Paul Karabardak and Billy Shilton produced a superb performance on day two of the Andalucia 2022 World Para Table Tennis Championships to take gold in the men’s class 14 doubles in only their second tournament together. Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey took silver in the men’s class 18 doubles and Shilton will also take bronze in the mixed doubles class 14 with Fliss Pickard, who will play for gold tomorrow with Welsh teenager Grace Williams in the final of the women’s doubles class 14.
In their semi-final Shilton and Karabardak took on the three-time World team champions from Spain - class 6 former World and Paralympic champion Alvaro Valera and class 7 World champion Jordi Morales - and they looked to be in control at 2-0, 5-2 but the Spanish pair, cheered on by the home supporters, used all their experience to take the third set 11-9. At 5-4 down in the fourth GB coach Andrew Rushton called a time out and it worked as Shilton and Karabardak led 7-5 but Valera and Morales are great competitors and they fought back to level at 9-9 and had a point to take the match into a deciding set before the GB pair edged it 12-10 to take the match 3-1.
“We were on top for the whole of the match really,” said Shilton, “even in the third set we could have won it. Under the pressure and with a home crowd it wasn’t easy for me and Paul and we’re obviously delighted to have made the final.”
“I think we played really well,” said Karabardak. “They are good players and their experience brought them back into it, but I knew if we kept going for our shots and being positive we’d have a great chance to win.”
In the final they took on Thailand - class 6 world number three and former Paralympic champion Rungroj Thainiyom and class 8 Phisit Wangphonphathanasiri, gold medallist in Mexico and Thailand this year. Karabardak and Shilton made a great start and took the first two sets 11-8 11-8 but won only one point in the third set as the experienced Thai pair fought back. The GB pair edged ahead in the fourth and had three match points at 10-7. The first one was saved but when Wangphonphathanasiri sent a backhand long Karabardak punched the air in triumph before hugging Shilton and Rushton.
“They changed the tactics a little bit in the third set,” said Shilton, “and there were a few mistakes on my part but in the fourth set we just went back to what we know we can do with the serves and the receives and I’m really happy. I just think our togetherness on the court and the way we are talking all the time is so important. The way we communicate with each other in a match is amazing and I honestly think that is one of the reasons why we are World champions. What a feeling - it is something I’ve thought about every day when I’m in the hall, something I wanted to do as a kid and to do it for the first time with Paul is so special.”
“It is amazing,” said Karabardak. “I’ve won a lot in my career and obviously Tokyo was really special and will take some beating but to be World champion here is one of the best things I’ve ever won and to do it with such a great doubles player like Billy who is such a good friend makes it even more special. Winning in doubles rather than singles makes it a bit more special because you get to share that feeling with someone. I think because I lack self-belief it makes me better and makes me more positive having someone by my side telling me that I can do it and that helps me a lot. I’m not sure there are many World champions who come from Swansea so I think they will be really proud and it is going to be really special for the city as well.”
Rushton was full of praise for his players.
“All the work they have put in together in the training hall, doing the video analysis, the way they spoke with each other and communicated throughout the competition was incredible - the best I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “In the crunch points and the pressure situations they worked together as a team and that is all you can ask of them; I’m so, so proud and it is absolutely incredible.”
Wilson and Stacey came through their semi-final 3-1 against class 8 Paralympic and World team medallist Thomas Bouvais and class 10 Paralympic silver medallist Mateo Boheas. They led 2-0 but the French pair came back to take the third before Wilson and Stacey secured their place in the final 11-6 in the fourth.
“It was a very good performance from both of us,” said Stacey. “I think we followed the tactics that we were given by Dave (coach David McBeath) very well and were able to adapt based on where we were in the set and how the game was going.”
“Our partnership has strengthened with the strength of the competition,” said Wilson. “We got a bit tested there by losing the third set and it showed we stick together and keep going through those processes we have and we played some good stuff in the fourth set.”
Their opponents in the final were the experienced class 9 pair of Tokyo bronze medallist and World number five Ivan Mai and European silver medallist and World number two Lev Kats and it was the Ukrainians who made the best start, taking the first set 11-9 and the second 11-4. Wilson and Stacey rallied in the third and had chances to win it but couldn’t take them and had to settle for silver as Mai and Kats took the set 13-11 and the match 3-0.
“I think they just had that solidity around the basics of the game a lot earlier than us,” said Stacey. “In the third set we started to find our feet a bit and we had two chances to win it but didn’t manage to take them. If we had it might have changed the outcome of the game but we didn’t. As a doubles partnership the relationship we had before has only improved so although I’m very disappointed it’s a learning curve and I’m sure we’ll do better next time.”
“The game didn’t go how we wanted it to,” said Wilson, “but considering we’ve only played together a few times it’s been a successful competition I think. Obviously right now it doesn’t feel like that because we’ve just come off from a loss but there is plenty to build on going forwards. In that match the disappointing thing was they did to us what we had done to other teams. They are an experienced doubles team and we are not yet and we just couldn’t quite get the win today but we’ve got the foundations to build on for the future.”
Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams faced the class 6 World number six Morgen Caillaud and class 8 former World and Paralympic champion and reigning European champion Thu Kamkasomphou from France in their WD14 semi-final and the British pair made a flying start, taking the first set 11-4. France took a time out in the second set but Pickard and Williams took it 11-7 and led 10-5 in the third. Three match points came and went and GB coach Shaun Marples called a time out to steady the ship and it worked as the GB pair took the set 11-8 and the match 3-0.
“Full credit to Grace,” said Pickard, “as she came out of the blocks and set the tempo for the whole match and there was no stopping us from there. It was fantastic to keep that pressure on throughout the match against a very experienced French pair. It was a very good time out from Shaun and he just told us to keep to the game plan - we didn’t have to do anything fantastic and if we stuck to what we were doing we were good enough to beat them. We’ve been working together less than a year as a doubles partnership and to see where we were in Greece just a few weeks ago and to be here right now is amazing.”
“I never thought I’d get a medal at my first Worlds,” said Williams, “so the fact that I’m in a final with Fliss is just amazing and I can’t wait for tomorrow. Obviously my first match was a little nerve-wracking but I’m more comfortable now and I’ve got Fliss in my corner and I know that I’ve got Shaun as well. As long as I play my best and I guess today our best was better than France. It’s surreal - I can’t put it into words what this means and I’m forever grateful to Fliss and Shaun.”
“I am incredibly proud of both of them,” said Marples. “The way they have applied themselves on the table - they stuck to their game plan from the very first point and supported each other all the way through. I think Fliss has been excellent in putting a massive arm around Grace and guiding the partnership through the doubles process and Grace has responded really well. Something has clicked with Grace here and the fact they are both enjoying it, that is the main emphasis of our plan.”
Shilton and Pickard lost their semi-final 3-0 (11-8 11-9 11-8) to the strong Dutch partnership of class 7 European champion and World silver medallist Jean-paul Montanus and class 7 World, Paralympic and European champion Kelly Van Zon but can be very proud of taking World Championship bronze in only their second tournament together.
“I’m obviously disappointed with the result today,” said Shilton. “I felt we had a lot of chances in the match but on the whole it is our second tournament together and we’ve taken a bronze medal so we can be very happy with that and there is a lot to work on when we go back to Sheffield. The execution of my shots in tight positions wasn’t great and I think I need to work on that – work hard on putting balls away that I feel are a big opportunity and I was disappointed that I couldn’t do it in that match but on the whole I’m pleased that we won a bronze.”
“As a team our communication was a lot better at this tournament,” said Pickard, “and I think we can build from this. Although we lost 3-0 every set was very close and we had big chances and can take confidence from that going forwards. There were times in that match I felt I’d let Billy down a bit but probably on reflection I can be proud of another bronze in the World Championships especially as it is only our second tournament together. I hope we get more chances to play together and this is just the start of what could be a great journey.”
Jack Hunter-Spivey and Sue Bailey lost their mixed doubles XD10 quarterfinal against class 4 World number two and Tokyo silver medallist Kim Young-gun and class 5 world number one and Tokyo bronze medallist Jung Young A 3-0 but they battled well against the top seeds from Korea and the match was closer than the scoreline suggested.
“We might have lost 3-0 but I feel we were very competitive,” said Hunter-Spivey, “and we were millimetres away from winning a lot of the points. I think we played well and we should be proud as a team of what we’ve done and can build for the future now. When I go onto the field of play for the singles now it will be incredible to know what it feels like to play on the tables. I’m not scared of the environment - I feel like a veteran in the tournament now and I’m starting the singles two matches ahead and it feels great.”
“It is disappointing because I do feel we played well,” said Bailey. “We were rallying with them and we weren’t far away so 3-0 doesn’t reflect the quality of the match. We had some really good points and we’ve done ourselves proud but we’re obviously a very new partnership and hopefully that will develop over the next year or so. I love doubles and it has really helped me for the singles to play doubles first so it has been nice to play myself into the tournament. It is a great atmosphere out there and we can use this experience for the singles now.”