“Slovenia is one of the biggest tournaments and every match is tough but going forward they help you to know what you need to do in training for the next match. Martin is class 6 so has played those awkward players and it is nice to have that supportive person with you so if you make a mistake they tell you what you need to do and it is nice to have that when you are playing tough matches.”

Williams can take plenty of positives from Slovenia into the World Paralympic Qualification tournament.

“Because I’ve just finished Uni it is very different trying to get into the mindset of an athlete again,” she said. “This tournament has helped me do that and you can use pieces from different matches in training and think ‘this is what I need to work on, or this is my strength’ and I can work on that going into Thailand.”

Theo Bishop & Bly Twomey began with an impressive 3-0 win against Bobi Simion & Zsofia Arloy and recovered from a slow start to beat Piotr Manturz & Barbara Jablonka from Poland 3-1 to progress to the quarter-finals. They started really well, taking the first set against Rio 2016 silver medallist Israel Pereira Stroh & Aline Meneses Ferreira 11-4 but the Brazilian pair came back to take the match 3-1.

Men’s class 4

Rob Davies & Tom Matthews

Rob Davies & Tom Matthews, playing together for the first time since winning the men’s class 1 team event at the European Championships in 2015, were drawn in a tough group and lost in three close sets to class 3 world No 8 Jang Yeongjin and class 1 world No 1 Joo Young Dae, the Asian Para Games champions from the Korea Republic.

The Welshmen did well to take the third set against the class 2 pair of world No 6 Jiri Suchanek from Czechia and world No 8 Oleksandr Yezyk from Ukraine but did not progress after a 3-1 loss.

Men’s class 8

Chris Ryan & Jack Hunter-Spivey were playing doubles together for the first time here and they lost 3-0 to Kazuki Shichino & Genki Saito, the Asian Para Games bronze medallists from Japan. They produced a fighting performance to beat Henrik Andersson & Marc Graf from Austria 3-1, 14-12 in the fourth and then played really well to take the first set against Mitar Palikuca & Mladen Ciric 12-10. The European bronze medallists from Serbia came back to take the match 3-1 which meant that the British pair did not progress from the group.

Women’s class 10

Megan Shackleton teamed up with Hatice Duman from Turkey and after losing 3-0 to the European bronze medallists Alexandra Saint Pierre & Flora Vautier from France and 3-0 to Irem Oluk & Nergiz Altintas from Turkey they fought hard against the European silver medallists Borislava Peric-Rankovic & Nada Matic from Serbia but went out after a 3-1 loss.

Women’s class 20

Grace Williams & Lethicia Lacerda from Brazil were far from disgraced in a 3-0 loss to world champions Lei Li Na & Yang Qian from Australia and they did not progress after a 3-0 loss to world bronze medallists Neslihan Kavas & Merve Demir from Turkey.

Mixed class 7

Rob Davies & Megan Shackleton had a tough first match against the class 3 pair of Jang Yeongjin & world and Paralympic medallist Lee Mi Gyu from the Republic of Korea and they were beaten 3-0.

They fought hard against Ljubisa Gajic & Andreja Dolinar from Slovenia, taking the third set 11-6 and leading 6-1 in the fourth before ultimately losing 3-1 and did not progress after a 3-0 loss to class 4 former world champion Nesim Turan & Hatice Duman from Turkey.