An all-British final in men’s class 8 was the highlight of the singles in the Greek Para Open in Argostoli, with Aaron McKibbin beating Billy Shilton and Commonwealth champions Jack Hunter-Spivey (men’s class 5) and Joshua Stacey (men’s class 9) together with Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6-7) all taking gold in their respective events.
On a good day for the British Para table tennis team Martin Perry (men’s class 6) and Megan Shackleton (women’s class 3-5) also took silver and there were bronze medals for Rob Davies (men’s class 1), Sue Bailey (women’s class 3-5) and Simon Heaps (men’s class 5).
Men’s class 8
Aaron McKibbin (pictured above) won 3-1 against Borna Zohil, the 16-year-old from Croatia who was the silver medallist in Montenegro earlier this season, and secured his place in the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win against 21-year-old Roy Van der Burg from Netherlands. A 3-0 win against Lam Ka Wai from Hong Kong China, silver medallist in the Finland Open, took him into the semi-finals and he produced a great performance to beat Marc Ledoux, the former Paralympic silver medallist and world No 1 from Belgium, 3-0.
Billy Shilton topped his group after a 3-0 win against Abdul Abdullah from Indonesia and a 3-1 win against Lam Ka Wai. He beat the Rio 2016 Paralympic silver medallist from Hungary Andras Csonka 3-0 in the quarterfinals and a 3-1 win against Thomas Bouvais, the Paralympic and World team bronze medallist from France, in the semi-finals took him through to face McKibbin.
The pair last met in the Slovenia Open in May when McKibbin won in five sets and the 31-year-old Londoner just had the edge again today, winning 3-1.
“I’m obviously very happy to win the gold,” said McKibbin. “It wasn’t nice to play against Billy but I think it is a good thing that we both made the final. It was a strong competition for us – I think there are six or seven other players here who will be competing in the World Championships so it puts us both in good stead for that.
“I’ve played well here and with each match I’ve got better and better. Billy was definitely my toughest opponent and I think we put on a good show. I felt good coming in here on the back of a really good training camp in Slovenia and we’ve got four or five weeks now to put in some extra work before the Worlds and hopefully try and repeat the performance there.”
“Overall I’m really happy with a silver medal,” said Shilton. “I didn’t start very well and wasn’t playing the way I can in training which I was disappointed with but today against Csonka and Bouvais I was really satisfied with my level and it gives me confidence going into the World Championships that I know I can compete with the players around my ranking. It was so difficult to play against Aaron in the final because we play each other all the time but he played a great match and I’m happy for GB that we could take a gold and a silver.”
Pathway athlete Ryan Henry lost his first match 3-0 to world No 5 and Paralympic team bronze medallist Clement Berthier from France but progressed from his group in second place after a 3-0 win against Leonardo Aritonang from Indonesia. He went out after losing in three close sets to Ledoux in the quarter-finals.
Men’s class 5
Jack Hunter-Spivey topped his group after 3-0 wins against 19-year-old Fahad Abdullah from Kuwait and Gerardus Van Grunsven from Netherlands. As top seed he received a bye into the semi-finals and a 3-1 win against Heaps sent him into the final where he faced world No 8 Bart Brands, silver medallist in Egypt and Finland this season. The Belgian led 2-0 but Hunter-Spivey fought back superbly to take the next three 11-3, 11-6, 11-5 to take the gold.
“I’m pleased with my performance,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I’ve had some battles and I definitely had to raise my level in the final. It was a different experience playing Simon in the semis – he is improving and it is good to have another GB player on the podium so overall I’m happy with the singles. I did well to battle back from 2-0 down against Bart and I’m looking forward to the World Championships.”
Heaps led Brands 2-1 in their group match but the Belgian eventually won 11-9 in the fifth. The 67-year-old, who is self-funding, went through to the quarter-finals after a 3-2 win against 18-year-old Carlos Freire de Moraes from Brazil and set up the all-GB semi-final against Hunter-Spivey with a 3-0 win against Sem Roelofs from the Netherlands.
“Overall I’m pleased,” said Heaps. “To lose 11-9 in the fifth against Brands was disappointing but also encouraging and I managed to tough it out to beat an 18-year-old Brazilian 3-2 and then won 3-0 against the Dutch player who I had lost to twice before. I felt that I played well in the 3-1 defeat to Jack and the experience will help me in the future.”
Scott Robertson, who is also self-funding, lost 3-0 to Toru Nakamoto from Japan, the bronze medallist in France and Thailand this season, and did not progress to the knockout stages after a 3-2 loss to Roelofs.
Men’s class 9
Joshua Stacey began with a 3-0 win against former Asian Championships team medallist Talgat Erekeyev from Kazakhstan and secured top place in his group and a bye into the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against David Pulpan from Czech Republic, the silver medallist in France and the Czech Republic last year.
After edging the first set 13-11 the Welshman completed a 3-0 win against Kusnanto Kusnanto from Indonesia for the loss of only six points to take him into the final and a rematch with Pulpan. It was a different match today with the Czech player twice fighting back to level the match before Stacey secured the gold 11-6 in the fifth.
“It’s a good feeling to come away with the gold,” said Stacey. “Pulpan upped his level in the final and put me under a lot of pressure and I’m very glad to have got through it and been able to dominate in the fifth set. I’m really pleased and happy with the performance overall and to get the gold being No 1 seed. I’m looking forward to the doubles with Grace (Williams) now and seeing what sort of damage we can do.”
Women’s class 6-7
Fliss Pickard came through her group with 3-0 wins against Eirini Drakonaki from Greece and Vaishnavi Sutar from Indonesia and recovered from losing the first set in her semi-final to beat Camelia Ciripan from Romania 13-11 in the fourth. That took her through to the final against Valentina Marcheva, the class 7 former two-time European medallist who is competing for the first time since 2017, and she secured her second gold medal of 2022 with a 3-1 win.
“I’m pleased to win another gold,” said Pickard. “I struggled at times to trust my ability but I’m happy about the way I am able to bounce back and adapt when things aren’t going my way. I’m looking forward to playing doubles now with Billy and Grace.”
Men’s class 6
Martin Perry was a comfortable 3-0 winner against Joao Cardoso from Portugal but a 3-0 loss to Matteo Parenzan from Italy, the 19-year-old world No 5 and gold medallist in Spain and Slovenia this season, left him needing to win his final group match to progress.
A 3-0 win against Eleftherios Mavris from Greece, the Al-Watani Championships silver medallist, secured his place in the semi-finals where he played a great match to beat Esteban Herrault from France 3-1, edging a marathon second set 19-17 to level the match and then taking the next two 11-4, 11-6. That took him through to the final and a rematch with Parenzan and he pushed the Italian all the way in a 3-1 loss.
“In the group match against Parenzan I played him all wrong,” said Perry. “Tactically I wasn’t very clever but Mat (coach Mat Kenny) and I took some notes on things to change if I played him later in the tournament.
Herrault and I meet each other quite a lot and I know it’s always going to be a good match. It was a tight first set and an absolute monster of a second set and I managed to win it and that gave me the momentum to go on and take the match. Mat and I were tactically very clever which helped to get the result.
“In the final I had a chance to go 2-1 up but I wasn’t able to take it and he took the match 3-1. There is a reason he is world No 5 – he is an incredibly talented player and there is no shame in losing to him but I’ve definitely got an idea of how I’d like to play him in the future and mentally I feel in a good place now going forward into the World Championships.”
Women’s class 3-5
In her first tournament since the Paralympic Games in Tokyo last September Megan Shackleton beat 17-year-old Flora Vautier from France in three deuce sets and progressed to the semi-finals as group winner with a 3-0 win against Tarsilem Tarsilem from Indonesia, the 2018 Indonesian Open gold medallist. She secured her place in the final with a 3-0 win against world No 10 Zorica Popadic from Serbia and was far from disgraced in a 3-0 loss to the class 5 World number two Alexandra Saint-Pierre from France, singles gold medallist in Spain, France, Slovenia and Czech Republic this year.
“I’m really pleased with my performance in the singles,” said Shackleton. “It felt so good to be back in the competition hall and I’m proud of myself for showing a good base level after a long year away. Now I’m just excited to build from here, play some more matches and come back stronger for 2023.”
Sue Bailey was a 3-0 winner of her three group matches against Spomenka Habetinkova Tomic from Czech Republic, bronze medallist in the Czech Open last year, Osrita Muslim from Indonesia, silver medallist in the 2018 Indonesian Open, and Ghaliah Alanasi from Saudi Arabia. After a 3-1 win against Vautier in the quarterfinals she fought back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 against Saint Pierre before the 24-year-old Frenchwoman took the semi-final 11-6 in the fifth.
Men’s class 1
Rob Davies was a 3-0 winner against Jehan Madan from India and then lost in four close sets to the Korean world No 8 Park Sung Joo, gold medallist in the Thailand Open. He secured his place in the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against Hassan Ibrahim from Kuwait and took on old rival Endre Major in the semi-finals. The pair have had some great battles in the past and although the Welshman started well, taking the first set 11-4, the Hungarian World number six, gold medallist in the Costa Brava Spanish Open earlier this year, is a tough competitor and he came back to take the next three sets 11-6, 12-10, 11-8 for a 3-1 win.
“It was a good game against Park,” said Davies, “and on another day I probably should have put him away and I would back myself to take him next time. But I’ve got to move forwards as that is what it is all about really – taking steps forward going to the Worlds and beyond.
“I know it is a slow process learning to play matches again – keeping your composure and bringing your game rather than letting the opposition play their game. I’m looking forward to the Worlds and excited to see what I can do in the future. I’m happy to be back playing competitions and I’ve just got to turn it round now and start getting a few more Ws.”
Women’s class 8
Grace Williams lost 3-0 to Zsofia Arloy from Hungary, the world No 5 and three-time European medallist, and 3-0 to Lucie Hautiere from France, the Finland Open silver medallist and world No 9.
Men’s class 4
Lee York lost 3-0 to Tokyo team bronze medallist Peter Mihalik from Slovakia but then came through a great battle against Mustafa Yuseinov 11-6 in the fifth after the Bulgarian had twice levelled the match. He did not progress after a 3-1 loss to Yayang Gunaya, the Asian Championships team bronze medallist from Indonesia.
Men’s class 7
Theo Bishop lost 3-2 to former Asian Championships bronze medallist Chen Silu from Hong Kong China after twice levelling the match. He then beat 28-year-old Azamat Orazbek from Kazakhstan 3-0 but did not progress after a 3-1 loss to the very experienced Ben Despineux, the two-time European team champion from Belgium.
Men’s class 10
On his international debut Maximillian Flint lost 3-0 to Alexandros Diakoumakos from Greece, the Egypt Open silver medallist, 3-1 to Jan Michal from Czech Republic and 3-0 to David Jacobs from Indonesia, the world No 2 and Tokyo bronze medallist.
Competing in his first international tournament since 2019 Jack Stockdale was beaten 3-1 by Komet Akbar from Indonesia, the Asian champion and world No 12, 3-1 by 16-year-old Gabriel De Oliveira Antunes from Brazil and 3-0 by PanAmerican bronze medallist Manuel Echaveguren Farias from Chile.
The tournament continues with the doubles events.