McKibbin and Twomey boost Paris hopes with gold in Italy

McKibbin and Twomey boost Paris hopes with gold in Italy

Aaron McKibbin and 13-year-old Bly Twomey enhanced their qualification hopes for the Paralympic Games in Paris by taking gold in the men’s class 8 singles and women’s class 7 singles respectively at the ITTF Lignano Masters Para Open in Italy today, while Joshua Stacey (men’s class 9) and Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6) took silver and Martin Perry (men’s class 6) and Ashley Facey (men’s class 9) took bronze.

Women’s class 7

Bly Twomey was a 3-0 winner against Prachi Pandey from India, silver medallist in the Egypt Para Open in January, and followed that with a 3-0 win against 19-year-old Wong Yue Ching, the World number 13 from Hong Kong, China. As number one seed and group winner she received a bye into the semi-finals where she defeated Giselle Munoz, the World number six and World bronze medallist from Argentina 3-0.

Despite her inexperience Twomey is already developing something of a rivalry with Smilla Sand and the pair contested their second final after the Swedish World number eight won in Finland last year. Their match today went to five sets with Twomey leading 2-1 then Sand taking the fourth 11-9 to level but the teenager from Brighton, who will compete in the inaugural Para Showcase event in the Singapore Smash next week, took control of the deciding set and won it 11-4 to take her second consecutive gold medal after winning the French Open last year.

“I’m really impressed with my performance at this tournament,” said Twomey. “I’ve played a few matches against Sand, and she took me by surprise in the first set but then I got used to her style and it was easier. I want to thank Matjaz (BPTT coach Matjaz Sercer) for coaching me as his advice for the match was impeccable when she levelled at 2-2 and it gave me the confidence to carry on and win the fifth set. It means a lot to win another tournament and it will hopefully give me confidence going forward and into Singapore next week.”

Men’s class 8

Aaron McKibbin started with a 3-0 win against Nathan Pellissier, the Oceania champion from Australia and then recovered from losing the first set 13-11 to beat Andras Csonka, the Rio 2016 Paralympic silver medallist from Hungary, 3-1 to go through to the last 16 as winner of group 4. He beat the 20-year-old Leonardo Coletta from Italy 3-0 and then came through a great battle against Maksym Chudzicki in the quarterfinals. The former class 7 World and Paralympic bronze medallist from Poland beat McKibbin on his way to taking bronze in the Europeans last year and led 2-1 today but the 32-year-old Londoner edged a tight fourth set 14-12 and took the decider 11-7 for a 3-2 win.

In the semi-final he faced former World and Paralympic medallist Emil Andersson who led their head-to-head 17-1. They last met in the European Championships in 2017 and McKibbin is a different player now and was impressive in beating the World number four from Sweden 3-0. He recovered from losing a tight first set in the final against Maksym Nikolenko to beat the World number five and Tokyo bronze medallist from Ukraine 3-1 to win his second consecutive tournament having taken gold in the US Open in January.

“It’s the first time I’ve won back-to-back singles titles, “said McKibbin. “This has been one of the strongest tournaments since Slovenia last year - I think we’re only missing three or four outside the top 16 so I’m very happy to win. The quarterfinal against Chudzicki was tough - I really wanted revenge for the Euros and I think I played much better today but it was still nip and tuck. I lost a couple of tight sets, and I don’t think it was the way I played just pure determination that got me over the line.

"It’s been years since I played Emil and that was probably the best match I played – he’s had a great year winning a few tournaments and is ranked above me. Nikolenko is always tough – I’ve yet to lose to him but every match has always been close – he got silver at the Euros and he’s won a few tournaments as well so overall it’s been positive and something to build on for Paris.”

In group 5 Billy Shilton was a 3-0 winner against 20-year-old Vit Spalek from Czechia and then showed all his character and determination to come back from 2-0 down against 17-year-old Borna Zohil, the World number 16 from Croatia, to take a tight third set 13-11 and the fourth 11-8 before edging the deciding set 12-10. In his last 16 match against Richard Csejtey he fought back from 8-3 down in the fourth to take it 11-9 and level the match at 2-2 but the former World champion and World number one from Slovakia remains a tough opponent and just had the edge in the deciding set to win it 11-8 and the match 3-2.

Men’s class 9

Joshua Stacey was a 3-0 winner against Talgat Erekeyev from Kazakhstan and then came through a great battle against Juan Perez Gonzalez, the World number 12 and former World and European medallist from Spain, who twice levelled the match before Stacey secured a 3-2 win, 11-8 in the fifth. A 3-0 win against the 22-year-old unranked Italian Mirko Bruschi secured top position in group 5 and a bye into the quarterfinals where he defeated the World number 10 from Japan Koyo Iwabuchi 3-0.

That set up a rematch of the 2022 Commonwealth Games final against Ma Lin, the former Chinese World and Paralympic champion who now represents Australia, that Stacey won in five sets. On this occasion Ma took the first 11-7 but the young Welshman took the second 12-10 to level and went on to complete a 3-1 win over the World number four to go through to the final against Lev Kats. The World number 11 and World doubles champion from Ukraine took the first but Stacey levelled at 1-1 and had his chances to win the third but Kats edged it 13-11 and took the fourth 11-7 and the match 3-1.

“The match against Perez was difficult,” said Stacey. “He played well and made it difficult for me the whole way through, so I was glad to come out on top in that match. I think I was 10-6 down in the first set against Koyo and after winning that set 12-10, I felt quite confident. I had a well set up game plan with Mat (BPTT coach Mat Kenny) and I felt that I dictated the play a lot better. I’ve always enjoyed playing against Ma Lin – our games are quite similar in many ways, so I was obviously glad to get over the line against him. Against Kats I think he was probably more solid around the receive area, but I had a lot of chances and too many bad decisions, bad shot selection at times and bad receives meant that I lost the match.”

In group 1 Ashley Facey lost in three close sets to Ma Lin and then produced a great fight back from 2-0 down to beat Dezso Bereczki from Hungary, the former European bronze medallist, 3-2 to go through to a last 16 match against World number seven Lucas Didier from France. After edging the first two deuce sets Facey took the third 11-5 to beat the World and European bronze medallist from France 3-0 and set up a quarterfinal against Jorge Cardona. The World number six from Spain was an easy winner in Brazil last month but Facey turned the tables today with a 3-0 win. He started well in his semi-final against Lev Kats but the Ukrainian came back from 9-5 down to take the first set 11-9 then took the second 12-10 and although Facey fought back to win the third 11-8 and saved two match points in the fourth Kats took it 11-9 for a 3-1 win.

“I’m proud of my bronze medal – especially in a tournament this strong,” said Facey. “Against Bereczki I was 2-0 down but I kept believing and fighting. I don’t really like playing him as I struggle against his style, and it is difficult for me. Against Cardona and Didier, I played really well and I took that belief into the semi-final but Kats’ serve and receive was good and he got the better of me. If the first and second sets had gone my way you never know but that’s sport. You can’t always beat the person in front of you but you ‘ve got to try.”

Women’s class 6

Fliss Pickard started with a 3-0 win against Emelie Endre from Sweden, silver medallist here last year, and then lost in four close sets to Gabriela Constantin, the World number six and European bronze medallist from Romania. Her last meeting with the former African champion Hanna Hammad at the World Championships in 2022 ended in a five-set defeat but Pickard avenged that loss with a 3-0 win against the World number 12 from Egypt.

She won her semi-final against Camelia Ciripan, the World number eight and World bronze medallist, 3-0, which took her through to face the World number one Maryna Lytovchenko from Ukraine. The first set proved crucial with Pickard having chances to win it before the World, Paralympic and European champion edged it 15-13 and went on to complete a 3-0 win.

“I’m happy with my start to the season,” said Pickard, “and I’ve really enjoyed being back in this environment. I’m obviously disappointed with some results but my level is getting better.”

Men’s class 6

In group 3 Martin Perry led Ignacio Hernan Torres Orostica 2-1 before the World number five and Para PanAmerican Games silver medallist from Chile came back to take the fourth 11-7 and the deciding set 11-6 for a 3-2 win. Perry progressed to the last 16 with a 3-0 win against the Australian Trevor Hirth, the Oceania Para Championship bronze medallist and avenged his defeat in Kazakhstan last week by Cristian Dettoni with a 3-0 win against the World number 13 and Para PanAmerican Games bronze medallist from Chile.

That win earned him a quarterfinal against the World number two and home favourite Matteo Parenzan and he produced a superb performance to beat the World and European champion from Italy 3-1. Perry led 2-1 in the semi-final against Bobi Simion, but the Romanian World number 12 and 2019 European silver medallist levelled at 2-2 and then took the deciding set 11-8.

“I knew I was in for a tough match against Dettoni after last week in Kazakhstan,” said Perry, “and I felt I was really on my game today and it was good to get the result over him. Against Parenzan I just felt fantastic – it was one of those matches where I felt I couldn’t really miss and to get the win over him means a lot to me and what I’m trying to achieve over the next three weeks. It was still tight but tactically me and Mat (Kenny) worked really well together, and I felt free and played aggressively.

"It is always a tight match with Bobi regardless of the scoreline, so I knew it was going to be a battle and I’m obviously disappointed not to come out on top as I was 2-1 up. But it’s obviously been a very good competition for me so hopefully I can take that into the doubles and then on to Spain next week because I’ve put myself back into the mix for qualification (for Paris) and I really look forward to giving it my all and seeing what happens.”

In group 4 Paul Karabardak was 2-0 down to Lee Se Ho from the Republic of Korea and edged a tight third set 13-11 to keep himself in the match but the former Asian Para Games teams silver medallist took the fourth 11-5 for a 3-1 win. Karabardak ended an eight-match losing streak to Bobi Simion in Tokyo and he led 2-0 here before the Romanian World number 12 and 2019 European silver medallist took the third set 11-4 and clinched a nail-biting fourth set 16-14 before going on to win the deciding set 11-7.

Women’s class 4

After losing the first set against Bhavina Patel Megan Shackleton fought back to level at 1-1 but the World number five and Tokyo Paralympic silver medallist from India went on to complete a 3-1 win. Shackleton secured her place in the quarterfinals with a 3-1 win against World number 12 Zorica Popadic from Serbia, the former World and European team gold medallist.

Irem Oluk denied Shackleton a medal in the European Championships last year by winning their five-set quarterfinal and also won their subsequent match in the French Open by the same score. Shackleton came agonisingly close to avenging those defeats here, leading 2-0 before the 22-year-old World number seven and World bronze medallist from Turkey edged the third 12-10 and went on to take the fourth 11-6 and the fifth 11-9 for another 3-2 win.

Men’s class 1

Rob Davies was a comfortable 3-0 winner against the unranked 20-year-old Italian Edoardo Casati and then fought back to beat Silvio Keller from Switzerland, the 2019 European bronze medallist, 3-2. Three of their last four matches had gone to five sets with Davies winning them all and he had to dig deep again here after Keller had edged the third set to lead 2-1.

That win secured the Welshman’s place in the quarterfinals where he faced Federico Falco. Their last three matches had been won by Davies in five sets and it went the distance again today with the World number nine from Italy proving just the stronger in the deciding set, coming back from 6-3 down to take it 11-7 and the match 3-2.

Men’s class 2

In a tough group Chris Ryan led 8-5 and 10-8 in the first set against Peter Lovas but lost it 12-10 and was 9-6 up in the second before the World number 15 from Slovakia took it 11-9 and went on to complete a 3-0 win. Ryan took a tight first set 12-10 against Julien Michaud and then fought back from 2-1 down to level at 2-2 but the European doubles gold medallist from France took the deciding set 11-4 for a 3-2 win.

Ryan started well in his final group match against Oleksandr Yezyk, taking the first set 11-6, and then from 2-1 down levelled at 2-2 before the greater experience of the World number nine and European bronze medallist told in the deciding set that the Ukrainian took 11-7.