At the end of day two at the Slovenian Para Open six British athletes are through to the semi-finals of their respective singles events which will be played to a finish on Saturday. Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6), Tom Matthews (men’s class 1), Jack Hunter-Spivey (men’s class 5), Martin Perry (men’s class 6), Will Bayley (men’s class 7) and Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 8) all came through tough quarterfinals and are assured of medals in the most competitive tournament this year outside the World Championships.
Today also saw the start of the doubles events which continue tomorrow.
Women’s class 6
Fliss Pickard prepared for her singles quarterfinal today by playing two mixed doubles matches with Will Bayley, winning both in five sets. She had beaten Katarzyna Marszal to win the Costa Brava Spanish Open and French Open finals last year, on both occasions in five sets. When the former World champion and Paralympic team gold medallist from Poland took the first set 16-14 another long match looked on the cards, but Pickard has grown in confidence over the past few tournaments and she played superbly to take the next three sets for a 3-1 win.
“I think I had the belief and I stuck to my processes better,” she said, “and I was pleased with the way I came back and focused on what I can do. I still believe there is more to come but at the end of the day I got the win and I’m into the semi-finals at a factor 40 and one of the strongest tournaments of the year. Playing mixed doubles with Will this morning was a good warm-up for me because I always struggle the first match of the day going on to the table so to be able to go on with a champion like Will who was guiding me all the way through really helped me. We have a great friendship off the table and we are both great fighters so to be able to get the two wins and lots of match practice was a fantastic build-up.”
Men’s class 1
In his quarterfinal Tom Matthews edged a tight first set against Fernando Eberhardt 12-10 and went on to complete a 3-0 win over the two-time PanAmerican champion and World Championship bronze medallist from Argentina.
“I still didn’t play to my full potential but I got the job done,” said Matthews. “He is a tricky character and has done well in the past but I managed to keep him quiet today and got past him. It was very important to win that first set as he is a difficult player and it helped to swing the game in my favour. The second set was 11-5 and he got a bit frustrated with himself although he pulled me back a bit in the third but I was clinical and came out with the win. It will be good to have a day off tomorrow to rest, recover, refuel and go again.”
Men’s class 5
Jack Hunter-Spivey came through another five-set battle in his quarterfinal against 31-year-old Toru Nakamoto from Japan, saving a match point before edging the deciding set 12-10.
“It was a similar theme to the rest of the matches at this tournament,” said Hunter-Spivey, “my level is not ideal and I can get dragged into battles. I’m just lucky that I’m the king of big battles but I’d like to be the king of easy wins. I played OK – it was a big fight but as I’ve said there are no easy matches in this tournament. They are all good players and I just do love a bit of drama. I’m playing doubles with a class three Ukrainian player tomorrow so I’m looking forward to that and I’ll use that as prep for the singles as well. I’m feeling good – job done and into the semis so hopefully I can go further now.”
Men’s class 6
Martin Perry has been in great form at this tournament and he stepped up a level again today to beat Esteban Herrault, the 28-year-old Frenchman who had won their last three meetings. Perry dropped the first set but came back strongly to win 3-1 and book his place in the semi-finals.
“Losing the first set is never ideal,” he admitted, “but myself and Mat (coach Mat Kenny) stayed calm and spoke very clearly and precisely about what to do going forward and I feel that I was able to carry that out. Going on to win the next three sets wasn’t easy. Esteban is a very good player and he’s beaten me the last three times we’ve played, in quarterfinal situations as well, so to win this quarterfinal at the biggest tournament outside of a major feels amazing. I feel it was a very good tactical performance and I’m so proud of myself that I’ve managed to make the semi-final at least of the Slovenian Open. Hopefully it can continue and I can go even further in this competition.”
Men’s class 7
Will Bayley was a comfortable 3-0 winner in his last 16 match against Pavao Jozic, the 27-year-old European silver medallist from Croatia, but his quarterfinal against Maksym Chudzicki was a different story. The 22-year-old Tokyo bronze medallist from Poland took the first set but Bayley came back strongly to lead 2-1. At 8-2 in the fourth he looked to be in control but Chudzicki was not giving up and he fought his way back into the set, saving two match points at 10-8 down before taking the set 13-11. Bayley used all his experience in a tense deciding set and took it 11-8 and the match 3-2.
“He’s a tough player and I knew it was going to be a really hard match,” said a relieved Bayley. “It was a strange one because I had so many opportunities to finish the match and it seemed like I wasn’t ever going to get over the line. I started the fifth set and after the first few points I lost I said to Greg (coach Greg Baker) ‘I’ve got to play to win because if I play passive he’s going to win easily so I have to go for it’ and I went for it and luckily it worked out. I’m loving playing doubles and with Fliss and Jochen I’ve got two great partners but I’m really focused on the singles because I need to try and do well and I’ve got a great opportunity. I’m playing my old rival Jordi Morales (reigning World champion from Spain) in the semi-finals and I’m looking forward to that.”
Men’s class 8
Billy Shilton came through his last 16 match against 20-year-old Aleksej Radukic from Serbia 3-0 and when Aaron McKibbin produced a great performance to defeat the former World number two and Rio Paralympic silver medallist Andras Csonka from Hungary for the first time 3-2 it set up an all-British quarter-final. The teammates had met twice before in international competition with honours even and they produced a brilliant match which swung one way then another, but McKibbin proved just the stronger on the big points and came back in both the third and fourth sets to win 3-1.
“It is tough to be honest because we play each other every day and we want the best for each other,” said McKibbin “but it was a good match. He played very well and I felt I was under the cosh. I nicked the third 12-10 from 10-6 down and I felt I was playing a good level but Billy was playing very good as well, so it was a flip of a coin as to who was going to win that game. I’ve played Csonka so many times and had so many tight matches but never quite beaten him. I haven’t played him since Rioi 2016 and I do feel that my level from there to now is completely different. I was so confident going into the game and felt it was mine to lose. I said yesterday I was hoping I could play better each game and I’ve done that today. I’m looking forward to having a crack at Didukh (World number one) in the semi-finals and getting some redemption from Tokyo.”
Shilton was disappointed but generous in defeat.
“It is always difficult to play a teammate and friend,” he said, “so it was tough but credit to Aaron he played a really good match in the tight situations. I’m very disappointed but at the same time not disappointed and I just want Aaron to win the competition now. I think at 1-1, 10-6 – if I had won that set the result may have been different – but you never know and credit to Aaron he played really well.”
World and Commonwealth champion Ross Wilson faced the former World number one and World and Paralympic team gold medallist Piotr Grudzien from Poland in his quarterfinal and although he had not lost to the Rio bronze medallist since 2015 the Polish player had taken him to five sets in their most recent meeting in the final of the Costa Brava Spanish Open in March. Grudzien started much the better and at 2-0, 10-9 had match point but Wilson saved it and took the set 13-11. He saved five more match points in the fourth set before taking it 16-14 and at 9-4 in the final set he seemed about to complete a remarkable comeback. But the match had one more twist as point-by-point Grudzien reduced the deficit before taking the set 11-9 and the match 3-2.
“It’s tough to lose a match like that,” said Wilson. “What messed me up a bit today was that I had a slow start and I did the same in Spain when I played him in the final. I think if I had improved that the result could have been very different. I was proud of the way I stuck in there and for saving a lot of match points but equally I did the flip side in the fifth set where I was up and lost consecutive points. Maybe I could have taken my time a bit more in those points and thought about them slightly differently but I’m just having one of those days I guess and the more competitions I play I’ll be able to be stronger in those points. I’ve made a lot of mistakes I wouldn’t normally make and I was playing below my level and that is not what I want to be doing. I want to play at a high level and if I lose at that level I’m happy but at the level I played today I’m disappointed with myself. I’ll learn from it and move forward.”
Men’s class 9
Joshua Stacey took the first set of his quarterfinal against Koyo Iwabuchi but was clearly struggling for the rest of the match and the World Championships bronze medallist and World team silver medallist from Japan took full advantage to level at 1-1, then edge a tight third set 12-10 and win the match 11-7 in the fourth.
“It was very frustrating,” said a bitterly disappointed Stacey. “It is quite a hard thing to get your head around when you are trying to compete and beat the person on the other side of the table. I felt I had my chances and considering he’s world number six and the fact that I’m not feeling 100% shows that I can still compete and when I am 100% I’ll have the better of him. The doctor thinks that it was due to the heat here and because I’ve only been drinking water rather than electrolytes it’s starved my body of nutrients so it wasn’t feeling very good and that affects my disability as well. So overall it was a difficult match, but I felt that I did all I could and it was still a pretty close game.”
In the first round of group matches in the men’s doubles there were wins for Aaron McKibbin and Martin Perry, 3-2 against Valentin Kneuss from Switzerland and Fredrik Johansen from Norway (MD14), Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey, 3-0 against Pavao Jozic and Borna Zohil from Croatia (MD18) and Will Bayley and German partner Jochen Wollmert, 3-1 against Ian Seidenfeld and Masoud Mojtahed from USA (MD14). In MD8 Andrew Guy and Lee York lost their first match to Mladen Ciric & Mitar Palikuca from Serbia, 3-0, and Jack Hunter-Spivey and his Ukrainian partner Vasyl Petruniv lost in three close sets to Isak Nyholm from Sweden and Benjamin Marotte from Belgium. Theo Bishop and Canadian Gabriel Seguin lost 3-0 to Alberto Seoane Alcazar from Spain and Cristian Dettoni from Chile in MD14.
In the mixed doubles Will Bayley and Fliss Pickard are through to the quarterfinals of XD14 but after a 3-0 win against the Czech Republic pair of Vit Spalek and Nela Kemlinkova and a 3-0 loss to Thomas Bouvais and Lucie Hautiere from France Joshua Stacey and Grace Williams needed to win their last match against Jose Vargas Pirajan and Jessica Alzate Mejia from Colombia to go through in XD17 and although the young Welsh pair fought hard a 3-1 loss left them in third place in their group.
In XD7 Andrew Guy and Nelly Sanchez Alarcon from Colombia went out after a 3-1 loss to Fabien Lamirault and Alexandra Saint-Pierre from France and a 3-0 loss to Mitar Palikuca and Ana Prvulovic from Serbia. In XD10 Lee York and Slobodanka Guresic from Montenegro lost 3-0 to Shmuel Ben Asor and Caroline Tabib from Israel and were then beaten in three close sets by Toru Nakamoto and Kimie Bessho from Japan. They also went out after a 3-0 loss to Ali Ozturk and Hatice Duman from Turkey.
The full list of British athletes competing in Slovenia is:
Will Bayley, 34, – Tunbridge Wells/Brighton (class 7)
Theo Bishop, 18 – Bury (class 7)
Jack Hunter-Spivey, 27 – Liverpool/Sheffield (class 5)
Andrew Guy, 37 – Bovey Tracey (class 2)
Tom Matthews, 29 – Aberdare (class 1)
Aaron McKibbin, 30 – London/Epsom (class 8)
Martin Perry, 28 – Paisley/Dumbarton (class 6)
Fliss Pickard, 27 – Burnley/Sheffield (class 6)
Billy Shilton, 23 – Stonehouse/Sheffield (class 8)
Joshua Stacey, 22 – Cardiff/Sheffield (class 9)
Grace Williams, 19 – Wrexham/Sheffield (class 8)
Ross Wilson, 26 – Minster/Sheffield (class 8)
Lee York, 33 – Wakefield (class 4)
For further information and/or photographs please contact the British Para Table Tennis Team press officer Francesca Bullock on 07768 515841 or email: [email protected]
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