Will Bayley just missed out on a second gold medal at the Finland Para Open today, taking silver with Paul Karabardak in the men’s doubles class MD14, while Grace Williams took silver with her Swedish partner Anja Harden in the women’s doubles class WD20 and combined with Bayley to take bronze in the mixed doubles class XD17 and Andrew Guy took bronze in the men's doubles class MD4 with his Finnish partner Timo Natunen.
Men’s doubles MD14
Karabardak and Bayley were 3-1 winners against Chen Silu and Tong Chi Yung from Hong Kong China and then lost a tremendous battle against the Swedish pair of Sam Gustafsson and Jonas Hansson 11-9 in the fifth having led 2-0. They completed their group matches with a 3-1 win against Aaro Makela and Markku Manner from Finland and with Hong Kong beating Sweden that left three pairs with two wins and Karabardak and Bayley progressed to the knockout stages as group winners.
A 3-1 win against the Dutch pair of Yannick Paredis and Dustin Eier took them into the final against the Belgian Ben Despineux and his German partner Henrik Meyer. Karabardak and Bayley took the first set but Despineux and Meyer levelled at 1-1 and then edged a tense third set 12-10 and led 6-0 in the fourth before Karabardak and Bayley fought back superbly to win the set 11-9. They took an early lead in the decider but from 5-5 there was never more than a point in it and Despineux and Meyer clinched the match 11-9 to the disappointment of the British pair.
“I think the third set was really crucial because whoever won that was going to be in the driving seat and have the momentum,” said Karabardak. “To be 6-0 down in the fourth and win that set was an incredible achievement and I thought that would swing the momentum our way. I think we played really well and maybe deserved to win but they also played well and deserved to win. It was anybody’s match - all the sets were really close and such a fine margin so it is always unlucky for anyone to lose that type of match.
“I always enjoy playing with Will and I think we played better than we’ve ever played so I’ve enjoyed it even more. I think we’ve been fantastic.”
“It’s so hard to lose a match like that,” agreed Bayley. “I’m really proud of how hard we fought but credit to Ben and Henrik because they battled hard as well and stuck with us all the way. It was a 50-50 game at the end and good to be part of it. I’m gutted about losing this match and the semi-final of the mixed but it was a great effort from everyone.”
Women’s doubles WD20
Williams teamed up with Anja Handen, the class 10 World number 12 from Sweden, and they started with a 3-0 win against the German pair of Nadine Braunleder and Maike Bannuscher. They won their second match against class 8 World number two Aida Dahlen and Nora Korneliussen from Norway 3-1 and assured themselves of a medal with a 3-0 win against Claudia Perez Villalba and Jeanelly Scarlett Gongora Magana from Mexico. Their final match in the round-robin event was to decide the gold and they had to be content with silver after losing 3-0 to the class 10 pair of World number five Tian Shiau Wen and World number seven Lin Tzu Yu from Chinese Taipei.
“Getting used to someone new is always difficult,” said Williams, “as you don’t know their style of play, what kind of bat they’ve got, how they serve and receive. It is always a bit different but we are both left handers, so I found that a bit easier – how to move and so on – and I’m very happy with the silver medal. If I make a mistake in doubles it doesn’t just impact me it affects my partner as well and that is always in the back of my head but I know they are going to make mistakes as well so we are a team when we win or lose points. After the singles I said to myself ‘doubles now so just try your best and work on what you want to work on’ and I think I did that.”
Mixed doubles XD17
Bayley and Williams lost 3-1 to the Norwegian pair of Pablo Jacobsen and Aida Dahlen but secured their place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win against Mohit Singh and Maike Bannuscher from Germany. In the semi-final Williams and Handen were on opposing sides of the net and it was the Swedish player and her partner Jonas Hansson who came out on top in another five-set match, taking the decider 11-5 after Bayley and Williams had twice come back to level at 1-1 and 2-2.
“It is new to me,” said Bayley, “because I’ve only ever played mixed doubles once in my career so I didn’t really know what to expect but I really enjoyed it. It is very different to men’s doubles - you have to be in the driving seat even more and be the leader of the team. Men’s and women’s table tennis is a different style of play with different spins so it is interesting and a real test.”
“Will is a different style of player to what I’ve played with before,” said Williams, “but just the experience and the help he has given me means a lot. Together we are 15 and are on the lower end of class 17 so playing against the Swedish pair was really good experience. They play with pimples so I’ve learnt more about that which is good and I feel that I am making progress – I wish I was coming back with three medals but it is in the past now and I’m looking forward to Greece.”
Men’s doubles MD4
Andrew Guy teamed up again with Timo Natunen from Finland and they began their round-robin doubles with a 3-0 win against Chen Baruch from Israel and Peter Isherwood from Canada. They lost their second match to Masanori Uno and Mitsuhiro Matsuo from Japan 3-0 and then fought back brilliantly from 2-0 down to beat Hiroaki Shimanari and Tsuyoshi Watanabe from Japan 3-2. A 3-0 loss to Park Sung Joo and Kim Hakjin from Korea in their final match left them in third place and earned them the bronze medal.
“We were disappointed to go down 2-0 in the third match,” said Guy, “as we both felt we were better than that, but we managed to pull it back which was good as it proves to yourself that the technical changes you made worked. In the first two sets I struggled with the simple things and once I thought ‘just play your own game’ I could focus more on the tactical side. It is my second bronze medal with Timo and hopefully we can get a nicer colour next time. We get on well which is really important and it is always enjoyable to play with him. Even when things don’t go our way we can look on the bright side and think about how we can change things. We communicate well which will help us to improve for next time.
“It has been a few tournaments since I got a medal so it’s nice to get another one. I’ve got a training camp in Slovenia next week so I’m looking forward to that and getting some practice against some of the people I’ve been playing here. It’s been great to see the Performance squad players in action and see that even they can be up in a match and then fall behind, but they dig deep to pull it back and it is good to see how they do that.”
Men’s doubles MD8
Jacob Pritchard Webb and Romain Simon are both playing their first international tournament here and they lost their first match 3-0 to the strong French pair of Sylvain Noel and Emeric Martin. They were 10-5 down in the first set of their match against Francisco Gonzalez Hernandez and Jesusn Sanchez Garcia from Mexico and fought back to level at 10-10 before losing it 13-11 but then showed their experience in the next two sets as they went on to lose 3-0.
“I think we were a bit anxious to get into the point early,” said Simon. “When it was a close first set we thought ‘we can really challenge these players’ although they are an experienced pair and Jacob and I have never played together before. So we thought there was an opportunity to win and went for it and we snatched at the ball instead of getting the ball on the table in the right places - we were just too eager to win the point. They changed their tactics as well and they started pinning Jacob back and then playing to me and I wasn’t ready for that and tried to take my opportunity too quickly.
“This tournament has given me energy to go back to training and know that I am on the right track. I’m also thinking that I’m not that far behind the standard of players that are here and if I train in a certain style and play against them more I can only do better. There are things that I have that I’ve seen can worry players – certain shots I have played in a match and the surprise on their face when I’ve played them makes me have more confidence that if I do this more often and put more into this I’ll get more out.”
“I think we tried to win too much and we beat ourselves by being impatient,” agreed Pritchard Webb. “Our resilience in a match is low at the moment and we need to hold our nerve better, but we are only going to do that with more match experience. The first set was probably one of our best performances but I think we can forget about the other two sets. I thought against the Mexicans we would be on a pretty level playing field but silly mistakes against their pimples really told on my inexperience especially.”
Men’s doubles MD18
Alex Bland and Joe Crouse played well in a 3-1 defeat to Manuel Echaveguren Farias from Chile and Israel Pereira Stroh from Brazil and were then beaten in three close sets by Mohit Singh and Jonas Wand from Germany, 16-14 in the third. They did not progress from their group after a 3-0 loss to Hiromi Sato and Mahiro Funayama from Japan.
“I really like playing with Alex and we get on well so that helps,” said Crouse. “Our styles are very different as he likes to play on the defensive and I’m a bit more aggressive so sometimes it clashes but sometimes it works really well. The last match we played things didn’t work out so well but in the first two matches we played really well so I’m happy with that.
“Doubles is completely different to singles and it’s a lot more difficult especially with the movement – I found I was always getting in Alex’s way which doesn’t help but that will improve with experience and the more we play together. There are a lot of technical things I need to work on especially my blocking but in general I need to practise more doubles as it is more than 50% of tournaments now so I’ll be training a lot more with Alex and hopefully next time we can get a medal.”
“I think there were certain things we did well together,” said Bland, “and we took a set off the best team but there are plenty of things we can work on as well. I knew it was going to be tough being a class 7 playing in class 18 but it was a good experience.”
Mixed doubles XD4-10
Pritchard Webb teamed up with the 61-year-old former World champion and Paralympic gold medallist Wong Pui Yi from Hong Kong China and gained valuable experience despite a 3-1 loss to Park Jae Hyeon and Jung Young A from Korea and a 3-0 loss to Victor Eduardo Reyes Turcio and Martha Verdin from Mexico.
“I really appreciate her being willing to play with me,” said Pritchard Webb. “She said she researched me beforehand and was excited to play with me - she has got a wealth of experience and it was a pleasure to play with her. I think we played better yesterday than today and for the same reason as in my second men’s doubles match as we went into the match today thinking they were more on our level. When we were knocking up I thought ‘we’ve got these’ but I made some tense and stupid mistakes and I’ve got a lot to reflect on after my first tournament.”
Mixed doubles XD14
Alex Bland and Raushan Orynbayeva from Kazakhstan beat Theo Bishop and Flora Yem from Kazakhstan 3-1 and then lost in four close sets to Chen Silu from Hong Kong China and Claudia Perez Villalba from Mexico. They did not progress after a 3-0 loss in their final match to Tong Chi Ming and Wong Yue Ching from Hong Kong China, while Bishop and Yem lost 3-0 to Tong and Wong and 3-0 to Chen and Villalba.
“I’ve never played mixed doubles internationally before,” said Bland, “so it’s all new and playing with a person from a different country who doesn’t speak the same language makes it very difficult, but we tried our best.
“This is my first tournament for almost a year and I can take away things that the coaches have said to me about where I can improve. I need to find my intensity again - how I was playing nine or ten months ago - and if I can do that I’ll be on the right track. Being here has reminded me of what it is like to be a top table tennis player and what I need to do to improve and the level I need to achieve to get to where I want to be.”
“I’m here for the experience,” said Bishop, “so the more time I can get on the table the better especially in doubles. This was a good learning experience because my movement isn’t great and her movement wasn’t great either so it was good to try and figure out how we could get around that and play to the best of our abilities. It has been a tough tournament for me in terms of results and I haven’t always played my best but some of the results I’ve had have been quite strong so I’ll take away a lot of confidence knowing that on my day I can play at that level. It is just about making sure I am more consistent and trust myself to play that style of table tennis.
“Being at a tournament with experienced players like Will, Rob and Paul has been brilliant. I’ve been like a sponge just trying to hover around them and see the things they do on the table but off the table as well – how they prepare for matches - and it has been great to be that close and see how they do it. I can’t wait for my next tournament now.”
Mixed doubles XD20
Joe Crouse and Jeanelly Scarlett Gongora Magana from Mexico lost 3-0 to Manuel Echaveguren Farias from Chile and Lucie Hautiere from France, 3-0 to Chen Hsien Jue and Tian Shiau Wen from Chinese Taipei and 3-0 to Su Jin Sian and Lin Tzu Yu from Chinese Taipei.
“I really enjoyed the mixed doubles,” said Crouse. “Obviously there was a bit of a language barrier that didn’t help but we managed to find a way to get past it and I think we did quite well. The teams were really tough and it was a new experience for both of us but given the circumstances I think we played quite well.”