Golden finish for British team on final day in Slovenia

Golden finish for British team on final day in Slovenia

On the final day of the ITTF Slovenia Para Open in Lasko today Aaron McKibbin and Joshua Stacey won gold and Ashley Facey and Ross Wilson took silver after an all-GB final in the men’s class 18 doubles. Bly Twomey and Fliss Pickard took silver in women’s class 14 and there were bronze medals for Billy Shilton and Paul Karabardak (men’s class 14) and Martin Perry and Grace Williams (mixed class 14).

With both men’s class 18 pairs competing together for the first time there were plenty of positives for the British team ahead of the Paralympic Games in Paris later this year.

Men’s class 18

Ross Wilson and Ashley Facey got off to a flying start in their semi-final against Rio 2016 class 8 silver medallist Andras Csonka from Hungary and 20-year-old class 10 Asian Para Games bronze medallist Su Jin Sian from Chinese Taipei taking the first set 11-2 but then had to fight hard to come back from 2-1 down to take the fourth 11-8 and secure their place in the final 11-5 in the deciding set.

Aaron McKibbin and Joshua Stacey produced another great comeback in the semi-finals from 2-0 down against class 9 World number one Laurens Devos and class eight former World number one Marc Ledoux from Belgium. McKibbin and Stacey took the third 11-5 and the fourth 11-6 to level at 2-2 and led 7-3 before Devos and Ledoux came back to level at 8-8. But the British pair were not to be denied and held their nerve to take the deciding set 11-8 and set up an all-GB final.

McKibbin and Stacey made the better start, taking the first set 11-4, but Facey and Wilson led 10-6 in the second before losing it 12-10 and they led again in the third 10-7 before McKibbin and Stacey came back to edge it 13-11 for a 3-0 win.

“I personally find it harder playing teammates,” said McKibbin, “because you want them to do well and we want to do well and I do find it harder to fight to be honest. At the end of the day, it’s a final and once it’s done we’re back to normal – it’s not personal and we just went in there wanting to carry on playing how we’d been playing. Everyone knows how good Devos is but we knew as a team we could beat them. With the game against Spain yesterday we’ve got better as the tournament went on and it was good the way we played so I’m happy with that.”

“I think it was a very solid performance,” said Stacey. “Yesterday we were still trying to feel each other out in terms of what we both like and don’t like and we definitely got better as today went on. The confidence of winning against Spain in the fifth set yesterday helped us a lot going into today so I’m just very happy with how well we’ve played as a whole and we’ve got better game by game. It definitely breeds confidence when we’ve come back twice now to win. In the last two sets in the final we were down quite heavily as well and managed to claw it back and I think those are the kind of moments in a match when if you’ve got the confidence you can bring it back and that will pay dividends in in the majors. Obviously, the doubles will never be perfect regardless of how well we’ve played so there are things to work on but I’m definitely pleased with how it’s gone here.”

“They know us inside out tactically so it was difficult, but they played well,” said Facey.

“I think we’ve played a lot of good matches,” said Wilson. “This is our first competition together as well so it has been nice to build through the tournament and have that team chemistry. Obviously when you’re playing your own teammates it’s a bit different so that feeling wasn’t there as much in the final, but we have had a good competition and we’ve tried to build on what we started.”

Wilson heads to Thailand later this month hoping to secure his place in Paris at the World Paralympic Qualification tournament.

“I’m not very happy with my (singles) competition here,” he said, “but I think Thailand will be a completely different competition and I’m looking forward to getting out there and challenging myself with that.”

Women’s class 14

A 3-0 semi-final win against Smilla Sand and Emilie Endre from Sweden took Fliss Pickard and Bly Twomey into the final to face the European champions from Norway Aida Dahlen and Merethe Tveiten. After a slow start they started to play well and fought back from 2-0 down to take the third set 11-8 before the Norwegian pair secured the gold 11-8 in the fourth.

“They are a really strong team,” said Pickard, “especially with Aida being one of the best class 8s in the world but I was pleased with the way we battled back. We can learn a lot from this performance and hopefully come back stronger in Paris. This is only the start for us and the relationship is only going to grow and the communication. We are getting better as players and pushing each other and we’ll get stronger as a team and as a unit.”

“I’m learning so much from doubles about playing different classes and different styles,” said Twomey, “because everyone has different styles. It is really great to play doubles with Fliss and I love it and am learning a lot. This tournament has given me a lot of confidence going forward because I had a really good win in the singles and I think Fliss and me did amazingly well in the doubles and we can learn a lot from this tournament.”

Men’s class 14

World champions Paul Karabardak and Billy Shilton were disappointed to lose their semi-final 3-0 to the Swedish pair of Jonas Hansson and Sam Gustaffson.

“I don’t feel I played my best level,” said Shilton. “I made a lot of mistakes in tight moments in the game and I’m disappointed with that, but I think on the whole it has been another good tournament for me and Paul. Another medal - so I’m pleased with that and always pleased to play with Paul. There are a lot of things we need to practice and work on which I think is good. If we were coming into tournaments and not really learning anything that wouldn’t be great so we have got a lot of things to work on and I think once we get a bit of time to do that in Sheffield we will be in a much better position for Paris.”

“There’s things we can improve on going into the Paralympics,” agreed Karabardak. “I started to play well as we got through the group in the doubles especially against Chile and I thought we played some really good stuff in the doubles, and it is always nice to play with Billy. This is a difficult competition and I think it is better to have things to work on rather than it being perfect and then maybe you take your foot off the gas going into the Games.  We know we’re not at our best and we know that we’ve got stuff to work on which we’ll do going into Paris. Overall, it was a good doubles competition and I think we did well, and it is nice to get another medal.”

Mixed class 14

Martin Perry and Grace Williams dropped the first set in their quarterfinal against Bobi Simion, the class 6 former European silver medallist from Romania, and the class 8 European doubles bronze medallist Zsofia Arloy from Hungary but edged the next two 13-11 12-10 and took the fourth 11-5 for a 3-1 win.

In the semi-finals they faced Ignacio Torres Orostica and 14-year-old Florencia Perez and the Para PanAmerican champions from Chile were 3-0 winners.

“The two matches we’ve lost have been to the finalists so we can’t complain about that,” said Perry. “We’ve not played doubles together for a long time and it was good fun. Me and Grace get along well on and off the table, so the chemistry is there. Doubles is all about communication and we have that, and we beat a couple of good teams along the way and it is only going to get better from here.”

“Obviously they are champions and top players in their classes,” said Williams, “and they are very awkward to play. Because I haven’t really played against that style before it was really difficult but to be fair we played well and worked really well together. Slovenia is one of the biggest tournaments and every match is tough but going forward they help you to know what you need to do in training for the next match. Martin is class 6 so has played those awkward players and it is nice to have that supportive person with you so if you make a mistake they tell you what you need to do and it is nice to have that when you are playing tough matches.”

Williams can take plenty of positives from Slovenia into the World Paralympic Qualification tournament.

“Because I’ve just finished Uni it is very different trying to get into the mindset of an athlete,” she said. “This tournament has helped me do that and you can use pieces from different matches in training and think ‘this is what I need to work on, or this is my strength’ and I can work on that going into Thailand.”

Theo Bishop and Bly Twomey started really well in their quarterfinal, taking the first set against Rio 2016 silver medallist Israel Pereira Stroh and Aline Meneses Ferreira 11-4 but the Brazilian pair came back to take the match 3-1.