Day one of the 2023 Michael Hawkesworth British Para Table Tennis National Championships produced some great matches and intense competition for the 11 titles that were decided today. While experience came to the fore there were some promising performances from some of the young and up-and-coming players in the Pathway and Development squads who are coming through to challenge the established players in the Performance squad.
Class 1 was reduced to three players in the absence of Tom Matthews and was won by four-time European champion Rob Davies.
Classes 2 and 3 were combined and produced a tremendous final in which the evergreen Kevin Plowman, class 3 winner the last time the Nationals were held four years ago, beat Romain Simon 3-2, 12-10 in the fifth having come through another five-set match in the semi-final against Andrew Guy.
“It’s good to come back to the Nationals,” said Plowman, “and it was a test – especially the final which could have gone either way. It was a tough match and Romain is a good player and he’ll be back. I play in the local able-bodied leagues, and I do like to play a wheelchair tournament now and again because it is a different style of game. I’ll keep coming back as long as I’m playing to a good standard in the local leagues.”
Classes four and five were also combined in a round-robin event that was closely contested by Megan Shackleton, Lee York, Simon Heaps and the eventual winner Jack Hunter-Spivey who won all four of his matches. Although beaten by Shackleton, Heaps took second place after Shackleton was beaten in five sets by York.
Class 6 was played in a round-robin format and featured two World doubles champions in Paul Karabardak and Fliss Pickard and a World bronze medallist in Martin Perry. The final match proved to be decisive with Welshman Karabardak beating Scotsman Perry in three close sets to take the title.
“I’m really pleased,” said Karabardak. “I knew it was going to be difficult because Fliss has been playing so well in the last few years so to beat her was a big thing and I’m really happy to beat Martin for the gold because he has been excellent this last year or so. He has really improved and pushed up the rankings so I knew I had to be at the top of my game and I think I played as well as I could. Maybe I had a bit of luck but I’m over the moon to have become National champion again. I think I’m improving and I’ll be ready for Slovenia in a month or so - I think I can keep improving again to the place where I want to be.”
World champion Will Bayley successfully defended his class 7 title but he was pushed all the way in the final by Theo Bishop who went down fighting 3-1.
“It is brilliant to see young players coming through and pushing me and that is what I want really,” said Bayley. “I’ve been doing a lot of training with Theo this week because I know how good he can be and after most sessions I’ve been doing an extra hour with him so we know each other’s style so well now and understand each other’s game. He has so much potential so I hope this season he can really push on and try and qualify for Paris. I was playing a 14-year-old in the group today – Dan Mead – who has a lot of potential as well and I’ve had to work hard for every single match. I remember when I first started around 15 years ago we didn’t have that strength in depth but now even the development players are solid players so it has changed a lot for the better and it will push everyone’s level up. Even the top players have to be right on their game from the start.”
Ross Wilson, Aaron McKibbin and Billy Shilton are all ranked in the top 10 in the world in class 8 and it was Wilson who came through to take the title, beating Shilton 3-0 in the final having earlier won their group encounter in five sets.
“It is obviously good to win and it’s always an honour to play this competition,” said Wilson. “You can see it is getting stronger - with the development of the Pathway squad it is really nice to see all of the young players progressing and improving. I’m really happy to win and it was a tough one today especially against Billy in that first match in the group - it was a tough old game and I had to pull through. I don’t think getting stuck in the lift was a great preparation for the final but luckily it all went well. It would mean the world to win the open title again tomorrow and I’ll do my very best and see what happens.”
Joshua Stacey swept the board at the last National Championships and he retained his title in class 9 which was reduced to a five-man round-robin competition following the withdrawal of Ashley Facey due to injury.
Kim Daybell retired from table tennis last year to focus on his medical career but he proved the old adage ‘class is permanent’ by retaining his class 10 title, beating Jack Stockdale in the final.
“It’s really nice to be back playing,” said Daybell. “I didn’t come here with any expectations to win - obviously my level is still quite high and I’m still ranked number one in class 10 - but I mainly wanted to come and see everyone. I’ve really missed that competition element and the tournament side of things and just fighting for something. As international players we forget what an honour it is to win the nationals. I can’t remember how many times it has been now, but it is a real honour to be national champion again. (Could this be the start of a comeback?) We’ll take it one step at a time but maybe one day you’ll see me back playing again.”
In the doubles events Aaron McKibbin and Billy Shilton defeated Joshua Stacey and Martin Perry in the final to win the Open Standing title while Jack Hunter-Spivey and Megan Shackleton beat Andrew Green and Romain Simon to take the Open Wheelchair title.
Joseph Fortnum-Adams won the Junior title after beating Max Flint in the final 3-1.