After the first day of the Para events in the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham all seven British players are still in with a chance of reaching the semi-finals with the final group matches to be played tomorrow.
Men’s class 8-10
Joshua Stacey led 25-year-old Chao Ming Chee from Malaysia 2-0 in his first match and recovered from losing a scrappy third set 11-9 to dominate the fourth 11-4 and secure a 3-1 win against the class 9 gold medallist in the Al-Watani Para Championships. The 22-year-old Welshman lost a marathon first set to Tajudeen Agunbiade from Nigeria 17-15 but reacted well to that disappointment to take the next three sets 11-6 11-2 11-8 against the 47-year-old class 9 former Paralympic champion for a 3-1 win. Stacey plays his final group match tomorrow against Panteleimon Kailis from Cyprus.
“I’m very happy,” he said. “It has been a strange experience waiting to start but with the girls doing so well in the team event it gave everyone a boost going into the singles and it has really helped me and pushed me on. I feel I played pretty well today. I think in the second match my receive was a lot better and I think it showed after the first set against Taj, who is one of the most awkward players I’ve ever played and I’m glad I managed to get over the line against him. I felt even in the first set I was taking the initiative but it’s those fine margins when I wasn’t making those balls that if I make, I win that set. I had a few opportunities to take that first set so to regroup and up my level and get the result was a good feeling. I’m looking forward now to competing again tomorrow – I’ve put myself in the best position possible for the semi-final but one game at a time and hopefully I can go all the way.”
Defending champion Ross Wilson received a walkover against Alabi Olabiyi Olufemi from Nigeria when the 49-year-old class 10 African champion and former Paralympic team gold medallist failed to appear for their match which left him with a challenging first match against Ma Lin, the 32-year-old Chinese born former men’s class 9 World and Paralympic champion from Australia. Although the class 9 World number four was a 3-0 winner it was much closer than that but Wilson refused to blame the lack of a previous match for his 11-7 13-11 13-11 defeat.
“I don’t think it affected me too much,” he said. “I made a lot of mistakes I wouldn’t normally make and maybe I forced it a bit too much under pressure but I should be ready for those matches whether I played earlier on or not. I only really have myself to blame for losing that match and I just wish I had taken a few more of my chances. If I’d have taken those chances at 9-6 in the second and 11-10 in the third I’m back in the game and the pressure is on him so it is frustrating but I’ll have to learn from it and move on. The competition is still on and this result doesn’t really have much effect on that but I think I could have done a bit better in that match. I’ll have to rewatch it and see what I can learn from it and come back stronger tomorrow.”
Wilson plays his final match against Asad Hussain Syed from Canada.
Women’s class 6-10
Fliss Pickard’s opening match was on one of the show courts and she showed no sign of nerves as she beat Noela Olo, the 32-year-old class 9 player from the Solomon Islands 3-0 (11-2 11-2 11-4). Her second match was against Lei Li Na, the Chinese born class 9 World number one who now represents Australia, and the 34-year-old who won her third Paralympic singles title in Tokyo last year was a comfortable 3-0 winner (11-1 11-3 11-2).
“The atmosphere was incredible in my first match,” said Pickard. “It was amazing to play in front of the home crowd, great to be out there and finally get going so I was really happy. I felt really sharp coming into these Games and I’ve enjoyed the experience and embraced it a lot better than previous experiences so I’m pleased with the way I’m feeling and we’ll just take each match as it comes.”
In her final group match tomorrow class 6 Pickard will play her doubles partner Grace Williams who is representing her home nation of Wales.
“I’ve just got to prepare like I do for any other match, stick to my processes and try and play my best table tennis,” said Pickard. “We are great friends and she has progressed a lot in the last year. It is a difficult match but I’ll take it as I would any other match and I’ve got to focus on what I can do.”
Williams had a tough start to her first Commonwealth Games against Lei and lost the match 3-0 (11-3 11-2 11-1) but she played well in her second match to beat Olo 3-0 (11-4 11-7 11-5).
“I played really well in that match,” said the 19-year-old class 8 World number 20. “The second set was a bit wobbly and I was just hitting the ball and not thinking about where to go but in the third set I was a lot better. It was all about placement and moving her around and trying to get the ball on and winning the point that way rather than hitting the ball and hoping for the best. It was a great first match because I knew I wasn’t going to win purely because she is a better table tennis player than I am but I went out there thinking that if I just learn from the experience and go out there and have fun. I was quite nervous but that was because it was my first ever match in a major Games but I learnt from that and in the second match I did what I needed to do.
“I’ve known Fliss for years so to play her in a major tournament is amazing but we’ll see what happens. The experience so far has been amazing – not playing for the first nine days since we arrived has allowed me to have time to digest everything around me which I find really helpful because when I play I know what I’m doing. It has been really exciting and I’m very pleased and grateful to represent my nation.”
Men’s class 3-5
Jack Hunter-Spivey made a winning start on the show court against Junjian Chen from Australia, beating the 32-year-old class 3 two-time Oceania Champion 3-0 (11-7 11-5 11-9). He fought back well from 2-1 down against Nasiru Sule from Nigeria to level at 2-2 but the 54-year-old class 5 former Paralympic bronze medallist edged the fifth 11-9 for a 3-2 win.
“I think Sule played really well,” said a disappointed Hunter-Spivey. “He has a really awkward style with long pimples – which is something I need to adapt to. I didn’t get out the blocks particularly well although I snuck the first set and I battled my way through but he just got the deciding point. There are things to learn from, getting used to the hall, the crowd and things like that. I’m still in, still going so I need to regroup for tomorrow and then we’ll see what happens from there.”
Hunter-Spivey plays Muhammad Mudassar from Canada in his final group match.
Dan Bullen lost his opening match against the 36-year-old class 4 African championships silver medallist and team gold medallist Isau Ogunkunle from Nigeria 3-0 (11-5 11-7 11-7) but then showed great maturity on his show court debut against George Wyndham from Sierra Leone. The 24-year-old edged a tight first set 14-12 and although the class 4 two-time African Championships medallist levelled at 1-1 Bullen took the third 11-5 and secured a 3-1 win 11-9 in the fourth.
“I’m really pleased,” he said afterwards. “I felt especially in the third game I was dictating the play. As it got tighter I got nervous being on the show court and having a crowd - I got tense but I managed to play through it and my shots came out in the end so it was good. I enjoyed it a lot once I got used to it but we don’t have crowds like this in Para table tennis so it was nerve wracking going out and seeing so many people in the stands. It is brilliant for Para table tennis but it is nerve wracking for the players. The whole experience has been great – Jack has been amazing and has helped me no end making sure I’m OK every day and the whole team has been brilliant.”
Bullen plays Raj Aravindan Alagar from India in his final group match.
“I played him in France,” he said, “and beat him in the fifth after getting a bit angry so I’m going to watch the video tonight, prepare with Mat (coach Mat Kenny) tomorrow and go out and give it my all to get through.”
Women’s class 3-5
Sue Bailey started well against Sonalben Manubhai Patel but the 34-year-old class 3 player from India, gold medallist in Egypt and Jordan this year, took the first two sets 11-7 11-5. Bailey rallied to take the third 11-6 but Patel secured a 3-1 win 11-7 in the fourth on her fifth match point. The 49-year-old two-time Commonwealth champion looked to be in control of her second match against three-time African champion Chinenye Obiora at 1-0, 6-1 but a timeout for the class 5 World number 12 from Nigeria turned the match in her favour and she led 2-1. At 5-6 in the fourth England coach Mat Kenny called a timeout and it turned the match again, with Bailey taking the set 11-8 to level at 2-2 and securing a 3-2 win 11-3 in the fifth.
“I’ve had a really difficult day” said Bailey, “and I think I’ve played the worst table tennis of my life today so it’s been very challenging to try and pick myself up from this morning coming in to this afternoon. I wasn’t playing particularly well again but thankfully it came together in the end and it was enough to get through. If I’m going to medal in this tournament I’ve got to get a lot better and at least now I’ve had experience in both halls as unfortunately we weren’t given the opportunity to practice in either hall and get used to the conditions. I know I can play 100 times better than I’m playing today - it is going well in training but I’ve really struggled to find my form on the table. I just want to play how I know I can play and I’m just really disappointed in myself with how I played today particularly this morning. I’m doing it the hard way so it is challenging but I need to reach the level I know I can play. Go back to basics and try to get into that competitive mindset that I’ve really struggled with today.”
Bailey plays her final group match tomorrow against Amanda Jane Tscharke from Australia.