On the final day of the ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships in Sheffield the British team took four medals in the doubles events to bring their total medal tally to 12. Jack Hunter-Spivey and Megan Shackleton secured silver in mixed class 10 while 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) all took bronze.
Mixed class 10
Having beaten the strong Turkish pair of Ali Ozturk and Irem Oluk yesterday Jack Hunter-Spivey and Megan Shackleton produced a great performance today to win their final match in the round-robin tournament against Shmuel Ben Asor and Caroline Tabib from Israel 3-0. After a nervous wait for the result of the match between Serbia and Turkey it was confirmed that the British pair had won the silver medal.
“I’m really pleased with the way we played today,” said Hunter-Spivey. “On paper we should have won the match, but they are a dangerous team and we can’t take anyone for granted – there are no easy matches in a major championship. I’m really proud of the way Meg has played - she’s been a credit not just to me but to the whole squad as well. She should be very proud of her performance this week - she’s done really well.”
“I always enjoy playing with Jack and I think he manages to get the best out of me,” said Shackleton. “Coming back from a heart-breaking loss in the singles it’s nice to take a medal in the doubles and it’s something we can build on for the future as well so it’s an exciting day all round. It was tough losing 3-2 in the singles, but I think we showed we are a fighting team and I’ll be back and hopefully next time it will be 3-2 to me. I’m proud of myself – it’s my first major after Tokyo and obviously having a tough year I think I’ve shown myself that I can get stuck in when the moments are difficult, and I think that is something that will follow me through for the rest of my career.”
It was a second medal for Hunter-Spivey after he also took silver in the men’s class 5 singles.
“I don’t think it has really sunk in,” he said. “If you had told me last week that I would come away with two silvers I wouldn’t have believed you so I’m just really proud of my performance in the singles and proud that we managed to bring home a medal in the doubles as well. To beat Ozturk after losing to him in every major and winning against Tommy (Urhaug) again I know it is not a fluke and I can play the best level when it matters. I’m just very proud of myself for this week and it’s a credit to the team and everyone we have been around as well.”
Women’s class 14
Despite winning the World title last year Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams came into this tournament having struggled to produce that form this season. Having won their final group match against Smilla Sand and Cajsa Stadler from Sweden to finish top of their group they went through to the semi-finals to face the Norwegian pair of women’s class 8 World number three Aida Dahlen and Merethe Tveiten. Pickard and Williams started well and led 1-0 but Dahlen and Tveiten edged a close second set 13-11 and levelled again at 2-2 after the British pair had won the third 11-7. At 5-2 down in the deciding set GB coach Shaun Marples called a timeout and Pickard and Williams reduced the deficit to 5-6 but a timeout for Norway got them back on track and with Dahlen taking every opportunity to finish the point with a forehand winner they went on to take the set 11-7 and the match 3-2.
“I think that second set was huge,” said Pickard, “but I thought we played really well. They are a really strong team especially with Aida being world number three in class 8 – she’s a very good player but I thought we fought until the end and worked really hard together.”
“It sounds crazy because we went to the Worlds last year thinking we were just going to have fun and now we’ve got two major medals,” said Williams. “I love playing with Fliss and after a not great start to the season the fact that we’ve finished on a high with a medal in a major is nice.”
Williams has been a revelation in this tournament in taking silver in the women’s class 8 singles – losing to Dahlen - as well as bronze in the doubles.
“It hurt after the (singles) final because you get there and you think you can do it,” she said, “and hats off to Aida - she’s a really good player and much more experienced than I am. Reflecting on that, I didn’t expect to get a medal so the fact that I got a silver and I’ve now got a bronze with Fliss makes this such an amazing tournament for me and I’m so proud of myself and so proud of what me and Fliss have done.”
Pickard came into the tournament struggling for confidence but has once again shown what a tough competitor she is.
“On day two I’d have bitten your hand off if you’d said I’d get two major medals,” she said. “Grace has had an amazing tournament - she really carried me through the doubles and brought that positive energy. At the end of the day, I’ve overcome hurdles I didn’t expect to and I think I can be proud of what I’ve achieved. Obviously, there is always more and I’m going to go away and work even harder and work even smarter. I think that is the biggest learning for me from this tournament and I’m excited to get back in that hall – after a rest – and bring some surprises for Paris hopefully.”
Men’s class 14
Aaron McKibbin and Martin Perry took on the number one ranked team in the world in Clement Berthier and Esteban Herrault and the French pair edged the first set 13-11 after McKibbin and Perry had fought back from 10-7 down. The British pair took the second 11-6 and led 9-5 in the third but a time out call from the French coach worked and Berthier and Herrault took the set 12-10 to lead 2-1. McKibbin and Perry drew level again at 2-2 but from 5-5 in the fifth the French pair just had the edge, and they took it 11-8 and the match 3-2.
“The third set was very crucial,” said McKibbin. “We were leading comfortably, and I don’t think we did too much wrong from 9-5. It wasn’t that we started playing different balls, we just made a few unforced errors we weren’t making at the beginning. We stuck to the same game plan for the rest of the match, and it was touch and go. They are the number one pair in the world, and I feel for large parts of the game we were the stronger team, but I think I was making a few unforced errors I wouldn’t expect myself to make, and Martin missed a few chances that he was making at the beginning but that’s part of sport. It’s a strong position we’re in going forwards and if that is one of the strongest teams in the world going into Paris, I fancy our chances.”
“I think we’ve both got a great mentality on the table, and we never give up,” said Perry. “As Aaron said that third set was crucial, and it was just incredibly frustrating. I feel like we played the right balls and had the right game plan - it just didn’t pay off today so it’s a bit of a sore one.”
Having taken bronze in the men’s class 6 singles Perry can reflect on a very successful tournament.
“I’m incredibly proud of myself in the singles and of myself and Aaron in the doubles,” he said. “To get two major medals from the same competition is incredible especially off the back of the World championships but it fills me with a lot of pride going forward and hopefully we can finish off the season strong in terms of qualifying for Paris.”
For McKibbin, a doubles medal was some consolation after a disappointing quarterfinal loss in the singles.
“The singles wasn’t my finest,” he said. “I felt amazing going into the tournament - the preparation has been incredible, and all the team have helped us so much to be ready so that’s on me – I just didn’t bring it on the day. It was tough to reset going into the doubles but I’m very happy to get a major medal again and maybe having a bad major leading into Paris could be a good thing for me. It gives me that reminder that I need to keep working and it’s fine margins. I’m going to be as ready as I can for Paris, and I want to win two medals there.”
Men’s class 18
After an impressive win yesterday against Ukraine Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey faced the formidable Polish team of class 10 World number one Patryk Chojnowski and class 8 World number four Piotr Grudzien, who made a flying start to take the first set 11-4. Wilson and Stacey came back to take the second 11-7 and level at 1-1 but from that point Chojnowski and Grudzien took control and went on to take the match 3-1.
“I think to be fair Chojnowski’s quality was very good, and he put us under pressure a lot,” said Stacey. “I don’t think we ever found any kind of rhythm and they were definitely more solid in all parts.”
“We said after the last game that we played some great stuff, and we really found our form,” said Wilson. “Today they are such good players and they maybe put us under a different kind of pressure but with practice that will come. It is a pleasure playing with Josh and I think we will do some damage in the future.”
After a difficult week in which he was moved up into class 9 on the eve of the tournament Wilson has once again shown the ability to cope with adversity, playing a great match in defeat to the World number one Laurens Devos in the quarterfinals of the singles and taking a medal in the doubles.
“I’m extremely proud of how the tournament has gone,” he said. “It has been a tough week, but I guess I pride myself on resilience and I think I’ve had to show that quite a lot this week. I’d also like to say a big thank you to my family and friends who have helped me through it.”
For Stacey, who had a disappointing singles competition after a silver medal in the World Championships last year, taking a medal in the doubles did not make up for his disappointment but the young Welshman is determined to come back stronger.
“I won’t personally take any positives from this week,” he said, “but that’s just how I am. It’ll definitely be motivation for me going into the winter months.”