Commonwealth champion Joshua Stacey started his Paralympic qualification year by taking silver in the men’s class 9 singles in the Greek Para Open today. Martin Perry (men’s class 6) and Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 7-8) took bronze and there was a first medal for former GB wheelchair rugby captain Chris Ryan who took bronze in men’s class 2 in only his second international tournament.
Stacey beat the Japanese World number seven Koyo Iwabuchi 3-0 in the semi-final to set up a rematch against World number one Laurens Devos who had won their last meeting in the World Championship final. The 22-year-old Belgian is already a two-time World and Paralympic champion and has not lost a match in men’s class 9 since 2015 and he quickly raced into a 1-0 lead. Stacey led 6-1 in the second but Devos came back to take it 11-7 and the Welshman then fought back from 7-3 down to take the third 11-9 before Devos took the fourth set and the match 3-1.
“Overall I’m pretty pleased,” said Stacey, who paid tribute to team physios Jill Crompton and Fran Lace and S&C coach Stephen Cooper for getting him fit to compete again. “After quite a long layoff in terms of international competition the tournament went pretty well. It was a tough match against Mai and I felt he was a lot more solid than me in the first three sets. I had to take a little more risk and try and get a handle on the game and apply a lot of pressure and I felt I did that and it showed in the scoreline in the last two sets. I’ve played Iwabuchi a lot now and I feel a lot more comfortable playing him. Me and Mat (coach Mat Kenny) agreed I was very solid and forced my gameplan on him and he didn’t really have much of an answer for it. I’m getting used to playing Devos and the quality that he brings on the table. I think I’m getting nearer to him and I definitely want to be taking him out come Paris.”
Perry made a slow start in his semi-final against Marios Chatzikyriakos but levelled at 1-1 and then again at 2-2 after clinching a tense fourth set 15-13. But the European team silver medallist from Greece was not to be denied in his home tournament and he took the deciding set 11-5 to go through to the final and went on to take the gold.
“Obviously not the result I wanted today but I thought Marios played really well,” said Perry. “I never felt comfortable in the match to be honest and every time I did get in, Marios had an answer and hit some fantastic shots. It was just one of those days - I didn’t find my rhythm but I fought hard to get it back to a fifth but that is one of my qualities; I never give up. Even when I was 2-1 down, I never doubted it was going to go the distance but in the fifth set I couldn’t get any foothold in the match. So, it’s a bit of a sore one but I’m looking forward to Slovenia and I’ll be ready for it.”
Aaron McKibbin recovered from dropping the first set in his quarterfinal to beat the Spaniard Alejandro Diaz 3-1 and go through to the semi-finals. His opponent Piotr Grudzien had won their last four meetings including last month in Italy and the World number three from Poland just had the edge again today in a 3-1 win.
“It was a tough match and he’s a person I struggle against,” said McKibbin. “I need to go away and watch the last few matches I’ve played against him as he’s got a good way of playing against me to be honest so I definitely need to change some things. I felt better in the rallies but the serve and receive is a really strong part of his game. Thankfully we’ve got Slovenia just around the corner so it will give me a chance to get straight back into action. I’ll keep working away and hopefully get a chance to play him again in Slovenia. Overall, it’s nice to get back on the podium so I’ll try and take the positives.”
Chris Ryan lost his semi-final 3-0 to the Frenchman Julien Michaud, gold medallist in the Egypt Para Open in February.