The Para classes at the Mark Bates Ltd Senior National Championships in Nottingham produced two high quality finals with Liverpool’s Jack Hunter-Spivey beating Simon Heaps to take the class 2-5 title and 28-year-old Londoner Ashley Facey fighting back from 2-0 down to beat World doubles champion Billy Shilton in class 6-10.
There were also two Para doubles showcase matches which produced great entertainment for the crowd. In class 2-5 Jack Hunter-Spivey and Megan Shackleton saved five match points before beating Simon Heaps and Lee York 15-13 in the fifth set while in class 6-10 Ross Wilson and Billy Shilton combined to beat Aaron McKibbin and Ashley Facey 3-1.
The inclusion of Para classes at these championships provides an opportunity, not only to promote Para table tennis but also for some of the less experienced Pathway athletes to compete on the big stage and gain valuable match practice against the elite Performance players.
Unsurprisingly it was the two class 5 players who came through as group winners to contest the final. Hunter-Spivey won 3-0 against class 2 Chris Ryan and class 4 Lee York while Heaps beat class 3 Andrew Green 3-0 and then came through in three close sets against class 4 Paralympic medallist Megan Shackleton.
Hunter-Spivey beat Heaps in last year’s Greek Para Open on the only occasion that the pair had met in international competition and the Commonwealth champion and Paralympic bronze medallist just had the edge over his 67-year-old opponent, using all his experience and clinching the title on his fifth match point with a tetraloop, more commonly used in class 1 and 2, where the ball bounces on the opponent’s side of the net before spinning back out of reach.
“It is great to play in front of a home crowd again,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I really enjoy the big matches - it is what I train so hard for, so I’ve really enjoyed it. Winning the English title is always a great feeling and it is good that we have such strength in depth in the wheelchair classes. The standard is getting higher and higher and I’m getting pushed all the time. If you look at the Pathway squad now there is a lot of talent coming through in every class.
“The tetraloop is something I’ve bought into my game over the last few years. I’m finding my way with it and it seems to be working quite well for me. It is quite unique to my class - I’m the only person in the world in my class who does it as much as I do, and I think it is just a great part of my game and stops opponents doing things that I don’t necessarily like them to do.”
Heaps, a former England Junior international and European Cadet champion who has lost both his legs to diabetes, was generous in defeat.
“The things that Jack can do with a ball the rest of us can only dream about,” he said, “he’s a top man. If you take away the 53 years since I was European champion it means nothing because being in a wheelchair is a completely different ball game. I’m still learning every single time I play - trying to move my chair and not be caught out. Tactically in wheelchair table tennis it so important and there is no one better than Jack. I don’t feel my age at all - it actually spurs me on when I’m playing people 40 years younger than me and I enjoy it. After losing both my legs something like this has just been fantastic for me and I just love the sport.”
After a 3-0 win against class 10 teenager Max Flint, class 8 Shilton secured his place in the final with a 3-0 win against class 8 World bronze medallist Aaron McKibbin. Facey looked sharp after his return to international competition in Italy last week and after beating fellow class 9 athlete Joe Crouse 3-0 he was a 3-0 winner against Ross Wilson, the former class 8 World champion who was defending his title here but could not find his best form.
In the final 24-year-old Shilton played superbly in the first two sets, countering his opponent’s superior power and mobility with skill and clever tactics to lead 2-0 but Facey worked his way back into the match and levelled at 2-2. With Shilton 3-1 up in the deciding set Facey took a timeout and it enabled him to turn the tide in his favour, taking the next seven points before securing the set 11-7 and the match 3-2.
“I changed tactics,” said Facey. “We play each other all the time and train together so we know each other’s game so it was difficult to find tactics but I came through in the end. I’m really happy to be back with British Para table tennis and grateful for the opportunity.”
“I got off to a great start and felt really confident,” said Shilton. “Credit to Ash he played great in the last three sets and I found it difficult to change the tactics. He deserved the win. It was good to play in front of a crowd and good experience for me. I was happy to win the doubles with Ross as we haven’t played together before so I’m happy we got the win.”
For detailed results go to: https://www.tabletennisengland.co.uk/mark-bates-ltd-senior-national-championships-2023/