Gold for Bayley and Shackleton in Kazakhstan

Gold for Bayley and Shackleton in Kazakhstan

World number one Will Bayley, the ITTF Male Para Player of the Year in 2023, made a winning start to 2024 and continued his unbeaten run by taking gold in the men’s class 7 singles at the ITTF Astana Para Open in Kazakhstan today and Megan Shackleton won her third consecutive title this season by taking gold in the women’s class 4 singles. There were also some great signs for the future for the British Para table tennis team with Theo Bishop and Grace Williams taking silver in men’s class 7 and women’s class 8 respectively, Chris Ryan taking bronze in men’s class 2 and a first singles medal for Romain Simon with bronze in men’s class 3.

Men’s class 7

Will Bayley has not lost a match in men’s class 7 since Tokyo in 2021 and he lost only two points in an opening 3-0 win against Mukhadiya Kuangereyev from Kazakhstan, who could not have faced a tougher test on his international debut. He followed that with a 3-0 win against another newcomer from Kazakhstan Daniyar Muratov and as winner of group one and number one seed received a bye into the semi-finals where he beat European bronze medallist Kevin Dourbecker from France 3-0.

Theo Bishop had not won a set in his previous three matches against Dourbecker and when the Frenchman took the first set he appeared to be on track for another 3-0 win but Bishop fought back magnificently to take a tight second set 15-13 and went on to take the next two 11-7 11-6 for a 3-1 win against the World number 13. He finished top of the group after a 3-0 win against Aidos Mukashev from Kazakhstan and progressed to the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against Daniyar Muratov from Kazakhstan.

Michal Deigsler had won their three previous meetings in five sets, most recently at the European Championships last year and it went to a deciding set again but this time it was Bishop who edged it 12-10 to beat the World number 14 from Poland 3-2.

That set up an all-GB final in which Bayley was at his ruthless best in a 3-0 win.

“I’m very happy to win another gold,” said Bayley, “and keep my winning run going. I thought this was one of my best tournaments in terms of professionalism - I was very focused and didn’t give away many points. Kevin and Theo are both awkward and effective players, so I was happy to win both those matches comfortably although I haven’t really slept in three days so I’m grateful and quite surprised to be playing so well.”

Having impressed when reaching the European quarterfinals this was a first final and a first singles medal for 20-year-old Bishop.

“I’m really happy with how I’ve played this tournament,” he said. “I’ve had a few tough tournaments and close losses recently so playing Dourbecker in my first match I was quite nervous as I have lost convincingly to him a few times. I’m also feeling great about my match with Deigsler – I have lost three times to him in the fifth, so I knew I had the game to win but I was just desperate to get that monkey off my back and finally get over the line. I was 8-2 and 9-5 down in the fifth but I never lost hope or stopped fighting and that paid off in the end. It’s great to finally have my first singles medal and an honour to play Will in the final – hopefully it’s the first of many.”

Women’s class 4 RR

Megan Shackleton received a walkover in her first match against Yoleidy Johana Fernandez Andrade from Venezuela and was a 3-0 winner against the individual neutral athlete Irina Voronina, who last competed in 2019. Shackleton secured her third consecutive gold medal in the round-robin class with 3-0 wins against Saule Aidarkhanova and Alexandra Stepanova, both from Kazakhstan.

“I’m glad I came here and did what I needed to do as top seed,” said Shackleton. “It’s been nice to use the matches and build towards Italy next week and hopefully the good form keeps going. Winning three tournaments has been a great start to the year but my main focus is just to keep improving, take each match as it comes, keep pushing and hopefully get over the line for Paris.”

Women’s class 8

Grace Williams edged a tight first set 14-12 against Balziya Tash but took the next two sets 11-4 11-7 to complete a 3-0 win against the World number 30 from Kazakhstan and secured her place in the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against the unranked Kamilla Issayeva from Kazakhstan. Lucie Hautiere led their head-to-head 8-1 but Williams had won their most recent match at the European Championships, and she came back from 2-1 down to beat the World number 11 from France 3-2, 11-7 in the deciding set.

In the final she faced Elena Litvinenko, competing as an individual neutral athlete, and the former world number five and two-time European medallist was a 3-0 winner.

“I haven’t played Litvinenko before,” said Williams, “so it was a new experience and good to get that under my belt for future tournaments. Until the final I felt that I played really well and adapted to different styles and incorporated my style of play into the matches. It was good to get the win over Lucie and I’m happy that I’m progressing.”

Men’s class 2

Chris Ryan showed all his fighting qualities and determination to come through a tough five-set battle against the individual neutral athlete Rasul Nazirov, competing for the first time since the Tokyo Paralympic Games. Ryan edged the first two sets before Nazirov came back to level at 2-2 and appeared to have the momentum but the former GB wheelchair rugby captain took the deciding set 11-6 for a 3-2 win.

He followed that with a more comfortable 3-0 win against Khamit Dostakhin from Kazakhstan and progressed to the knockout stages as group winner after a 3-0 win against 40-year-old newcomer Bereket Akzhigitov from Kazakhstan. A 3-0 win against another Kazakhstan player Ardak Nurmagambetov took him through to the semi-finals and a rematch with World number four Luis Rodrigo Bustamante Flores, who beat Ryan twice in last month’s Brazilian Open. It was much closer today with Ryan edging the first set 15-13 and then fighting back to level at 2-2 before the Para PanAmerican champion from Chile used all his experience to take the deciding set for a 3-2 win.

“I think I have to be pleased with my singles results,” said Ryan. “It’s always tough losing in five sets but it was probably my best performance. I think the game shows I’m getting closer to the top players which is my ultimate goal. The win against Nazarov showed good character and more progression. I’m looking forward to the doubles now playing with my club teammate Romain.”

Men’s class 3

Romain Simon was beaten 3-0 by World number 11 Youngbok Baek, the Tokyo team silver medallist from Republic of Korea but then recovered from losing the first set to beat Darkhan Tilemissov from Kazakhstan, 3-1. Simon secured his place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win against Murat Japabayev, the 47-year-old from Kazakhstan who last competed in the Asian Para Games in 2014.

He beat another player from Kazakhstan Kenges Koniyev 3-1 in the quarterfinal and took bronze after losing his semi-final to Sylvain Noel, the former European team silver medallist from France, 3-0.

“Overall, I’m happy with the way I’m progressing,” said Simon, “learning to be consistent and being more positive when I’m playing. Sometimes I do overthink and go into my shell so allowing myself to express myself helps.  I’m slightly disappointed in myself, not for losing in the semifinal but for not making the guy having to push really hard to beat me. So I think that is the next level and when I play the better players to really try my best to make myself difficult to beat. I’m really happy to win my first singles medal and hopefully I can use this as a stepping stone to progressing further.”

Men’s class 6

Martin Perry lost his first match 3-0 to Cristian Dettoni, the Para PanAmerican Games bronze medallist from Chile but kept himself in contention with a 3-1 win against 16-year-old Igor Khudyakov from Kazakhstan. In his final group match he faced individual neutral athlete Alexander Esaulov, the former World number two who last competed in the European Championships in 2019 when he lost to Perry in five sets. It was another close match here and Perry led 2-1 but Esaulov came back to level at 2-2 and took the deciding set 11-7.

Men’s class 8

Ryan Henry twice levelled against Maksym Chudzicki from Poland but lost out in the deciding set 11-6 to the Paralympic, World and European bronze medallist who won 3-2. Henry bounced back from that disappointment with a 3-0 win against Sanzhar Kalman from Kazakhstan but did not progress after losing 3-0 to 21-year-old Ali Makhulbekov from Kazakhstan, silver medallist in last year’s Saudi Para Open.

“I’ve had a tough competition,” said Henry. “I’m disappointed with the results but feel that I played well at times, specifically in my match against Chudzicki but I just couldn’t get over the line. I have a lot of things I need to work on and look forward to putting in more work on and off the table to come back stronger and hopefully get better results at my next competition.”

Men’s class 5

Self-funding Simon Heaps started well against Tommy Urhaug, taking the first set but the World number three and former World and Paralympic champion from Norway came back to win 3-1. Heaps did not progress after a 3-1 loss to Agus Sutanto from Indonesia, the former Asian Para Games gold medallist.