Commonwealth champion Joshua Stacey started his Paralympic qualification year by taking silver in the men’s class 9 singles in the Greek Para Open.
Martin Perry (men’s class 6) and Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 7-8) took bronze and there was a first medal for former GB wheelchair rugby captain Chris Ryan who took bronze in men’s class 2 in only his second international tournament.
Men’s class 9
In his first international tournament since taking silver at the World Championships last November, Stacey beat Hayuma Abe from Japan 3-1 and then came through a great battle against Ivan Mai, the world No 5 and Paralympic bronze medallist from Ukraine, edging the first set 12-10 and then fighting back from 2-1 down to take the match 3-2, 11-4 in the fifth.
He beat the Japanese world No 7 Koyo Iwabuchi 3-0 in the semi-final to set up a rematch against world No 1 Laurens Devos who beat him in the World Championship final. The 22-year-old Belgian is already a two-time World and Paralympic champion and has not lost a match in men’s class 9 since 2015 and he quickly raced into a 1-0 lead.
Stacey led 6-1 in the second but Devos came back to take it 11-7 and the Welshman then fought back from 7-3 down to take the third 11-9 before Devos took the fourth set and the match 3-1.
“Overall I’m pretty pleased,” said Stacey, who paid tribute to team physios Jill Crompton and Fran Lace and S&C coach Stephen Cooper for getting him fit to compete again.
“After quite a long lay-off in terms of international competition the tournament went pretty well. It was a tough match against Mai and I felt he was a lot more solid than me in the first three sets. I had to take a little more risk and try and get a handle on the game and apply a lot of pressure and I felt I did that and it showed in the scoreline in the last two sets.
“I’ve played Iwabuchi a lot now and I feel a lot more comfortable playing him. Me and Mat (coach Mat Kenny) agreed I was very solid and forced my gameplan on him and he didn’t really have much of an answer for it.
“I’m getting used to playing Devos and the quality that he brings on the table. I think I’m getting nearer to him and I definitely want to be taking him out come Paris.”
Men’s class 6
Top seed Martin Perry was a 3-0 winner against the 21-year-old Australian Lennard Properjohn and a 3-0 win against 20-year-old Mario Joao Bastardo from Portugal secured him a bye into the semi-finals as group winner.
He made a slow start against Marios Chatzikyriakos but levelled at 1-1 and then again at 2-2 after clinching a tense fourth set 15-13. But the European team silver medallist from Greece was not to be denied in his home tournament and he took the deciding set 11-5 to go through to the final and went on to take the gold.
“Obviously not the result I wanted today but I thought Marios played really well,” said Perry. “I never felt comfortable in the match to be honest and every time I did get in, Marios had an answer and hit some fantastic shots.
“It was just one of those days – I didn’t find my rhythm but I fought hard to get it back to a fifth and that is one of my qualities; I never give up. Even when I was 2-1 down, I never doubted it was going to go the distance but in the fifth set I couldn’t get any foothold in the match. So, it’s a bit of a sore one but I’m looking forward to Slovenia and I’ll be ready for it.”
Men’s class 7-8
Aaron McKibbin lost only one point in his opening match against the newcomer from Greece Merampi Tsanava and was then a 3-0 winner against Ali Makhulbekov from Kazakhstan, the 20-year-old bronze medallist in the Egypt Para Open earlier this year.
He secured top place in his group and a bye into the quarter-finals with a 3-0 win against the 19-year-old from Portugal Eurico Andre Silva and recovered from dropping the first set to beat the Spaniard Alejandro Diaz 3-1 to go through to the semi-finals. His opponent Piotr Grudzien had won their last four meetings including last month in Italy and the world No 3 from Poland just had the edge again in a 3-1 win.
“It was a tough match (against Grudzien) and he’s a person I struggle against,” said McKibbin. “I need to go away and watch the last few matches I’ve played against him as he’s got a good way of playing against me so I definitely need to change some things.
“I felt better in the rallies but the serve and receive is a really strong part of his game. Thankfully we’ve got Slovenia just around the corner so it will give me a chance to get straight back into action. I’ll keep working away and hopefully get a chance to play him again in Slovenia. Overall, it’s nice to get back on the podium so I’ll try and take the positives.”
Ryan Henry lost his opening match 3-0 against Grudzien but went through to the knockout stages after a 3-1 win against Alyn Nicolae from Romania. He went out after losing his last 16 match to Makhulbekov 3-1.
Men’s class 2
Chris Ryan had a tough opening match against the world No 2 Rafal Czuper from Poland and the World and Paralympic silver medallist was too strong in a 3-0 win. The 31-year-old, who switched to table tennis after leading the GB wheelchair rugby team to Paralympic gold in Tokyo, achieved his first international win when defeating the European team bronze medallist Roman Gulyk from Ukraine 3-1.
That took him through to the semi-finals where he lost 3-0 to the Frenchman Julien Michaud, gold medallist in the Egypt Para Open in February.
Men’s class 4-5
Simon Heaps began with a 3-0 win against the newcomer from Ukraine Vitalii Bairamshyn but was then beaten 3-1 by Genki Saito, the class 4 world No 20 from Japan. He progressed to the quarter-finals with a 3-0 win against the unranked George Florescu from Romania but lost a very close match to another Romanian class 4 Petru Ifrosa, 12-10 in the fifth after leading 2-1.
Men’s class 10
Jack Stockdale was drawn in a tough group and he did not progress after losing 3-0 to Patryk Chojnowski, the world No 1 and world and Paralympic champion from Poland, and 3-0 to Krisztian Gardos from Austria, the World number six and World bronze medallist.
Max Flint was far from disgraced in a 3-1 loss to world No 4 Mateo Boheas from France, taking the second set against the Tokyo Paralympic silver medallist and world bronze medallist 12-10. He put up another good performance against world No 19 Pawel Wlodyka from Poland before losing 3-1 to the Lignano Masters Para Open bronze medallist but did not progress after a 3-0 loss to Igor Misztal, the world No 5 and European bronze medallist from Poland.