The Costa Brava Spanish Para Open did not produce any medals for the British Para Table Tennis squad but there was plenty to be positive about with the largely young and inexperienced athletes from the Pathway and Development programmes gaining valuable experience of top-class competition. In Paralympic qualification year every tournament is fiercely contested and the opposition in Spain included some of the best players in the world.
In the singles events only Theo Bishop (men’s class 7) progressed from his group to the knockout stages, going out in the last 16 to Paulo Fonseca from Brazil, gold medallist in the Copa Tango last year. However, there were also wins for Andrew Guy (men’s class 2), Ryan Henry (men’s class 8) and 19-year old Max Flint (men’s class 10) in only his second international tournament.
The doubles provided the first wins for 12-year-old Bly Twomey on her debut in a GB shirt and she narrowly missed out on a medal with Grace Williams in women’s class 20, the pair fighting back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 before losing 3-2 to the German pair of class 8 World number three Julianne Wolf and Nina Reck in the last match of the tournament.
“This week has been a massive learning curve for all the Pathway guys,” said BPTT Pathway Manager Shaun Marples. “There is a lot of good that everyone is doing in the training hall, but it is transferring that to match points in table tennis and the one thing that all the players have learnt this week especially is they need to pay attention to the basics. Make sure the basics are covered so they know what they are doing with the ball, keeping the ball on the table, making sure they are getting into the rallies and cut out the silly mistakes. Romain and Theo, who are going onto Italy next week, will have a good opportunity to put that right in the next competition.
“Special mention for the ‘newbies’ Chris and Bly. Chris (former GB wheelchair rugby captain Chris Ryan) demonstrated some fantastic learning while in the match – especially in his first match when he lost the first two sets but managed to win the third which showed resilience and that you can still learn while playing a match. Young Bly was brilliant, and her fighting qualities really came out. She was a bit disappointed to start with to be classified in class 8 but she still took a set off the World number eight and the World number nine. Now she has been classified as a class 7 after a review so she has had a really positive tournament and her future prospects are great.
“Our last match sums up the tournament in terms of almost. It could have been a lot better but we finished the tournament on a positive - showing some good team spirit, good team cohesion with everyone coming together to support for the last match. Definitely a lot to work on so Matjaz (Pathway coach Matjaz Sercer) and I need to get our heads together and make sure we are doing the right things for the athletes but also challenging them in the right way to make sure they are performing and doing the basics well.”
Men’s class 2
Andrew Guy lost his opening match 3-0 to Iker Sastre from Spain, the World number 10 and World doubles silver medallist, but then edged a hard-fought match against the Asian Para Games team silver medallist Mitsuhiro Matsuo from Japan 3-2. He lost his final match to the World number 17 Benoit Besset from France 3-0.
Making his international debut, former GB wheelchair rugby captain Chris Ryan acquitted himself well despite losing his three group matches to Kang Chang Young from Korea, the Asian Championships silver medallist 3-1, Chen Baruch from Israel 3-0 and the World number 13 and former PanAmerican champion Guilherme Marcio Da Costa from Brazil 3-0.
Men’s class 3
Romain Simon lost his opening match to Petr Svatos from Slovakia, the Tokyo Paralympic team bronze medallist 3-0 and was then edged out 3-2 by Shmuel Ben Asor from Israel, the French Open bronze medallist in 2021, having led 2-1.
Men’s class 4
Lee York understandably found the hugely experienced World number three Maxime Thomas from France too strong - the number one seed, World silver medallist and Paralympic bronze medallist winning 3-0. He lost out after a great match against the American Zachary Alan Pickett, who took medals in Costa Rica and Mexico last year, York leading 2-1 before losing 12-10 in the fifth.
Men’s class 5
Self-funded Simon Heaps pushed World number one Valentin Baus in his first match, taking the third set 11-7 before the German World and Paralympic champion took the match 11-4 in the fourth. The 67-year-old then lost the battle of the veterans against Huo Zhi Ming from Australia, also 67, 3-0.
Men’s class 7
Theo Bishop won the first set of his opening match against the World number seven Bjoern Schnake before the German came back to win 3-1. He progressed from the group with a 3-1 win against Christian Scheiber from Austria, the former Hungarian Open champion, but went out in the last 16 to Paulo Fonseca from Brazil, gold medallist in the Copa Tango last year.
Alex Bland was beaten 3-0 by former Paralympic champion Stephane Messi from France, the World number five, and then lost 3-0 to the improving 19-year-old Yannick Paredis from Netherlands.
Men’s class 8
Ryan Henry made a good start with a 3-0 win against the unranked 20-year-old from India Prakhar Sharma and then found the former World, European and Paralympic champion Zeev Glikman in great form and the veteran from Israel took the match 3-0. He needed to win his final match against Alejandro Diaz to progress and took the first set but the 20-year-old from Spain, bronze medallist here in 2021, took the next three to win the match 3-1.
Men’s class 9
Joe Crouse had a tough group and after losing 3-0 to Ander Cepas from Spain, gold medallist in Thailand and France last year, he was beaten 3-0 by last year’s Greek Open silver medallist David Pulpan from Czechia.
Men’s class 10
Max Flint led Lorenzo Cordua from Italy 2-0 before the World number 14 came back to take the match 3-2. He bounced back from that disappointment to beat Jagannath Mukherjee from India, bronze medallist in Egypt Para Open last year, 3-1 but missed out on a place in the knockout stages after a 3-0 loss to the very experienced Jose Manuel Ruiz Reyes, the World number eight and former World and European champion from Spain.
Women’s class 8
Grace Williams lost a close opening set to Sophia Kelmer 12-10 and the 15-year-old World bronze medallist from Brazil went on to take the match 3-1. The Welsh teenager was then beaten 3-0 by Nina Reck from Germany.
Bly Twomey put up a brave fight in her first match against the World number eight Frederique Van Hoof from Netherlands before losing to the World bronze medallist 14-12 in the fourth set. The 12-year-old also played well against Lucie Hautiere from France, winning the first set before the World number nine, who took gold in the Egypt Open last month, took the match 3-1.
Men’s class 4
Andrew Guy and Chris Ryan were beaten 3-0 by the Spanish top seeds Miguel Angel Toledo and Iker Sastre and then lost 3-0 to former World and Paralympic medallists Jiri Suchanek and Martin Zvolanek from Czechia.
Men’s class 8
Lee York teamed up with the American Zachary Alan Pickett and after finding the World bronze medallists from Germany Valentin Baus and Thomas Schmidberger too strong in a 3-0 loss they fought back from 2-0 down to beat Jashvant Chaudhary and Rameshbhai Chaudhary from India 3-2. That took them into the last 16 where they lost 3-0 to Roberto Rodriguez and Iker Gonzalez from Spain.
Simon Heaps and Romain Simon lost 3-0 to the Japanese pair of Genki Saito and Kazuki Schichino and then beat the Spanish pair of Joan Pahisa and Daniel Mateo 3-0. They fought hard in their final match against Fabio Silva and Park Jae Hyeon but the Brazilian/Korean partnership took the match 3-1.
Men’s class 14
Alex Bland and Theo Bishop led the World bronze medallists Esteban Herrault and Clement Berthier 2-0 before the French pair came back to win 3-2 and the young British pair progressed to the knockout stages after a 3-1 win against Pablo Parreno Romero and Antonio Consuegra. In the quarterfinals they lost 3-0 to the strong Brazilian pair of Pablo Salmin Filho and Israel Pereira Stroh.
Men’s class 18
Ryan Henry and Max Flint faced tough opposition in their group and lost 3-0 to the Spanish pair of Ander Cepas and Jorge Cardona and the Spanish/American partnership of Logan Watson and Juan Bautista Perez Gonzalez.
Joe Crouse teamed up with Hayuma Abe from Japan and after losing their first match to the top seeds from France Thomas Bouvais and Mateo Boheas they progressed to the knockout stages with a 3-1 win against Gonzalo Rodriguez and Marlon Lopez from Spain. They lost their last 16 match to Jan Michal and Lukas Maxa from Czechia 3-0.
Women’s class 20
Bly Twomey and Grace Williams started with a 3-0 win against Maialen Extebeste and Olaia Martinez from Spain and after a 3-0 loss to the top seeds from Germany Marlene Reeg and Lena Kramm their final match in the round-robin class against Nina Reck and Juliane Wolf was to decide the silver medal. The young British pair fought back bravely from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 but the German pair proved just the stronger in the deciding set, taking it 11-5 to secure the match and both medals for Germany.
Mixed class 14
Alex Bland and his Norwegian partner Nora Korneliussen lost their opening match to Thomas Rau and Juliane Wolf from Germany but then came through a great battle against Alberto Seoane Alcaraz and Maialen Extebeste from Spain 3-2, taking the deciding set 11-6. They lost their quarterfinal to the Norwegian pair of Krizander Magnussen and Aida Dahlen 3-1.
Mixed class 17-20
Ryan Henry and Grace Williams were beaten 3-0 by top seeds Ander Cepas and Olaia Martinez from Spain and were then edged out 3-2 by the Brazilian pair of Israel Pereira Stroh and Sophia Kelmer.
Theo Bishop and Bly Twomey lost 3-1 to Lucas Didier and Lucie Hautiere from France but kept their hopes of a place in the knockout stages alive with a 3-0 win against Prakhar Sharma and Pragati Kesharwani from India. They missed out after a 3-0 loss in their final match to the Dutch pair of Bart Van der Zanden and Frederique Van Hoof.