Rio 2016 Paralympic champion Will Bayley will bid to win his third consecutive singles tournament this season in the Finland Para Open which starts on Friday (September 9-11). The 34-year-old heads a squad of 12 British athletes which also includes men’s class 1 Rio Paralympic champion Rob Davies and Paul Karabardak, who won team silver with Bayley in Tokyo and men’s class 6 singles bronze.
After two years out of competition due to injury and the pandemic Bayley made a brave bid to defend his men’s class 7 singles Paralympic title in Tokyo last year, losing in the final to Chinese World number one Yan Shuo, but he has not lost a singles match since in taking gold in Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
“I’m really happy with what I’ve done so far this season,” said Bayley. “I think my confidence more than anything has picked up with the results that I’ve had and I’m close to achieving one of my goals which is to get back to World number one. I’m really focused on that at the moment and it is motivating me to practice and make sure I keep improving. It will be a strong tournament in Finland and I want the competition – it is good to play different styles before the World Championships and it will be a good test for me to see where I am at and what I need to work on going forward. I really want to do well because World number one does mean a lot to me and I’m in touching distance so I want to try and get over the line and win these matches if I can.”
Bayley will also team up again with Karabardak for the first time since Tokyo in the men’s class 14 doubles. The pair were on opposing teams in the Czech Republic, Karabardak winning gold with Billy Shilton after they defeated Bayley and Martin Perry in the semi-finals.
“It was hard to play against Paul in Czech,” admitted Bayley. “We’ve played together for so many years and although we played against each other in singles when Paul was class 7 it is always difficult to play someone you’ve roomed with for so many years and know so well. It is going to be special to play doubles together again because you never know how many times you’ll get to play together so we’ve got to make the most of it. I’m going to try and really enjoy it in Finland and hopefully we can get good results if we do that.”
Karabardak won his first Paralympic medals last year in his fourth Paralympic Games and his renewed confidence has seen him take gold in the men’s class 6 singles at the Copa Tango in Argentina in July.
“My confidence is slowly building towards the World Championships,” said the Swansea FC fan who has spent the last week training in Brighton with Bayley. “To win in Argentina was good because I believed I could win and I think on another day I wouldn’t have won that final. Training has been really good and I’m enjoying it and improving. I’ve had a good block of training so I’m in a good place going into Finland. I’m really looking forward to playing with Will. I always enjoy it and we have a great relationship and a history of playing well together so hopefully we can get some good results.”
Fellow Welshman Davies was unable to defend his Paralympic title in Tokyo due to injury and having returned to competition in Costa Rica last December for the first time since winning his fourth consecutive European title in September 2019 is still working his way back to his best form and fitness. He will be hoping for some valuable match practice in preparation for the World Championships in November and faces tough competition from the Koreans Park Sung Joo, gold medallist in the Thailand Open in July, and Kim Hakjin, silver medallist in both the Czech Open and French Open this year.
The squad is completed by Confirmation athlete Grace Williams, who gained valuable experience representing Wales in the Commonwealth Games, and eight athletes from the Pathway squad. These include teenagers Shae Thakker, men’s class 10 gold medallist at the European Universities Games, and Joe Crouse, men’s class 9 silver medallist at the European Para Youth Games, and former National Hunt jockey Jacob Pritchard-Webb who will be making his international debut together with Londoner Romain Simon.
The full British squad competing in Finland is:
Will Bayley, 34 – Tunbridge Wells/Brighton (class 7)
Lucie Bouron, 27 – Bracknell (class 3)
Theo Bishop, 19 – Rossendale (class 7)
Alex Bland, 23 – Rotherham (class 7)
Joe Crouse, 19 – Truro (class 9)
Rob Davies, 38 – Brecon (class 1)
Andrew Guy, 37 – Bovey Tracey (class 2)
Paul Karabardak, 36 – Swansea (class 6)
Jacob Pritchard-Webb, 25 – Brecon Beacons/Earl Shilton (class TBC)
Romain Simon, 33 – London (South Woodford) (class TBC)
Shae Thakker, 19 – Denham/Sheffield (class 10)
Grace Williams, 19 – Wrexham/Sheffield (class 8)