After the first day of the doubles events at the ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships in Sheffield the British team is assured of at least three medals when the tournament concludes tomorrow. World champions Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams (women’s class 14), Aaron McKibbin and Martin Perry (men’s class 14) and Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey (men’s class 18) are all through to the semi-finals while Jack Hunter-Spivey and Megan Shackleton (mixed class 10) can also take a medal if they win their final round-robin match.
Women’s class 14
Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams started with a 3-0 win against Jenny Slettum and Nora Korneliussen from Norway and followed that with a 3-1 win against the top seeds in the group Lucie Hautiere and Morgen Caillaud from France. They play their final group match tomorrow against Smilla Sand and Cajsa Stadler from Sweden but are already assured of a semi-final place.
“It’s really difficult to come from any high and come back down,” said Williams, “especially considering I didn’t expect to win a medal in the singles or even get through the group so it was great that we had an evening to have that high before the doubles. We said, ‘well that’s done, and we’ll celebrate on Saturday when the competition is finished, now we’ve got to focus on the doubles’. It was difficult but having Fliss as my anchor helped a lot – she knew what I needed in that match and in the match this morning to help me get back down to earth.”
Men’s class 14
Martin Perry and Aaron McKibbin had to show all their character and determination to come through their quarterfinal against Jonas Hansson and Sam Gustafsson. The Swedish pair raced through the first set 11-3 but Perry and McKibbin responded by taking the second 11-6. Hansson and Gustafsson moved ahead again 2-1 and when the British pair levelled at 2-2 the match went to a deciding set. Perry and McKibbin levelled at 5-5 and led 10-7 but lost the next two points before securing the set 11-9 and the match 3-2.
“To be honest I felt very confident going into the game,” said McKibbin. “Martin has had such a good singles and I feel that his level is there and he gives me a lot of confidence. I didn’t feel under pressure to dominate the game for us. I felt it was 50/50 - he could take control at times, and I could take control at times, and I think that helped. I think we found one side was a lot better for us than the other and when we were up in the fourth set we thought if we can win this set and keep the fifth tight until we swap ends, we’re going to be in cruise control and it worked out in the end.”
“We had a set game plan and we just knew we had to execute that,” said Perry. “We felt like we were doing the right things and between those points where we made a couple of mistakes we said, ‘that’s the right way to play and that’s the way we’re going to finish this match off’ and it worked really well. We got a bye because of our seeding and to start later in a tournament is difficult as they came in having a match already and I think that may have played into their hands a bit as we didn’t get out of the blocks as quickly as we would have wanted. But the chemistry between us is so good that we 100% believe in each other and once we get going and start to click we support each other and bounce off each other really well and it was great.”
World champions Billy Shilton and Paul Karabardak also had a bye into the quarterfinals and although they started well against Henrik Brammer and class 7 World number one Peter Rosenmeier, taking the first set 11-3, the Danish pair levelled at 1-1 and then edged a tight third set 12-10. That gave them the momentum and although Shilton and Karabardak fought hard and saved two match points they could not save the third and Brammer and Rosenmeier took the match 3-1.
“It wasn’t easy going straight into a quarterfinal against a team that had already played a match, but the Danish pair played really well,” said a disappointed Shilton. “They had a good tactic against us, and we struggled to change it.”
Men’s class 18
Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey looked sharp in winning their opening match against Mio Wagner and Henrik Meyer from Germany 3-0 and they made a great start in their quarterfinal, winning the first set 11-4 against the class 8 pair of World number one Viktor Didukh and World number six Maksym Nikolenko. The Ukrainian pair edged the second 12-10 but the British pair moved ahead 2-1 by taking the third 11-9. They went 4-1 down in the fourth but then came storming back to take the set 11-6 and the match 3-1.
“I think in the second set I made a few mistakes,” said Wilson, “which got them back in the game which I was a bit annoyed with. I think in that third set we became a bit more clinical and then going into the fourth set we started a little bit slow but then as the game went on we just became more clinical again and we really cemented the win by finishing it off the way we did.”
“Even to go 4-1 down in the fourth I don’t think we did much wrong,” said Stacey, “other than pretty basic mistakes but I think the way in which we set the points up was correct - it was just the finishing product. Me and Ross didn’t change from what we had planned out from the start, and I think we were just a bit too much for them and they couldn’t cope with us today. I wouldn’t put a limit on how much we can improve – obviously tomorrow is a big game and we’re really looking forward to it.”
Will Bayley and Ashley Facey made a great start in their last 16 match against class 10 World number Igor Misztal and Maksym Chudzicki from Poland, taking the first set 11-5, but the Polish pair came back strongly to win 3-1.
Men’s class 4
Tom Matthews and Romain Simon showed that they have the potential to be a successful partnership despite losing in the quarterfinal to Julien Michaud and class 2 World and Paralympic champion Fabien Lamirault. The French pair are an established doubles team, and they took the first set 11-5 but Matthews and Simon edged the second 15-13 and then levelled again at 2-2. The experience of Michaud and Lamirault proved decisive in the deciding set and they took it 11-6 for a 3-2 win.
Mixed class 10
Jack Hunter-Spivey and Megan Shackleton played well in their first round-robin match but were beaten 3-1 by the World bronze medallists Mitar Palikuca and Nada Matic from Serbia. They were 10-7 down in the first set against Ali Ozturk and Irem Oluk from Turkey but fought back to edge it 12-10 and then came back from 4-1 down to win the second 11-8. Ozturk and Oluk took the third, but Hunter-Spivey and Shackleton kept producing the shots when it mattered, and they took the fourth set 11-9 for a 3-1 win. That kept their hopes of a medal alive, and they play their final match tomorrow against Shmuel Ben Asor and Caroline Tabib from Israel.
“I think it was massive to win the first set,” said Hunter-Spivey. “Coming back battling is what we’ve built this team on and never giving up. Meg was really solid today, the best I’ve ever seen her play and I’m very proud of her performance.”
“I think because we’re such good friends off the table,” said Shackleton, “we have a great understanding of each other professionally and how to get the best out of each other and I think we showed that today because the pressure was on, and I think we both pulled out some good stuff so we can be really proud.”
Mixed class 14
Billy Shilton and Fliss Pickard had to work hard in their last 16 match against Alyn Nikolae and Camelia Ciripan from Romania. After dropping the first set they took the next two and led 9-5 in the fourth but the Romanian pair took the next six points to level at 2-2. Shilton and Pickard moved to 10-3 in the deciding set and took it 11-6 to secure a 3-2 win. In the quarterfinals they took on Viktor Didukh and women’s class 6 World number one Maryna Lytovchenko and the Ukrainian pair were too strong in a 3-0 win.
In their first tournament together Will Bayley and Bly Twomey were beaten 3-0 by the very experienced French pair of Clement Berthier and Morgen Caillaud but their doubles partnership is in its infancy, and they can certainly be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Mixed class 17
Ashley Facey and Grace Williams are a new partnership for the British team and after losing a close first set against Juan Perez Gonzalez and Olaia Martinez from Spain 11-9 they fought back from 10-8 down to take the second 12-10. At 7-7 in the third the match was finely poised but the Spanish pair won the next four points to take it 11-7 and ran away with the fourth 11-3 to win the match 3-1 and progress to the quarterfinals.