At the end of day two at the ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships in Sheffield the British team is assured of at least three singles medals with a further 11 players through to the knockout stages of their respective events. In men’s class 1 four-time champion Rob Davies and fellow Welshman Tom Matthews are both through to the semi-finals while 13-year-old Bly Twomey is through to the semi-finals of women’s class 7 and will take at least a bronze medal in her first major championship.
Men’s class 1
Rob Davies has had some great battles in the past with Endre Major including the last European final in 2019 that the Welshman won 3-1. The Hungarian World number eight levelled at 1-1 after Davies had won the first set and at 2-1 down led 8-4 in the fourth but Davies reeled off the next seven points to take the set 11-8 and the match 3-1. As group winner and number one seed he receives a bye into the semi-finals tomorrow.
“Really happy to come through that match,” said Davies. “It was like a game of chess - I had some good serves that he wasn’t liking and vice versa I guess so it was a bit of a change of pace compared to yesterday’s match, but I enjoyed it and to come from 8-4 down and win that last game was good. Hopefully that confidence is coming back a bit and knowing what to do to keep myself calm in those situations. I’m reasonably happy with the way I’m playing; I didn’t show it so much today, but I think that was probably because of the way he plays which doesn’t suit me that well but I’m enjoying it – I love the hall here and the facilities we’ve got so it’s all good. I’ve just got to keep going one ball, one game and one match at a time.”
Tom Matthews played a great match to beat the World number 11 Timo Natunen from Finland 3-0 and then secured top place in the group and a bye into the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against Adam Urlauber from Hungary.
“I’m really happy and playing some good stuff out there,” said Matthews. “In the last match I wasn’t feeling 100% but that aside I’m feeling good. The hall is lovely, conditions are awesome and the crowd is even better. I was very pleased with the way I played against Timo. Fair play to our video analyst Emma – she got out some videos of his matches last night and we did some analysis and that helped a lot. Timo is a very dangerous player and I respect him massively so it was nice to beat him 3-0 and to not lose a set yet – hopefully I can keep it going.”
Men’s class 2
Playing in only his fourth tournament and his first major championship Chris Ryan showed his huge potential again in his second group match against Oleksandr Yezyk. He won the first set and led 10-8 in the second before the former European and World team medallist from Ukraine used all his experience to edge the set 14-12 and went on to take the match 3-1.
“That second set was vital,” admitted Ryan. “I’ve obviously got to look back at the video and see where I went wrong - if it was a wrong tactic or I just didn’t execute it properly as I can’t 100% remember those points now. I feel that I could have won both my games this week and maybe I need to get over that hurdle – the second set in both games has been critical so it is gutting at the moment. In a couple of days or maybe a couple of hours I’ll be looking at the positives. I know I’ve only been playing a short amount of time, but I could have won that match and it is just frustrating. I wasn’t going to win the tournament this week, but I could have got through the group – against players ranked 10 and 17 in the world – so that is a positive. Just a bit of experience, knowhow and a bit more table time and I can beat those guys.”
Men’s class 3
Fellow Pathway athlete Romain Simon did not progress to the knockout stages after losing in three close sets to the Polish World number 10 Maciej Nalepka but he had chances to win both the second and third sets and having pushed two top 10 players hard and secured one win in the group he can be proud of his singles performance in his first major championship.
“Overall, I’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” said Simon, “and although it’s disappointing to lose today I’ve pushed him which is good. Before the tournament I said to myself ‘don’t focus on the results, just focus on playing well and trying to do the best you can’ and I managed to get one win. I’ve pushed them and made them work for it and that is all I can ask from myself in my first major tournament so I’m proud of myself. To know that these guys are top 10 level and I’m pushing them does mean that in my head I can reach that level at some point and it gives me a lot of confidence. I’ve been training as much as I could before this tournament, and this has shown me that the more you put in the more you get out.”
Men’s class 5
Jack Hunter-Spivey had a tough first match against World number five Mitar Palikuca and although he had his chances in all three sets the European silver medallist and former World and Paralympic medallist from Serbia secured a 3-0 win. After fighting back to edge a tight first set 13-11 he beat Sem Roelofs from Netherlands 3-0 to secure his place in the quarterfinals.
“I’m really proud of myself,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I feel that I played OK this morning and didn’t get the result, but it felt like it was closer than it looked on paper. I dusted myself off with the help of the team – Andy the psychologist and ‘Rushy’ the coach have been great just to get me back into that mindset. My girlfriend Lucy has been amazing – just to have that whole support network around me - and luckily enough I managed to regroup and play some good table tennis and I’m through to the next round. I really feel we’ve got that home advantage and I’m just really enjoying it. I’ve got to realise that it’s not life and death - I’m really enjoying my table tennis at the moment and looking forward to the next round.”
Men’s class 6
After beating the World number seven Bobi Simion yesterday Martin Perry secured top place in his group with a 3-0 win against 19-year-old Aaro Makela from Finland and receives a bye into the quarterfinals.
“To have beaten Bobi is always good,” said Perry. “He’s been a top ranked player for a long time, but his style of game really suits me, and I go into those matches truly believing that I can win. I felt really strong out there particularly in the third set to win it 11-2. It was one of those moments where everything clicked, and I felt I couldn’t miss the table. I knew I still had a job to do this morning against a Finish player I’ve never seen before, and I felt I put in a professional performance and got the win 3-0 so I was proud of both my performances but there is still a lot more to be done. I’m really looking forward to the quarterfinals and it would be amazing to get through to the medal matches especially in front of a home crowd. The support is incredible and I’m a high energy player, so I feed off it and I love being a part of it. If I have that support all the way through I believe I can do some incredible things.”
Men’s class 7
After a narrow defeat yesterday Pathway athlete Theo Bishop put up a great performance to beat Luka Trtnik from Slovenia 3-0 and go through to the last 16.
“Physically it felt that I was playing well but mentally it probably wasn’t as comfortable as the scoreline might have suggested,” he admitted. “It was all on that match – winning it I go through as top of the group and if I’d lost I wouldn’t have gone through at all so I was really nervous going in and all the way through, even at 10-3 up in the third. Last time I played him I ended up losing in the deciding set, so it was really good, not just in terms of winning the match but in seeing the progression and all the hard work I’m putting in is paying off and I’m really proud to be through to the knockout stages at my first major. It’s a great experience playing in front of a home crowd - they are so vocal and get behind me and I’m vocal in matches, so I think we feed off each other and it’s a great feeling. I’m absolutely buzzing to be in the knockout stages and really excited to be playing tomorrow.”
Men’s class 8
Billy Shilton secured top place in his group with a 3-1 win against Robert Boroleanu but after dropping only six points in the first two sets he had to work hard in the end to come through 11-8 in the fourth after the Romanian had edged the third set 17-15.
“I think I needed that to be honest,” said Shilton. “I was 2-0 up and then at 2-1 I felt a bit of pressure when he was winning all the points and it was difficult. So, it was nice to be under a bit of pressure and come through and I think it is going to help me later on. I think I’m playing well. He had a really good tactic against me in that match - he was giving me all the balls at the start and I was moving on to the shots really well and then he changed things and I found it quite difficult so that is one thing I need to look at going into the next round but I’m really happy to have won the group. The support today and yesterday has been so good - it’s nice to have mum and dad and my two brothers here and it's nice for them to see me play.”
Men’s class 9
Joshua Stacey made it three wins from three matches in beating Jan Reinig but he had to work hard against the 25-year-old German before securing a 3-1 win and top place in his group.
“I’m pretty happy,” said Stacey. “I think in the first two sets I showed a bit more of what I can do rather than what he can do but credit to him he played the best he’s played this tournament and he pushed me so I’m glad to have got over the line and I can put it behind me and go on to the next match. Seeding wise I don’t care if I’m honest - I want to win the tournament and I have to beat whoever is put in front of me and whoever that is I’m quite confident in my ability to win. I’m excited to have got to the quarterfinal so I’ll prepare well for tomorrow and come out with a better performance than that.”
Ashley Facey went out after a 3-1 loss to Daniel Gustafsson from Sweden, the World number 10 and European bronze medallist, but Ross Wilson is through to the last 16 after the Spaniard Juan Perez Gonzalez defeated David Pulpan from Czechia in the final match today to win the group with Wilson progressing as runner-up.
Women’s class 4-5
Megan Shackleton put up a good performance to beat the former two-time European team gold medallist Andreja Dolinar from Slovenia 3-0 and then recovered from a slow start to beat Ingela Lundback, the class 5 World number seven and former three-time European champion and World silver medallist from Sweden 3-1.
“I think going into the matches today from yesterday I definitely had a bit of fire in my belly,” said Shackleton, “and I was ready to show how I can actually play. A little bit of a slow start this evening – maybe I was overthinking the tactics a little bit but when I break it down into simple things then I think that really works well for me and I found some good form in the end. For me it is definitely trying to prove to myself that I’m back at that level from being off for so long and I really wanted to make sure that I got through my group. I want to keep fighting and hopefully take away a singles medal – that’s the aim anyway.”
Women’s class 6
Fliss Pickard secured her place in the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win against Merethe Tveiten from Norway, edging a tight second set 13-11 which proved decisive.
“It was massive for me to win that second set,” said Pickard. “I’m struggling a bit with confidence at this tournament - something I’ve always tried to work on and hopefully I’ll improve but I feel that I’m always in a dog fight so to get through that second set was huge. I’ve got to beat everyone if I want to get to where I want to be which is the best in the world. Obviously, confidence is a challenge for me and to have everyone around me and the support I’ve had is amazing.”
Women’s class 7
Bly Twomey followed up her great win yesterday over the World number six Smilla Sand by beating 18-year-old Jenny Slettum from Norway. Once again, the 13-year-old showed great maturity and after a good timeout call from coach Matjaz Sercer at 9-9 in the third set she took the next two points to secure a 3-0 win. That win secured her place in the semi-finals and her final match against Kubra Korkut was to decide who would top the group. The World number two from Turkey is also the reigning World champion but Twomey pushed her all the way before losing the match 11-9, 12-10, 16-14.
“I’m learning so much about different styles,” said Twomey. “I didn’t think about playing the World champion I just see someone on the other side of the net. I played quite close sets with her, and I’m really pleased I did that and I think I could have got the third set but she was playing so well. If I win or lose it’s the taking part and the having fun that counts. If I didn’t play my best, there is nothing I can do about it. I think table tennis is amazing and if I didn’t have it I wouldn’t be myself. I didn’t think I was going to get out of my group, so I wasn’t expecting a medal in my first major tournament and I’m really pleased.”
In tomorrow’s semi-final Twomey will play the World number one and three-time Paralympic champion Kelly Van Zon from Netherlands.
“She is amazing,” said Twomey. “She is a very inspirational person to me so I’m excited to play her.”