Jack Hunter-Spivey and Ross Wilson retained their National titles at the Mark Bates Ltd Table Tennis England Senior National Championships in Nottingham today. Hunter-Spivey beat Dan Bullen 3-0 in the Class 3-5 and Wilson beat Kim Daybell 3-1 in class 7-10.
With this year’s Championships clashing with the Costa Brava Spanish Para Open the Para classes were confined to two Showcase Finals, which were both repeats of the Finals two years ago.
In 2020 Hunter-Spivey had been pushed all the way by Bullen in a hard-fought 3-2 win and the 26-year-old Tokyo bronze medallist was clearly determined to assert himself from the start today. He took the first set 11-3 and although Bullen started to find his shots Hunter-Spivey took the second set 11-7 and the third 11-6 to take the match.
“I think I definitely wanted to prove a point to myself,” he admitted. “One thing I’ve taken from Tokyo is the confidence that I’m not just a good international player anymore. I’m a Paralympic medallist and I need to build that into my mindset. I just wanted to go out there and play my level. If I don’t Dan is a good player and he can come back at me so I needed to be at my best level to beat Dan today.
“It's really good to play in front of a crowd again especially with the Commonwealths coming up this year. We don’t get to play in front of a home crowd very often and it would have been nice to have had a bigger tournament but to get a match here was good.”
Bullen can take confidence from the way he fought his way back into the match after a slow start.
“Jack has really improved over the last two years,” he acknowledged, “and he really didn’t give me a chance today - he was on every ball. What didn’t help me was that we went out cold – this is our only game here this weekend and as much as you warm up here in the practice hall it is not the same as being out there playing matches and that didn’t help me. But Jack was on it from the minute he got on court.”
Wilson and Daybell also fought out five sets in 2020 but Wilson showed the benefit of his match sharpness following his gold-medal winning performances in Spain. He led 2-0 and although Daybell took the third set and saved three match points in the fourth Wilson held on to take it 11-9 for a 3-1 win.
“It is always really nice playing Ross,” said Daybell, who has spent the last two years working on the NHS frontline in the battle against Covid. “In the last two years I’ve only played competitively twice so it is nice to be able to perform in front of people again and enjoy playing on a stage where there is not too much pressure and we are just trying to showcase Para sport.
“Ross is a top player – he’s World champion and Commonwealth champion and always really difficult to play in any situation which I know better than anybody. I can still remember playing him when he was just a little boy and I was a teenager and it still feels the same whenever I step on court with him even if he does beat me.
“Obviously with Covid it has been a really tough two years and I’ve been in full time work. I’m still doing that so fitting training in has been difficult. Hopefully I can get a place in the Commonwealth Games and now that Covid in hospital is calming down a bit I’m hoping to find more time to practice in the build-up to Birmingham if I’m lucky enough to be there.”
Despite playing so many matches over the last three days in Spain Wilson was also happy to represent Para table tennis at these Championships.
“This is all about showcasing Para sport and just enjoying it and having fun,” he said. “I just love playing and that is the most important thing. I’m really happy to have played so many matches this week. It’s been a while since I’ve played this many matches consecutively and this week has been a really busy schedule of matches so to be able to go through all of them has been so nice. I’ve got a different perspective on it now - being grateful to play those matches instead of looking at it as a stress that I’ve got so many things going on - and I’m really trying to use it as an outlet for everything else going on.”
Daybell has been an inspiration to many over the past two years and knows better than anyone the release that sport can provide.
“I think sport is in a difficult and precarious position now after the last two years with so many events being cancelled,” he said, “and obviously with the war going on in Ukraine at the moment it can start to seem like ‘does sport really mean that much?’ But I think sport has a real power to bring people together, to inspire people and to keep people healthy – so many positive things. It is something exciting that people can get behind in a world that is a bit broken after the last couple of years. So events like this are really important to try and showcase everything we have got, bring hope to people and give them something to enjoy.”