After three gold medals in the singles British players dominated a very strong MS18 doubles class on the last day of the Costa Brava Spanish Para Open in Platja d’Aro with Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey defeating Aaron McKibbin and Billy Shilton in the final. Stacey also combined with Fliss Pickard to win bronze in the XS17 doubles and Pickard also took bronze in the WS14 doubles with Welsh teenager Grace Williams.
Men’s, women’s and mixed doubles events have now replaced team events in all international Para table tennis competitions, including the Paralympic Games. The category for pairs in doubles events is determined with a maximum number obtained by combining the class numbers of the two players.
Singles gold medallists in men’s class 8 and 9 respectively Wilson and Stacey came through their group with 3-0 wins against Edgar Mataro and Ricard Sabio Ruiz from Spain, Ma Lin and Nathan Pellissier from Australia and Luka Trtnik and Alen Becirevic from Slovenia. A 3-0 win in the quarterfinal against the experienced Hungarian pair of Gyula Zborai and Andras Csonka took them into the semi-final where, despite dropping the second set, they came safely through against Piotr Grudzien and Igor Misztal from Poland, 3-1.
McKibbin and Shilton progressed from group 4 after beating Jaime Jara Hernandez from Chile and Marco Makkar from USA 3-0, Zborai and Csonka 3-1 and the Spanish pair of Ander Cepas and Alejandro Diaz 3-1. They took on Ma and Pellissier in the quarterfinals and recovered from dropping the first set to win 3-1 and set up a semi-final against the French pair of Thomas Bouvais and the class 10 Paralympic silver medallist Mateo Boheas. The first two sets were very close with the British pair playing some great doubles on the key points to edge them 12-10 and 13-11 before running away with the third set 11-3.
In the final it was Wilson and Stacey who had the edge and they took the gold after a 3-0 win.
“It’s been a great competition playing with Josh and to get the win in our first competition together,” said Wilson. “I think we worked really well as a team and that showed in our results out here. Moving forward I think we will be able to improve and continue to get results like this. It was brilliant to have an all-British final against Aaron and Billy who also had a great competition.”
“Playing with Ross was a really good experience,” said Stacey, “and I think our games complement each other. I felt comfortable communicating with him and I think when the matches got tight that is what got us over the line. The final was a good game to play especially because it was all British and we knew it would be tough as we’d lost to Billy and Aaron every time we’d played them in training. I think we stepped up our level out here and it definitely showed in the final.”
“I think on the whole we had a great doubles tournament,” said Shilton. “Aaron and I generally play really well together so that gave me a lot of confidence going into the matches. Our performance against France was probably one of the best doubles matches we have played together. Bouvais and Boheas are both top players in their classes so I was really satisfied to win that match. It is always tough when you play against your teammates but all credit goes to Ross and Josh as they played a great match and I’m really happy that both GB teams were able to make it to the final.”
“I think the doubles was good,” agreed McKibbin. “We had a blinding performance against France in the semi-final and it is always a pleasure to play with Billy. I think we are a great team and have proven many times that we can mix it with the best.
This was played in a round-robin format and after a 3-0 loss to Zsofia Arloy from Hungary and Park Nam-Mi from Korea, Pickard and Williams put up a great performance to beat Sophia Kelmer from Brazil and Katarzyna Marszal from Poland 3-0. A 3-0 win against Ariadna Ardevol from Spain and Aline Meneses Ferreira from Brazil kept them in the race for gold but after a 3-1 loss to the top seeds from France Morgen Caillaud and Thu Kamkasomphou in their final match they had to settle for bronze.
Stacey and Pickard started with a 3-0 win against Mirko Bruschi from Italy and Aline Meneses Ferreira from Brazil but a 3-0 loss to Piotr Grudzien and Karolina Pek from Poland left them needing to beat Pablo Romero Parreno and Raquel Mateu from Spain in their final group match. A 3-0 win took them through to the quarterfinals where they faced another Spanish pair in Ander Cepas and Olaia Martinez. From 2-1 down they fought back to level at 2-2 and then saved two match points in the deciding set before clinching it 12-10 and the match 3-2. They could not quite repeat that performance in the semi-final and lost 3-0 to Gyula Zborai and Alexa Szvitacs from Hungary.
“To be honest I was really nervous about both doubles events,” admitted Pickard, “but I actually quite surprised myself. I think my partnership with Grace is getting stronger every time we play and we are starting to understand each other now and communicating better which is the key. Playing mixed with Josh was great – we are great friends off the table and the support he has given me has been amazing. It was a great win for us in the quarterfinals and to get a bronze is just a bonus. Overall I can take a lot of positives from the tournament. I know exactly what I need to work on and I am excited to get back to training.”
“Playing with Fliss this week was fantastic,” said Stacey. “Because of the friendship we have off the table I felt that we could relax and try and enjoy it as much as possible. I think it paid dividends in the quarterfinal after being down and just trusting each other to make the right decisions.”
Wilson and Williams came back from 2-1 down to beat Alejandro Diaz and Maialen Etxebeste from Spain 3-2 in their first match but were then beaten 3-0 by Gyula Zborai and Alexa Szvitacs from Hungary. They also progressed to the quarterfinals with a hard-fought 3-1 win against Lennard Properjohn and Melissa Tapper from Australia but went out after a 3-0 loss to another Australian pair in Nathan Pellissier and Paralympic champion Lei Li Na.
“This tournament was a great experience for me and a chance to develop as I was with experienced players,” said 18-year-old Williams. “Playing with Ross and Fliss in the doubles was a fantastic opportunity because I got to learn a lot about the game from a different perspective.”
Sue Bailey teamed up with Cristina Rubio from Spain and they did not progress from their group after losses to Giada Rossi and Michela Brunelli from Italy (3-0), Aino Tapola from Finland and Hatice Duman from Turkey (3-2) and the Italian/Korean pair of Carlotta Ragazzini and Kang Oejeong (3-0).
Bailey and Ireland’s Colin Judge started with a 3-1 win against Caleb Crowden and Amanda Tscharke from Australia but after a 3-1 loss to Primoz Kancler from Slovenia and Andela Muzinic from Croatia they needed to win their final match against Silva Fabio and Marliane Amaral Santos from Brazil. They fought hard and from 2-0 down came back to level at 2-2 but the Brazilian pair edged the final set 11-9 to go through to the knockout stages.