The British Para table tennis team took five medals against strong opposition in the doubles events on the final day of the ITTF SQY French Para Open in Saint Quentin en Yvelines.
After taking gold in the women’s class 7 singles on Friday, 13-year-old Bly Twomey combined with Nora Korneliussen from Norway to take silver in women’s class 14, Megan Shackleton (pictured above) took bronze in the women’s class 10 and mixed class 7 with her French partners Flora Vautier and Yorick Adjal and there were also bronze medals for Chris Ryan (with Daniel Rodriguez from Spain) in men’s class 4 and Ashley Facey (with Koyo Iwabuchi from Japan) in men’s class 18.
Women’s class 14
Bly Twomey and Nora Korneliussen won their last 16 match against Hanna Hammad and Hagar Elsayed from Egypt 3-0 and then beat class 8 world No 7 Zsofia Arloy from Hungary and class 6 world No 3 Katarzyna Marszal from Poland 3-0 to progress to the semi-finals where they faced Stephanie Grebe and Juliane Wolf.
The world and European silver medallists from Germany won the first set 11-6 but Twomey and Korneliussen took the second 11-9 to level at 1-1 and went on to take the next two 11-8 11-9 for a well-deserved 3-1 win that took them through to the final against the Chinese pair of class 8 world No 3 Huang Wenjuan and 15-year-old class 6 world No 10 Jin Yucheng.
Twomey and Korneliussen started well, taking the first set 11-6, but the Asian Para Games champions responded by racing through the second set 11-2. The British/Norwegian pair came back to take the third 11-7 and once again Huang and Jin levelled after taking the fourth 11-3. At 10-5 down in the deciding set Twomey and Korneliussen kept fighting and saved four match points but could not save the fifth as the Chinese pair clinched the set 11-9 and the match 3-2.
“It was amazing to have the chance to play with a fantastic player like Nora,” said Twomey, “and to get silver when we have never played together is astounding. We kept fighting in the fifth set and brought it back to 10-9 but just missed out. From the start I was thinking there’s nothing to lose and when we were 10-5 down I was so much more aggressive and I think I should have done that from the start.
“I’m learning a lot from playing doubles with different partners as they have different styles of play which means I have to change my style as well – as I did with Nora in the fifth. This tournament has meant a lot and I’m extremely happy to have done this well.”
Grace Williams and class 6 Polish Open champion Cajsa Stadler from Sweden also had a last 16 bye but lost their quarter-final to Grebe and Wolf 3-0.
Women’s class 10
Megan Shackleton won gold in the Finland Open with Frenchwoman Flora Vautier and they received a last 16 bye before coming through their quarter-final against Nergiz Altintas and Irem Oluk from Turkey 3-1, some consolation for Shackleton for her five-set loss to Oluk in the singles.
Shackleton and Vautier had to settle for bronze this time after losing 3-0 to the class 4 and class 5 Asian Para Games champions Gu Xiaodan and Pan Jiamin from China.
Men’s class 4
Former GB wheelchair rugby captain Chris Ryan and the class 2 Czech Para Open gold medallist Daniel Rodriguez began with a 3-1 win in their last 16 match against Mitsuhiro Matsuo and Masanori Uno of Japan. In the quarter-final they won a close first set against class 1 world No 3 Kim Hakjin from Korea and Mohammad Ben Jabal from Kuwait 13-11 and went on to complete a 3-0 win.
That took them through to a semi-final against the No 1 seeds from Spain Iker Sastre and Miguel Angel Toledo. After losing the first set 11-8 Ryan and Rodriguez had chances to win a tight second that Sastre and Toledo edged 14-12 and the world and European silver medallists went on to take the third 11-7 and the match 3-0.
“I feel like it’s been a disappointing tournament for me,” said Ryan. “I had the two finalists in my group in the singles, but I didn’t feel that I quite played at my best and I’ll keep pushing over the winter to gain understanding and consistency to try and make the 2024 version of me a problem for my opponents.
“Doubles was really good fun. I had a great partner in Daniel Rodriguez and I learnt a lot from him. We missed some opportunities against the Spanish in the semi but ultimately their experience proved too much for us. Some good lessons from this week so roll on a winter of practice.”
Men’s class 18
Ashley Facey and class 9 Asian Para Games silver medallist Koyo Iwabuchi had combined to win gold in the Czech Para Open earlier this year and they teamed up again, starting with a 3-0 win against Abdullah Qasem and Mohammad Alrashidi from Kuwait in the last 16.
In the quarter-final they took on the Rio Paralympic class 8 silver medallist Andras Csonka from Hungary and Iwabuchi’s compatriot Hayuma Abe who had won silver with Iwabuchi in the Asian Para Games and the Japan Para Open. Csonka and Abe led 2-1 before Facey and Iwabuchi raced through the fourth set 11-2 to level at 2-2 and secured a 3-2 win, 11-6 in the fifth.
They faced the Chinese pair of class 10 world No 7 Lian Hao and class 8 three-time Paralympic champion Zhao Shuai in the semi-final and the Asian Para Games champions were just too strong in a 3-0 win.
“It’s been a good tournament all-in-all,” said Facey. “I’m disappointed about losing to China in the doubles but they are a really strong team and I’m happy with how I’ve performed at this competition. My singles against Cepas was a hard game – the rankings are very close and everyone can beat everyone so this qualification period for Paris is exciting. I’m very happy to have won that match against Cepas – it was a good win and even though it was close at the end I came through and believed in myself. I’ve been training really hard so I’m happy about that.”
Class 8 Ryan Henry and class 7 Theo Bishop had a tough draw in their last 16 match against the class 9 world No 1 Laurens Devos and former class 8 world No 1 Marc Ledoux but they showed their potential despite losing in three competitive sets to the experienced Belgian pair.
Mixed class 7
Megan Shackleton and Yorick Adjal, the Al-Watani Para Championships class 3 gold medallist from France, lost the first set of their last 16 match against the strong Chinese pair of class 4 Tokyo Paralympic team gold medallist Guo Xingyuan and class 3 Paralympic champion Xue Juan 11-5 but came back strongly to take the next three sets 11-5, 11-7, 11-8 for a 3-1 win.
In the quarter-final they beat the class 4 former two-time world champion Nesim Turan and class 3 former World and European medallist Hatice Duman from Turkey 3-1 and then faced another Chinese pair in Tokyo Paralympic class 3 bronze medallist Zhai Xiang and class 4 Asian Para Games champion Gu Xiaodan.
Adjal and Shackleton led 10-8 before taking a tight first set 13-11 but the Chinese pair came back to take the next two 11-9 11-4 to lead 2-1. Adjal and Shackleton led 9-7 in the fourth, but Zhai and Gu reeled off four consecutive points to take the set 11-9 and the match 3-1.
“It’s been a decent tournament for me overall,” said Shackleton, “although I started a bit slowly. I had a good match again in the singles with Oluk (lost 3-2) and I was maybe a little unlucky at key times but I’ve shown good progression in my game. The doubles events were great with some good wins along the way and it’s great to finish the year with two medals.”
Mixed class 14
After edging a close first set 14-12 in their last 16 match Theo Bishop and Bly Twomey won the second 11-4 to lead Sayed Youssef and Hanna Hammad 2-0 but the African champions from Egypt took the third 11-8 and saved match points before taking the fourth 15-13 to level at 2-2. Bishop and Twomey trailed 7-4 in the deciding set but levelled at 7-7 and saved a match point before securing the set 14-12 and a 3-2 win.
In the quarter-final the young British pair lost the first set 11-7 to class 6 former world and European medallist Thomas Rau and Juliane Wolf but took the second to level at 1-1 and led 2-1 after winning the third set 11-8. The German pair levelled at 2-2 (11-9) and led 9-3 in the deciding set but Bishop and Twomey fought back to level at 9-9 before Rau and Wolf clinched the win 12-10 with their second match point.
“This has probably been the toughest tournament that I have had,” said Bishop, “both from a playing and a mental perspective. I had a really tough group in the singles with the Tokyo bronze medallist and another top 10 player. Losing 12-10 in the fifth to the Brazilian really hurt but I will learn from the experience and move forward. Playing against this level of player really showed what I need to work on, and I will go away over the winter and improve.
“Getting the close win against Egypt in the doubles was great to bring my confidence back slightly and it is always a pleasure to play with Bly – you know that no matter the score she is going to give 100%. Losing to Germany so narrowly also hurt but we can be happy that we took them close and fought back from 9-3 down in the last set.”
Mixed class 17
In their last 16 match Ryan Henry and Grace Williams were beaten 3-0 by the very strong Chinese pair of three-time men’s class 8 Paralympic champion Zhao Shuai and three-time women’s class 8 champion Mao Jingdian.