Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 8) and Ashley Facey (men’s class 9) both came out on top in all-GB finals to take gold in their respective singles events at the ITTF US Para Open in Corpus Christi, Texas while Megan Shackleton also took gold in the combined women’s class 1-5 event. On a good day for the British Para table tennis team Jack Hunter Spivey (men’s class 5), Martin Perry (men’s class 6), Billy Shilton (men’s class 8) and Joshua Stacey (men’s class 9) all took silver and Paul Karabardak (men’s class 6) took bronze as the qualification period for the Paralympic Games in Paris continues.
Men’s class 8
Top seed Aaron McKibbin won group 1 with 3-0 wins against 15-year-old Yehonatan Levi, the Copa Costa Rica 2022 silver medallist from Israel, and American Marco Makkar, the Para PanAmerican Games doubles bronze medallist. He won his quarterfinal against Arufuahirokazu Tateishi from Japan, gold medallist in the Saudi Para Open last year, 3-0 and was always in control of his semi-final against World number 10 Phisit Wangphonphathanasiri, the Asian Para Games bronze medallist from Thailand, in a 3-0 win.
Billy Shilton topped group 2 with 3-0 wins against the unranked 24-year-old American Yosef Lender and Enrique Preza from Mexico, mixed doubles bronze medallist in last year’s Para PanAmerican Games. He beat Marco Makkar 3-0 in the quarterfinal and secured his place in the final with a 3-0 win against Steven Roman Chinchilla, the 21-year-old Para PanAmerican Games silver medallist from Costa Rica.
McKibbin and Shilton last met in the final of the Greek Open in 2022 that McKibbin won in four sets, and he came out on top again today, securing a 3-0 win 14-12 in the third.
“I’m really happy,” said McKibbin. “I think I’ve been solid in every match this week. Off the back of qualifying for the (English) Nationals I came out here with a lot of confidence and feeling sharp after playing a lot of matches. To win the tournament without dropping a set I’m really pleased with how I played. I’ve had a lot of battles with Phisit in the past but today I played such a solid level that I didn’t give any of my opponents a chance to put me under pressure. It’s lovely to win a tournament but it’s obviously not nice to beat your friend in the final. Billy is one of the best players in my class so to come away with a 3-0 win against him is not easy so I’m happy overall and looking forward to the doubles with Martin (Perry) and see if we can keep it going.”
“Happy to have taken silver in the first competition of the year,” said Shilton. “I felt that I played quite well throughout and in the final Aaron played a great match so credit to him. It’s always enjoyable playing your teammate and friend in a final and I’m happy that we both managed to get to the final and take gold and silver. I had a few difficult moments – especially in the semi-final – but I think tactically I thought about a lot of things I could have done and all the training I put in before seems to have paid off and I’m just happy that I could get off to a good start this year.”
Men’s class 9
Ashley Facey began with a comfortable 3-0 win against 17-year-old Loik Lapointe from Canada, making his international debut, and then produced a great performance to beat the World number seven and former World silver medallist Koyo Iwabuchi from Japan 3-0. He finished top of group 1 after a 3-0 win against the American Logan Watson, the 25-year-old Para PanAmerican Games bronze medallist, and secured his place in the final with a 3-1 win against the defending champion and World number 13 Tahl Leibovitz, the eight-time PanAmerican champion from the USA.
After losing a tight first set 14-12 Joshua Stacey had to dig deep against Hayuma Abe from Japan before securing a 3-2 win 11-9 in the fifth after the 24-year-old Asian Para Games doubles silver medallist had levelled at 2-2. The young Welshman then beat Tahl Leibovitz 3-0 and secured his place in the semi-finals as winner of group 2 with a comfortable 3-0 win against the Canadian Asad Hussain Syed, last year’s US Open bronze medallist.
Koyo Iwabuchi led their head-to-head 6-4 but Stacey had won their two most recent meetings and was too strong again today in a 3-0 win to ensure an all-GB final against Facey. Stacey had won all six of their previous international matches – the last in 2020 – but today it was Facey who proved the stronger, levelling at 1-1 after Stacey had won the first and edging a crucial third set 15-13 before completing a 3-1 win 11-7 in the fourth to win his first singles title.
“It was a really good win against Koyo,” said Facey. “I started well and was really positive. I’ve been training really hard and I’m very proud of how I played. It was good to beat Josh for the first time in an international tournament – it was about time. We obviously train together but I’m glad I won – not just because I beat Josh but because I’ve won my first tournament of 2024 so I’m really happy and I’ve got to keep going now for the next few tournaments.”
“It was a tough start against Abe,” said Stacey. “It wasn’t one of my finest performances and I probably could have done a lot better against him, but I think he played very well. I wasn’t quite on top of things as I should have been, but it felt good to manage to get over the line in that one. Against Koyo I feel like I’ve got a lot of confidence against him as of late - I feel quite comfortable against his style and the way he plays. I think in the final against a teammate it is always a bit harder to get the same amount of drive or will to win but Ashley played better than me so well done to him and I’m hoping we can get a gold in the doubles.”
Women’s class 1-5
Megan Shackleton progressed through her group with a 3-0 win against the debutant Wei Liu from USA and a 3-1 win against class 4 World number 10 Wassana Sringam from Thailand, gold medallist in the 2023 World Ability Games. She received a bye into the semi-finals and came through a very tough battle against Panwas Sringam 11-9 in the fifth after the class 5 World number nine and World silver medallist from Thailand had edged the fourth set 12-10 to level the match.
That took her through to face Caroline Tabib in the final and she led 2-0 before the class 5 World number eight from Israel fought back to level at 2-2. But Shackleton was not to be denied and she held her nerve to take the deciding set 11-9 for a 3-2 win and her first singles gold since the Czech Open in 2018.
“I’ve played some good stuff this tournament,” said Shackleton, “and found some grit when things were tough – especially coming through two 3-2 matches back-to-back. It was great to hold my own and try to outwork the class 5 players and to win the fifth set after Tabib came back and levelled is great experience for managing match pressures in the later stages of a tournament. Now on to the doubles.”
Men’s class 5 RR
Jack Hunter-Spivey received a walkover in his first match against Ioane Hawaii from Tuvalu and then recovered from losing the first set against the American Ahad Bakhshaei Sarand to beat last year’s US Open bronze medallist 14-12 in the fourth. He received another walkover against Mohan Vallabhapurapu from USA which meant that his final match in the round-robin event against World number two Cheng Ming Chih was to decide the gold. The pair last met in the Tokyo Paralympic Games when Hunter-Spivey won in three sets on his way to taking bronze but the World bronze medallist from Chinese Taipei gained his revenge today in a 3-0 win.
“Overall, I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t win the final match,” said Hunter-Spivey. “I feel that Cheng is someone I can have good battles with. He’s a good player and credit to him as he played better than me today. Disappointed with the way I played in that match, but I’m pleased with my performance at the tournament and looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Men’s class 6
Paul Karabardak made a superb start against World number three Rungroj Thainiyom from Thailand, taking the first set 11-5 and although the World silver medallist won the second 11-4 to level at 1-1 the Welshman edged a tight third set 12-10 and competed a 3-1 win 11-5 in the fourth. He progressed as the winner of group 1 after coming through a tough battle against Junki Itai, taking the deciding fifth set 11-9 after the Japanese player had twice levelled the match.
In group 2 Martin Perry lost his opening match 3-1 to the improving Takuro Chihara, the Asian Para Games bronze medallist from Japan, but progressed as group runner-up with 3-0 wins against 15-year-old Samuel Altshuler from USA, silver medallist in the Copa Cristina Hoffmann 2022, and the unranked American Tristan Myrick.
That set up an all-GB semi-final between Perry and Karabardak which produced a great battle that Perry won 12-10 in the fifth after Karabardak had twice levelled the match.
The Scot had never beaten Rungroj Thainiyom in eight previous matches and the London 2012 Paralympic champion was too strong again today and took the final 3-0.
“It was a tough start to the competition,” said Perry. “I’ve never seen the Japanese boy before but I knew he was going to be tricky and I found it difficult to get going. So that was a disappointing loss because I won more points than my opponent, but I managed to pick myself up and get through the group. Obviously, it’s never nice to play your team mate especially when it is for a place in the final and it was such a back-and-forth game, but I was really happy with how I performed because with Paul taking the fourth set 11-3 and being 6-2 up in the final set I was under a lot of pressure. It wasn’t a nice feeling having to beat Paul but I was happy to get to the final after a rocky start and Thainiyom was just too strong. I was hoping to push him a bit more but again I couldn’t really find my rhythm. I feel that I’ve really struggled with that here and maybe there was just a bit of ring-rust in terms of match play but I look forward to going again in Italy in a few weeks.”
“I’m pleased with the way I played overall,” said Karabardak. “Really happy with the win against Thainiyom and the points I get which put me in a great position to qualify for my fifth Paralympics. I was also pleased with my battling qualities to overcome Junki in a tricky match. It’s always difficult to play teammates and friends and I really didn’t enjoy the match against Martin. I gave it my best but fair play to Martin he was braver at the end of the fifth set. It’s been a good start to the year with a few things to improve on.”
Men’s class 1-2
Chris Ryan lost 3-0 to the class 2 World number 10 and Para PanAmerican Games silver medallist Guilherme Marcio Da Costa from Brazil and progressed to the knockout stages after a walkover against Louis Molina from USA. After a slow start in the quarterfinal against Nam Kiwon he fought back well to take the second set and level at 1-1 before the very experienced class 1 World champion from Korea took the third 11-9 and the fourth 13-11 for a 3-1 win.
Men’s class 3
Romain Simon lost his opening match 3-0 to Anurak Laowong, the two-time Paralympic team bronze medallist and gold medallist in the World Ability Games 2023 from Thailand, before beating the unranked Robert Cloutier from Canada 3-0. He did not progress after a 3-0 loss to Yin Chien-ping, the bronze medallist in the World Ability Games from Chinese Taipei.
Men’s class 7
Theo Bishop started slowly against the former Paralympic champion Stephane Messi but after losing the first set 11-4 and the second 12-10 he fought back to take the third 11-9 before the World number 11 from France secured a 3-1 win, 14-12 in the fourth. Bishop progressed to the quarterfinals after a walkover against Javier De Leon from Guatemala and was beaten 3-0 by another very experienced Frenchman Kevin Dourbecker, bronze medallist in last year’s European Championships.
The qualification period for the 2024 Paralympic Games finishes at the end of March and there will be a final chance for athletes to qualify at the Paralympic World Qualification Tournament taking place in Thailand from May 23-25.