After the completion of the group stages five British players, including men’s class 8-10 defending champion Ross Wilson, are through to the semi-finals of the Para table tennis events at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Men’s class 8-10
Joshua Stacey made it three wins from three matches with a 3-0 defeat of the unranked 28-year-old Panteleimon Kailis from Cyprus that secured top position in Group 2 and the 22-year-old Welshman feels he is in a good place going into the semi-finals tomorrow.
“I thought I was quite clinical and took advantage of the opportunities I was given,” he said, “and it was a pretty good all-round performance today.”
He will face his GB doubles partner Wilson in tomorrow’s semi-finals and having lost to the Englishman on the Gold Coast four years ago, Stacey admits that he will be fully focused on achieving a different result this time.
“If I’m honest it won’t be difficult at all to play against Ross,” he said. “Probably both of our competitive natures will allow us to put aside our friendship for a maximum of five sets. We’re friends before and we’ll be friends after as we both understand that on the table it is business and afterwards we can have a laugh about it. I think the experience I’ve got now and how much my level has gone up will allow me to make those changes that I couldn’t back on the Gold Coast and I’ll hopefully be able to put a bit more pressure on him. I felt like the game on the Gold Coast was pretty close and I’m hoping it will be me that gets over the line this time.”
Wilson secured his place in the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against Asad Hussain Syed, the 41-year-old class 9 player from Canada, but admits that he is still struggling to find his best form in the defence of the title he won in Australia.
“I’m not really happy with the performance today,” he said, “but I toughed it out and got through it and I’m into the semi-finals so I’m proud of myself for just sticking with it and believing in myself and hopefully I can perform a bit better in the next rounds. I’m not feeling the pressure of defending my title - I just don’t think I’m playing very well at the moment but I am trying to get my confidence into a good place and today will help a bit to know that I can do that. I’ll keep going and keep trying to do what I can do. I think now that it doesn’t matter who I play in the semi-finals as the other players are all really strong. All the matches are 50/50 and whoever has it on the day will bring it home. I’m loving competing here - the home crowds are amazing and to have so many people come to watch me and support me makes me really proud.”
Women’s class 6-10
Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams are also doubles partners as well as great friends and it was Pickard who came out on top in their Group 2 match today with a semi-final place at stake. The 28-year-old from Burnley took the first set 11-6 but 19-year-old Williams came back to level after taking the second 12-10. She led 5-2 in the third but a time out for Pickard got her back on track and she took the third 11-9 and edged the fourth 11-9 for a 3-1 win. The players hugged at the end of the match and both received a huge cheer from the crowd.
“Fair play to Grace she produced an amazing performance - something she can be really proud of,” said Pickard, who plays the class 10 World number two Yang Qian from Australia in the semi-finals. “She was tactically very smart against me so I had to battle hard and I felt I handled that well. I can always improve but today I think in the situation I did well. I’ll go back now, focus on myself and just keep going. I believe I can out-work anybody and take my game to anybody. I know it is going to be tough but I’m up for a battle as I always am. Competing in a home Games is huge amounts of pressure but it's an amazing atmosphere and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s not often my family can watch me, especially my grandad who’s never seen me play before, so to have him here is fantastic.”
Representing Wales for the first time Williams has acquitted herself well at her first major Games and shows great potential for the future.
“I’ve never played Fliss in a situation like I just have,” she said. “We’re doubles partners and we know each other’s game and how to work together but against each other is a bit different. I feel I played really well but Fliss just played better than me. I kept fighting and I knew what I was doing and where to put the ball but Fliss was just too good. I’ll always look up to her – always have and always will – so I’m very pleased for her. Playing on the show court was amazing - obviously I was playing against England and the home crowd but I had a lot of cheers from the Welsh supporters and I’ve never had that before so it was brilliant. The whole experience has been amazing – and I can’t wait for more in the future.”
Men’s class 3-5
Jack Hunter-Spivey bounced back from the disappointment of losing his second group match yesterday to beat the 47-year-old Canadian Muhammad Mudassar 3-0 (11-0 11-5 11-8) today and secure his place in the semi-finals where he will play the Nigerian Isau Ogunkunle.
“I’m really pleased with the way I performed today,” he said. “I think having a loss can be tough but we work well as a team and with the support I’ve had back home which has been amazing I’ve regrouped. I really want to enjoy this experience and that will help me play even better table tennis. The game is there to be enjoyed and yesterday I felt a bit too much pressure from myself. The weight has been lifted off my shoulders now and I’m into the semi-finals and hopefully I can crack on and get a medal. The atmosphere here is incredible. It’s a bit like the 12th man at Anfield when the Reds are playing and this is what I play for – I feel like I’m a showman and when I’m out there I’m my real self. To have the backing of a home crowd, everyone on social media and my friends and family has been amazing and hopefully I can go further in the competition now.”
Dan Bullen was unable to join Hunter-Spivey in the semi-finals, losing his final group match to 41-year-old Raj Aravindan Alagar from India 3-1. The 41-year-old from India took the first two sets 11-5 11-2 and although the 24-year-old Englishman fought back to take the third 11-9 Alagar ran away with the fourth 11-2.
“The third set was how I play,” said a disappointed Bullen, who is competing in his first major Games. “I was playing my game and the way I play in training and competitions, but the nerves got to me in this tournament. Playing on the show court is something I’ve never experienced before - I tried to take my experience from the Senior National Championships where we have a big crowd but this is completely different. I feel like I gave a good account of myself here. There are lots of distractions and I haven’t got distracted, I’ve been fully focused on the table tennis. This gives me a lot of motivation – I’m competing in Greece at the end of September so I’m hoping to do well there. I’ve definitely got a lot of things to work on back home but I’ve really enjoyed the experience.”
Women’s class 3-5
Having been disappointed with her performance yesterday Bailey was a lot happier today after securing her place in the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against the class 3 Australian Amanda Tscharke. As runner-up in Group 2 she will play the winner of Group 1 Bhavina Patel from India tomorrow.
“Having been on the show court for a match yesterday I felt so much more comfortable today,” said Bailey. “I felt as if my serves were going on and I was moving to the ball. I just wanted to go out there and play as well as I can so I just feel so much better. Having a home crowd is amazing - I had it in Manchester and it makes such a difference because people who don’t know you are rooting for you and just having that has such an impact. I just need to relax now and try and play how I know I can. She (Patel) is the silver medallist from Tokyo so is obviously a very good player and very consistent so I really need to up my game now and go out there with confidence and play like I know I can. Win or lose, if I can just play as well as I can I’ll be happy with that.”
Photos by Michael Loveder