Going into the final day of the singles events at the ITTF Slovenia Para Open in Lasko tomorrow the British Para Table Tennis Team is assured of six medals in the singles events with Tom Matthews (men’s class 1), Jack Hunter-Spivey (men’s class 5), Will Bayley (men’s class 7), Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 8), Ross Wilson (men’s class 8), and Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6) all reaching the semi-finals of their respective events, while Ashley Facey is through to the quarterfinals of men’s class 9.
Men’s Class 1
Tom Matthews lost to the World number four from Korea Park Sung Joo in his group but went through to the knockout stages with 3-0 wins against Wang Zhenwen from China and the Italian Luca Chiarini. He received a bye into the quarterfinals where he played World number eight Kim Hakjin and he put up a great performance to lead 2-0 and then hold his nerve to win the deciding set 11-5 after the Korean had levelled at 2-2.
“I just had to reset at 2-2,” said Matthews. “The two sets I lost, in one I went a bit passive and in one I went a bit too hard on the ball. I had a good chat with Neil (coach Neil Robinson) in my corner and he calmed me down. We’ve been working a lot with Andy (team psychologist Andy Hill) and to be fair it is working really well. I’m very happy and can’t wait for the next match.”
Matthews plays another Korean, World number two Kim Hyeon Uk in the semi-final.
Fellow Welshman Rob Davies lost 3-1 to Kim Hakjin but came through his group with wins against Silvio Keller, the European bronze medallist from Switzerland, 3-1 and the unranked Hiroaki Shimanari from Japan. The four-time European champion lost out in the last 16 to Guillermo Bustamante Sierra, the World number 14 from Argentina, who took the match 3-2 after Davies had fought back to level at 2-2.
“Just a really poor performance from me,” said a disappointed Davies. “No excuses at all - a lot of things I’d like to change but if I was going to lose to anyone I’m glad its him because he’s a good bloke and a fellow former rugby player. I’m not going to be too disheartened I just need to perform next time.”
Men’s class 3
Pathway athlete Romain Simon lost 3-0 to Colin Judge, the former class 2 European champion from Ireland, 3-0 to Osama Abu Jame from Jordan and went out after losing his final group match to World number two Florian Merrien from France 3-0.
“This tournament has helped expose areas in my game that are a weakness and areas I can work on and improve,” said Simon. “Once I can address those areas the next time they see me they’ll see that improvement and they won’t be able to take advantage of times where I get myself out of balance and out of shape. Pressure situations got to me and I need to relax so it has been a really good learning experience. It has helped me to realise the importance of the mental side of table tennis and it is not just being able to play a shot. So I’ve got a lot of things to work on but I can see the level where I need to be.”
Men’s class 4
Lee York lost 3-0 to the World number 11 Filip Nachazel from Czech Republic but then showed great determination to beat Tetsuya Tamatsu from Japan 3-2, taking the deciding set 11-9. He lost his final group match against World champion Kim Jung-gil from Korea 3-0 but showed the improvement he has made over the last 12 months.
“I feel like I have definitely gone up another level now,” he said, “not always on the playing side of things but before I used to be like a deer in the headlights and trying to rush everything but now I take my time and take a towel if I want to push away from the table and I feel comfortable doing that. Now I feel ready to go up another level. I need to work on the few things I have picked up here that I believe will make me a better player. Playing against someone like Kim is massive motivation – I wish I could play at that level more often. When I played golf the way I got better was to put myself with better golfers so as soon as I can put myself with better table tennis players it automatically puts your level up because you have that fight inside you that means you don’t want to keep getting beat like that, so you’ll find a way. I’ve loved it.”
Men’s class 5
Jack Hunter-Spivey battled through his group with wins against Isak Nyholm from Sweden 3-2, World number nine Bart Brands from Belgium 3-1 and Liu Fu from China 3-0. In the last 16 he beat Tatok Hardiyanto from Indonesia 3-0 and then put up a great performance to beat the 2017 Asian champion from China Zhan Dashun 3-1 in the quarterfinal.
“At the start of the tournament my level wasn’t the highest,” said Hunter-Spivey, “but I’ll always fight and graft for every point. I was happy to get through the group and to have some good wins. I’ve proved to myself and everyone else that I can play at the top level again and I’m doing well so far. It’s my birthday tomorrow so hopefully I can bring home the gold.”
Hunter-Spivey plays World number 10 Elias Romero from Argentina in the semi-final.
Men’s class 6
Paul Karabardak won 3-0 against Lennard Properjohn from Australia, 3-0 against World number 12 Alberto Seoane Alcaraz from Spain and then secured top place in his group with a battling 3-2 win against Haris Eminovic from Bosnia Herzegovina. He went out after a 3-1 loss to Huang Jiaxin from China in the last 16.
“I was lacking that little bit of energy in the last match,” said Karabardak, “but I know what to expect from him now so I think if I play him next time, I’ll be able to play that little bit better and maybe it will be a different result because the sets were very close. Overall, I’m really pleased with the way I played because I haven’t played for quite a while so I can build on this going into Poland and for the Europeans.”
Martin Perry lost 3-1 to the World champion Matteo Parenzan from Italy but was a brave 3-2 winner against the former Asian Para Games team silver medallist Lee Se Ho from Korea and a 3-1 winner against Trevor Hirth from Australia, the 2017 Oceania champion. He lost 3-1 in the last 16 to Bobi Simion from Romania, the World number seven and European silver medallist.
Men’s class 7
Will Bayley recovered from a slow start to beat World number 18 Jonas Hansson from Sweden 3-1 and went through to the quarterfinals as group winner with a 3-0 win against the Chinese former World number four Keli Liao. He won his quarterfinal against the German World number six Bjoern Schnake 3-0 and plays Maksym Chudzicki from Poland in the semi-final.
“It’s been a difficult day because I didn’t play until the evening,” said Bayley, “and I’ve been trying to support the guys but conserve my energy, so it was good to get the win. It wasn’t my best level but I’ve got a way of winning at the moment even when I’m not playing my best. I played tactically well and shut him out a little bit, so I’m pleased with that.”
Theo Bishop won in four sets when he played Paulo Salmin Filho in Italy earlier this year and it looked as if he was going to repeat that victory when he led 2-0. But the World number 11 from Brazil worked his way back into the match and eventually secured the win 11-9 in the fifth. Bishop was 2-0 down against Henrik Brammer but fought back superbly to take the third 12-10, level at 2-2 and beat the European team silver medallist from Denmark 11-9 in the deciding set. He lost 3-0 to the Japanese World number eight Katsuyoshi Yagi in his final match and was unlucky to go out on countback with three players in the group all recording one win.
“I feel like every time I play a tournament I’m getting better and learning things to take into the next tournament,” he said. “The last time I played Salmin (Paulo Salmin Filho) I won and I felt maybe it could be a fluke and he wasn’t prepared but this time I knew he’d be prepared and although I lost it was as tight as could be and on another given day I think I could win that match. Against Brammer I was 2-0 down and in the past I think I would have let my head go and it would have been a 3-0 loss but I stayed calm and kept fighting so I’m really proud of that win. This is one of the strongest tournaments ever held and I’m happy with my progress. I wish I was progressing faster and further but you’re always going to think that. I do think I’m on the right track and if I keep doing the right things then there is no reason why next year won’t be even better.”
Men’s class 8
Former World and Commonwealth champion Ross Wilson was a 3-0 winner against the former European silver medallist Gyula Zborai from Hungary, the World number 15 from Serbia Aleksej Radukic and Hiromi Sato from Japan which took him through to a last 16 match against Peng Weinan from China. After dropping the first set Wilson played superbly to beat the 21-year-old Asian champion 3-1 and then edged a tight first set against the talented 16-year-old Borna Zohil from Croatia 18-16 before taking the next two 11-3 for a 3-0 win.
“In that first game against Borna I made a lot of mistakes,” said Wilson, “and I couldn’t quite catch my rhythm and get the quality I wanted to play with. At the beginning of the second set I could calm down a bit and from there I dictated the game a lot more. Peng was a really tough match - he is a great player and I think after not playing since the Worlds last year going against that sort of quality was going to be quite difficult. So to be able to put in the performance I did I was really pleased.”
Aaron McKibbin also won his three group matches 3-0 against Arufuahirokazu Tateishi from Japan, Marc Ledoux, the former World number one from Belgium, and Pablo Jacobsen from Norway. He came through his last 16 match against Phisit Wangphonphathanasiri from Thailand 3-1 and then produced a great performance to beat the Polish World number three Piotr Grudzien 3-1.
“I’m really proud of that win,” said McKibbin, who had lost his last five matches against Grudzien. “We played last week in Greece and it wasn’t my finest performance. I knew I needed to go away and work on a lot of things and we did that. I just said, ‘today I’m going to go out and be positive’. I had a bad start but once I found my rhythm and got into the match I could feel the energy flowing and I’m really happy with the win.”
In tomorrow’s semi-finals Wilson plays the three-time Paralympic champion from China Zhao Shuai and McKibbin plays two-time World champion Viktor Didukh from Ukraine.
Billy Shilton played well in a 3-1 defeat to Zhao Shuai but progressed from his group with 3-0 wins against Alejandro Diaz from Spain and Sunnatillo Murodullaev from Uzbekistan. He was disappointed to lose in the last 16 to the World silver medallist from France Thomas Bouvais 3-0.
“I’ve been working so hard in training, and I feel that I’ve been playing really well,” said Shilton, “so it was tough for me but there is lots to learn from it and I’m just looking forward to getting back out there to be honest.”
Men’s class 9
Ashley Facey won 3-0 against Fan Yufei from China and played well against World number four Lev Kats from Ukraine, despite a 3-1 loss. He secured his place in the last 16 with a 3-0 win against Aviv Gordon from Israel and then showed great character to battle back from 2-0 down against the American Tahl Leibovitz to level at 2-2 and then save four match points before taking the deciding set 12-10.
“After the first two sets I just changed the game and thought I would try and do whatever I can,” said Facey. “I’m a different player now and more mature in these situations and I’m very happy with how I fought back and played. At 10-6 down in the final set I still thought I need to believe I can win every point so I’m very happy with how I played.”
World silver medallist Joshua Stacey was a comfortable 3-0 winner against Ho Ka Sing from Hong Kong China but could not find his best form against Daniel Gustafsson despite leading 2-0 and the European bronze medallist from Sweden came back to win 3-2. He started well against Lev Kats taking the first set but the Ukrainan edged the second 15-13 and the third 13-11 and then completed a 3-1 win, 11-9 in the fourth.
“I think definitely in the Gustafson match it was my decision making that wasn’t good enough in crucial parts of the game,” said a frustrated Stacey. “Today I don’t think either of us found a rhythm or a groove at all and it was a strange game and not one I’m going to be singing about so I guess it is back to the training hall. It will be good to compete with Ash again in the doubles and see what kind of damage we can do so tomorrow I’ll reset and hopefully we can produce some better results than I have in the singles.”
Women’s class 4
Megan Shackleton started superbly in her opening match against the World champion Wijittra Jaion, taking the first set 11-4 before the World number three from Thailand went on to win 3-1. She showed all her fight and determination to come through her final group match against Andreja Dolinar from Slovenia, the World number 12 and former European medallist, 3-2, and then played another good match in the quarterfinal against Zhou Ying from China, taking the first set 11-4 before the Paralympic champion came back to win 3-1.
“I’m proud of myself today,” said Shackleton, “because I got through the hurdle of the last group match which was quite close at times and a bit stressful, but it has proven to myself again that I have got it in the bag to get over the line in those difficult situations. I think I played pretty well against Zhou – there are just a few little things that once I’m building on in training and getting in the open rallies a little bit more those situations can turn around quite quickly.”
Women’s class 6
Fliss Pickard began with a 3-0 win against 16-year-old Barbara Jablonka from Poland. She dropped the first set against Lee KunWoo but came back strongly to beat the World number five and World bronze medallist from Korea 3-1 and secured top place in her group with a 3-1 win against Merethe Tveiten from Norway. She looked to be heading for defeat at 2-0 down in her quarterfinal against the 14-year-old Jin Yucheng from China but fought back superbly to edge a tense third set 12-10 and then level at 2-2 before taking the deciding set 11-5.
Pickard plays Marina Lytovchenko, the World and Paralympic champion from Ukraine in her semi-final.
Women’s class 8
Grace Williams took the first set against World bronze medallist Sophia Kelmer 11-5 and edged the second 14-12 to lead 2-0. She had three match points in the third but the World number four from Brazil took it 14-12 and then levelled at 2-2. However, the Welsh teenager was not to be denied and held her nerve superbly to take the fifth set 11-6 and the match 3-2. She could not quite produce that same level in a 3-0 loss to Elena Elli the World number 13 from Italy but again played well when losing in three close sets to World champion Thu Kamkasomphou from France.
“I was so pleased with the win against Sophia (Kelmer) yesterday,” said Williams. “We’ve met lots of times and she’s beaten me every time and I went in there nervous but excited. I won the first set and I thought ‘I can do this’ and I am really happy that I managed to produce that in this tournament. The next match was difficult because you’ve just won against the World number four but it’s a brand-new match and you start again from 0-0 against a different person and different style. That is part of the learning curve - I’ve got to control my emotions and that is part of the journey I’m on right now.”