A strong squad of 13 British athletes including world No 1 and former Paralympic champion Will Bayley, reigning world champion Ross Wilson and Commonwealth champions Jack Hunter-Spivey and Joshua Stacey will compete in the 2022 World Para Table Tennis Championships taking place in Granada, Spain from November 6-12.
The World Para Table Tennis Championships take place every four years and will be run under a different format with the competitions played as a straight knockout rather than initial group stages. Team events have been replaced by doubles – men’s, women’s and mixed – with the category for pairs determined with a maximum number obtained by combining the classification numbers of the two players.
Bayley won the men’s class 7 world title in Beijing in 2014 and has regained the world No 1 ranking after taking gold in Slovenia, Czech Republic and Finland this season. Paralympic champion in Rio 2016, he took silver in Tokyo after losing the final to Yan Shuo who will not be among his opponents in Spain as the Chinese team has not competed internationally since Tokyo due to Covid.
Nevertheless Bayley will face tough competition in his bid for a second world title, including reigning world champion Jordi Morales from Spain and the two-time European champion and world No 2 from Netherlands Jean-paul Montanus.
“I am really pleased with how this season has gone,” said Bayley, “but it is all about the World Championships because it is one of the biggest tournaments so I’m looking forward to it. It would be very special to win the world title again – these are the moments that as a sportsman you need to try and make the most of because they don’t come around very often.
“Winning matches builds an inner confidence and for the other players to know I’ve played three tournaments and won three tournaments and haven’t lost a match since the final of Tokyo is good for me. I’ve got this inner belief that I can beat anyone and I just want to carry it on. I still feel that I can play another level higher than I have done this season so I need to try and do that.
“It would have been nice for Yan and the other Chinese players to be there because you want to beat the best players in the world and Yan is Paralympic champion but I still have to play to the best of my ability to have any chance of winning the tournament. It is going to be very tough because there are a lot of good players and it’s going to be a battle whoever I play.”
Wilson defeated the Chinese three-time Paralympic champion Zhao Shuai in a five-set epic to win the men’s class 8 world title in Slovenia in 2018, six months after taking Commonwealth gold in Australia. The 27-year-old lost in the semi-finals in Birmingham in August to doubles partner Joshua Stacey but came through a tough five-set battle against class 9 former Paralympic champion Tajudeen Agunbiade from Nigeria to take Commonwealth bronze and won gold in Spain earlier this year.
“I’ve got a lot going on at the moment,” said Wilson, who has started a degree in psychology at Sheffield University, “and it makes you appreciate playing a bit more. I don’t take these things for granted anymore – I missed the Worlds in 2014 due to injury so just to have the opportunity to go and perform at a World Championship is something I’m really looking forward to because you’re not always going to get to play them. So I’m really excited to get out there and do as best as I can and hopefully I can defend my title.
“I wasn’t happy with how I played in Birmingham but I did take away a lot of good things and it has definitely given me confidence going forwards and I was really proud of myself for how deep I got stuck in even though I wasn’t playing very well. Josh and I have a really good relationship and in doubles we work really well together and if we can get some practice over the next two weeks and work on some things we’ll be confident going into the Worlds.”
Hunter-Spivey won his first major championship medal in Tokyo last year, taking bronze in the men’s class 5 singles, and demonstrated the belief that has given him by taking Commonwealth gold in men’s class 3-5 in Birmingham as well as gold in Egypt and Greece this season. He will also compete in the mixed doubles with six-time Paralympian Sue Bailey.
“Preparation has gone really well,” said Hunter-Spivey. “The gold in Greece has stood me in good stead and I’m feeling good going into the Worlds and can’t wait to get involved now. It’s going to be different with a straight knockout tournament especially as I’m No 4 seed and I’ll go straight into a quarter-final, so my first match will be a medal match, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“I always felt that I was never going to win a major medal but Tokyo changed that – beating Tommy (Urhaug) in a medal match was amazing so I believe in myself now and if I can do that again in the World Championships that will be great. I can draw on my experience of being in those big situations and hopefully I can do the business again.
“Mixed doubles with Sue is a free hit for us in one sense as we’re a new pairing so we’ll see how it goes and if we play some good doubles then I think we can do well.”
Stacey reached the quarter-finals in men’s class 9 on his Paralympic debut in Tokyo and has since gone from strength to strength, taking gold in Spain, Czech Republic and Greece and winning his first major title when beating the Chinese-born Australian former world and Paralympic champion Ma Lin to take Commonwealth gold in the men’s class 8-10 singles in Birmingham. The 22-year-old Welshman will also compete in the men’s doubles with Wilson and the mixed doubles with Grace Williams.
“Tokyo just gave me so much motivation,” said Stacey, “knowing that the Paralympics are only every four years but every year there is a major which is really good in terms of wanting to do as well as you can. I feel that my level and my mindset have gone up nicely in correlation and it is translating quite well on the table and I’m hoping it will do the same in Spain.
“Major championships are what you strive towards and I feel I’m in a good position to show what I can do and I’m really excited. I feel like I’m improving week-on-week and to feel confident in how I’m playing and also confident in terms of my mindset is exciting but also quite settling. I feel that I can think my way through a match if things aren’t going as well as they could do and that is something that can be used in any stage of the competition.
“It is very special and a privilege to have been selected for the doubles as well and they are a nice goal to chase other than just the singles. When you are on the table with someone else you’re playing for them as well which is always a good thing and I think it also brings together that family vibe we have created in the team so I enjoy playing with both Ross and Grace.”
Also competing in Spain will be Rio 2016 men’s class 1 Paralympic champion Rob Davies, 2018 world bronze medallists Tom Matthews (men’s class 1) and Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6) and Tokyo medallists Sue Bailey (women’s class 4), Paul Karabardak (men’s class 6), Aaron McKibbin and Billy Shilton (men’s class 8). They will be joined by two-time European team gold medallist Martin Perry (men’s class 6) and Confirmation athlete Grace Williams (women’s class 8), who have both been awarded wildcards to compete.