Bayley and Twomey take singles gold in Slovenia

Bayley and Twomey take singles gold in Slovenia

World number one Will Bayley and 14-year-old Bly Twomey won gold in the men’s class 7 and women’s class 7 singles respectively at the ITTF Slovenia Para Open in Lasko today. Tom Matthews took silver in men’s class 1 and there were bronze medals for Martin Perry (men’s class 6) and Billy Shilton (men’s class 8) to add to the bronze won yesterday by Megan Shackleton (women’s class 4).

Women’s class 7

Bly Twomey lost to Kubra Korkut in three close sets when she played the World number two at the European Championships last year and in today’s semi-final she showed, not just the improvement she has made since then but also her character and fighting spirit by coming back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 and then saving two match points before clinching the deciding set 14-12 to beat the World and European champion from Turkey 3-2.

That took her through to the final against World number eight Smilla Sand from Sweden. The pair last met in the final of the Italian Open in March when Twomey won in five sets and today she was always in command in a 3-0 win (11-7 11-6 11-1) to take her third gold medal of the season.

“I can’t remember much about what I was thinking at 2-0 down in the semi-final,” said Twomey, “but when I’m on the table I think that if I just keep going I’ll have a chance to win. You don’t give up until the last point is done. I just had to get used to the long pimples she was using and get used to her style and in the last three sets I played better. I’ve had a few matches recently that have gone to deuce in the fifth set, and I just had to hold my nerve. It was hard to come back a couple of hours later and play the final as I had to change tactics, so it was challenging but I think beating Kubra gave me confidence and I’m happy I won 3-0.

“I feel that I’m improving so much just by playing everyone and finding out where I am in the rankings. When I found table tennis I didn’t think I’d be representing my country or at 14 I would qualify for the Paralympics so I’m really proud that I’m representing my country and proud to have won three gold medals.”

Men’s class 7

In his semi-final Will Bayley recovered from losing the first set against the improving Jonas Hansson to beat the World number 10 from Sweden, gold medallist in the Costa Brava Spanish Open in March, 3-1. His opponent in the final was two-time European team bronze medallist Michal Deigsler who had never taken a set against Bayley in four previous meetings. After losing the first 11-6 the World number 12 from Poland fought back from 7-3 down in the second to lead 8-7 and Bayley had to work hard to take the set 12-10 before taking the third 11-4 for a 3-0 win.

“I would have been really disappointed to lose that second set,” said Bayley. “I felt like I was in a really nice rhythm and playing well and I kind of relaxed which sometimes happens when you are almost playing too well. You take your foot off the gas and you can’t do that at this level because you’re suddenly in a dog fight when you think you’re comfortable. Fair play to him he stuck in there when I lost my focus, and he nearly nicked that second set. So, I was lucky I got away with that and then that took the pressure off me and I played really well in the third set.

“It’s tough because when players play me now they have a bit of a free shot at me. I feel that both of the players today relaxed when they played me because they feel like they’ve got nothing to lose, and I’ve done that in the past when I used to play someone like (Alvaro) Valera at his best. It is a difficult position to be in, but I also enjoy the pressure and I like being the player to beat. I feel that I’ve coped with it well out here because it is tough with young players coming through and it doesn’t get any easier, but I just seem to be able to find a way to win which is good.

“I’m so happy to win gold here again. It is one of my favourite events – Gorazd (BPTT Performance Director Gorazd Vecko) is Slovenian, and it is like a home tournament for us - we’ve been playing this tournament for so long and we train here so I feel really comfortable here. It’s been an up and down few days for the team, so it is nice to get gold medals at the end of the day for everyone.”

Men’s class 1

Tom Matthews and Joo Young Dae last met in the World Championships in 2022 when the Korean World number one won 13-11 in the fifth set but today it was the Welshman who had his revenge with a superb performance in the semi-final to beat the Paralympic champion and World silver medallist 3-0.

In the final he faced another Korean in World number two Kim Hyeon Uk who took the first set 11-8 but Matthews came back to take the next two 11-5 11-6. The Paralympic silver medallist and former World champion took the fourth 11-7 to level at 2-2 and just had the edge in the deciding set to take it 11-7 for a 3-2 win.

“I was very pleased with the performance in the semi-final,” said Matthews, “and especially to win 3-0 because he is Paralympic champion and World number one and a really good player. I kept it simple - my coach (Neil Robinson) and I had a tactic going in and it paid off well. I’ve had a bit of a road to the final beating the World number three and World number one and then playing the World number two. He played an amazing game and we had a good battle. The best man won at the end of the day so credit to him.”

Matthews took bronze in Tokyo and will be hoping to book his place in Paris at the World Paralympic Qualification Tournament in Thailand later this month.

“This will give me massive confidence going forward as I know I can beat anybody,” he said. “I think it is mostly down to my mentality - I’ve worked a lot with the psych Andy (BPTT psychologist Andy Hill) at this tournament and from the first game when I was a bit erratic I’ve managed to calm myself down and we’ve now got a strategy going forward which is going to help me massively so a big thank you to him and to my team.

“Obviously I wanted the gold but now my friends can stop calling me ‘Tom Bronze’ because I got silver so next time hopefully it’s a gold. On to the doubles events now with Rob (Davies) – we’re playing together for the first time since the Europeans in 2015 so we’re bringing the European champions out to play again, and anything can happen.”

Men’s class 6

Martin Perry produced a great comeback in his quarterfinal against World number 13 Matias Pino Lorca. From 2-0 down he levelled at 2-2 and then saved four match points at 10-6 down in the fifth before taking it 13-11 to beat the Para PanAmerican bronze medallist from Chile 3-2.

In the semi-final against the World and European champion Matteo Parenzan he lost a tight first set 13-11 and although he took the second 11-6 to level at 1-1 the 20-year-old World number two from Italy, who lost to Perry earlier this season, came back to take the third 11-7 and secured a 3-1 win, 11-8 in the fourth.

“There were a couple of sets where I got off to a slow start but overall, I’m very happy with how I’ve played,” said Perry, who celebrated his 30th birthday yesterday. “I made Parenzan play to a standard that shows why he is current World and European champion. I felt a bit unfortunate not to win the first set because I won the next quite comfortably so if that goes my way and I’m 2-0 up it could have been a different story. It’s frustrating after being completely down and out in the previous round and digging deep to get over the line to get to the semi-final but to medal at Slovenia any year is good and especially in Paralympic year. Hopefully I’ve shown I can play, and I’ve got a good summer ahead of me.”

Men’s class 8

Billy Shilton produced a great performance in the quarterfinal to beat World number six Emil Andersson, who led their head-to-head 6-1. Shilton took the first set 11-7 and the former World and Paralympic medallist from Sweden edged the second 13-11 to level before Shilton took a tight third set 12-10. Andersson saved one match point in the fourth and had a set point at 11-10 but a service error handed the set to Shilton 13-11 and the match 3-1.

Shilton had won his last two meetings with World number seven Clement Berthier in five sets and today it was the Frenchman who came out on top in their semi-final with a 3-1 win.

“He played really well,” said Shilton, “so credit to him but to be honest tactically I was quite poor. I think I tried to do the same things that I did against him in the Europeans but it was a completely different match so I’m a bit disappointed with how I was tactically there, but I think my level has been really good all tournament and in a couple of days when hopefully I’m over this loss I’ll be happy with how the tournament has gone. This is the first time I’ve won a medal here so that is a good thing and I’ve beaten three players I’ve lost to previously so I’m happy with my performance in general and happy to take a bronze.”

The tournament continues with the doubles events that conclude on Saturday.