Three gold medals for British team in Czech Para Open singles

Three gold medals for British team in Czech Para Open singles

With the Paralympic Games just over two months away Joshua Stacey (men’s class 9), Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6) and 14-year-old Bly Twomey (women’s class 7) all took gold in their respective singles events at the ITTF Czech Para Open in Ostrava today. Martin Perry (men’s class 6) Ashley Facey (men’s class 9), Megan Shackleton (women’s class 4) and Grace Williams (women’s class 8) all took silver and there were also bronze medals for Aaron McKibbin and Billy Shilton (men’s class 8).

Men’s class 9

Joshua Stacey lost only nine points in a 3-0 win against Vladimer Janelidze from Georgia and secured his place in the quarterfinals as winner of group 2 with a 3-0 win against 16-year-old Jan Muska from Czechia. A 3-0 win against Hayuma Abe took him through to face another Japanese opponent in former World bronze medallist Koyo Iwabuchi. The Asian Para Games silver medallist twice came back to level the match, but Stacey took the deciding set 11-5.

Ashley Facey started with a 3-0 win against debutant Dario Stosic from Serbia and was then a 3-0 winner against 26-year-old Jan Reinig from Germany. He went through to the quarterfinals as winner of group 4 after a 3-0 win against the unranked Polish teenager Dominik Bartosik and recovered from losing the first set to beat Aviv Gordon from Israel 3-1. He then produced a great performance to beat Swedish World number six and European bronze medallist Daniel Gustafsson 3-1 in the semi-finals to go through to face Stacey in the final.

The GB pair met in the final of the US Open earlier this year when Facey took the gold but this time it was Stacey who came out on top with a 3-1 win.

“It was good to come through against Iwabuchi,” said Stacey. “It was a bit of a strange match - I think my receive was a lot better in sets one, three and five and it allowed me to get in first and start to dictate. He mixed his serves up pretty well in the second and fourth sets which was good tactics on his part, so I was pleased to get through. It’s always difficult to play a teammate in a final. Me and Ashley have played a severe amount of times and these days it is just a flip of a coin. We practice together every day so it was difficult but it’s on to the doubles now – I’m playing mixed with Bly for the first time so I’m looking forward to that.”

Although Facey is not qualified for Paris he can be proud of his performance here.

“It’s been a decent tournament to get to the final,” he said, “and good to beat Gustafsson and also Gordon because I find them both tricky. It’s good because I’m still here training and competing and battling against these players even though I’m not going to the (Paralympic) Games, so it shows my level is up there. It’s always weird to play a teammate but as Josh said it’s a flip of a coin who wins. Playing doubles with Koyo (Iwabuchi) now and hoping to retain our title as we won it last year, so we’ll see what happens.”

Women’s class 6

Top seed Fliss Pickard led 2-0 against Barbara Jablonka but had to show all her tenacity and determination to come through 11-9 in the fifth after the 17-year-old World number 13 from Poland had levelled the match at 2-2. Pickard secured top place in group 1 with a 3-0 win against Hanna Hammad, the African Championship bronze medallist from Egypt and received a bye into the semi-finals where she came through another five-set battle against Cajsa Stadler 11-5 in the deciding set after the 20-year-old from Sweden had twice levelled the match.

In the final she faced World number five Katarzyna Marszal and she took the first two sets but the World and European silver medallist from Poland kept herself in the match by taking the third before Pickard secured the gold 11-7 in the fourth.

“This has been a tough tournament for me,” said Pickard. “The other girls are constantly evolving which is fantastic and is only going to drive me to be better. I have proved to myself how strong I can be mentally, and I’ll always try my best to find a way to win. Very happy to win gold and excited to play doubles now with Bly.”

Women’s class 7

Top seed Bly Twomey was a 3-0 winner against 19-year-old Jenny Slettum from Norway and went through to the semi-finals with a 3-0 win against the 73-year-old veteran Setsu Tsunoda from Japan. A 3-0 win against Samah Abdelaziz from Egypt secured her place in the final and she took the gold after a 3-0 win against Nora Korneliussen from Norway.

“I’m very pleased to win another gold,” said Twomey, “and I think it will give me confidence going into the Paralympics. Everyone played so well and I’m very happy to have come through without dropping a set in this competition.”

Women’s class 4-5

Megan Shackleton looked to be heading for a comfortable win against Jana Valentova but the unranked 47-year-old from Slovakia took the third set 12-10 before Shackleton completed a 3-1 win, 11-1 in the fourth. She secured top position in group 2 with a 3-0 win against Alexandra Stepanova from Kazakhstan and received a quarterfinal bye into the semi-finals. She recovered from losing the first set to beat Flora Vautier from France 3-1 and played well in the final against another Frenchwoman Alexandra Saint Pierre despite losing in three close sets to the class 5 World number two.

“I’m happy with my performances overall,” said Shackleton, “and they showed promise going forwards to Paris. Despite the 3-0 scoreline I really feel that I pushed Saint Pierre and played some great stuff when it mattered. I can go back to training after this tournament and hopefully elevate my level ready for the Games.”

Women’s class 8

Grace Williams won her first match against the unranked Arev Topolian from Georgia 3-0 and then secured a first win in four matches against the 20-year-old World number 13 Nina Reck from Germany, beating last year’s Polish Para Open gold medallist 3-1 to secure her place in the semi-finals as winner of group 2. She beat Hagar Elsayed from Egypt 3-0 to reach the final and showed her potential despite losing in three close sets to Yuri Tomono, the World number four from Japan who had already taken gold in Brazil, Italy and Spain this year.

“It’s been a good tournament for me overall,” said Williams, “and my match against Tomono demonstrates that I’m close to proving myself as a top player. I’m excited for the next few months and to see how much I improve with training.”

Men’s class 6

Martin Perry was a 3-0 winner against newcomer Jan Malec from Czechia and lost only 10 points in beating Junki Itai, the former Asian Championships bronze medallist from Japan, 3-0. He won his final group match against the unranked Serbian Nemanja Majkic and as winner of group 1 received a quarterfinal bye into the semi-finals where he faced World number 10 Esteban Herrault. The Frenchman had won their most recent encounter in Italy last year and he led 1-0 and 2-1 but Perry twice came back to level and saved three match points before taking the deciding set 12-10. With no time to recover before the final he lost to World number eight Bobi Simion from Romania 3-0.

“I think I played pretty well overall,” said Perry. “Bobi played great in the final and never really allowed me to find my level and get going especially after coming through such a gruelling semi-final. Winning that in the fifth after being 10-7 down was massive, but that match took over an hour and then I had to go straight into the final, so it was very difficult. I’m really proud to have got that win against Herrault but credit to Bobi in the final - he played some great stuff.”

In group 2 Paul Karabardak won 3-0 against the unranked Woo Kwanghyeok from the Republic of Korea and then was just edged out in a great battle against old rival Bobi Simion. The Romanian had won their most recent meeting in Italy in five sets and it went the distance again today after Karabardak twice fought back to level before the former European silver medallist took a tight deciding set 15-13. The Welshman secured his place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win against Ibrahim Hamadtou from Egypt but lost his quarterfinal to Herrault 3-1.

Men’s class 8

Aaron McKibbin was a 3-0 winner against individual neutral athlete Seyed Hosseinipour, the 2021 Asian Youth Para Games gold medallist, and then beat 20-year-old Hamza Taleb from Belgium 3-0. He secured his place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win against Tobiasz Glowczyk from Poland and as winner of Group 2 received a last 16 bye into the quarterfinals. A 3-0 win against 18-year-old Marcin Zielinski from Poland took him through to face World silver medallist Thomas Bouvais. The pair last met in 2017 and although McKibbin started well and took the first set the World number eight from France came back to take the match 3-1, 12-10 in the fourth.

“I’m obviously disappointed to lose,” said McKibbin, “but quite happy with the way I played which was a lot better than in Slovenia. It was good to play Bouvais again because I hadn’t played him for so long and I think I played well. I was 1-0, 7-3 up and then he started to change his tactics and the match has given me a couple of things to work on. I’m feeling very positive because it is just a couple of things here and there whereas when I used to play him pre-Rio I felt I had no chance against him so I can see how much I’ve improved.”

Billy Shilton recovered from dropping the first set against Marcin Zielinski to beat the Polish teenager 3-1. He again started slowly against Aleksej Radukic, losing the first set 11-2 to the 22-year-old from Serbia before taking the next three sets for a 3-1 win. Shilton secured his place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win against the unranked 15-year-old from Czechia Tomas Novotny and also received a last 16 bye into the quarterfinals as winner of Group 4. Shilton was impressive in beating Marc Ledoux, the former World number one from Belgium, 3-0 but had to settle for bronze after losing his semi-final to World number five Piotr Grudzien, the former World and Paralympic medallist from Poland, 3-1.

“Overall, it’s been a good singles tournament,” said Shilton. “I was a little disappointed with my level in the group stages but against Ledoux I think I played some of my best level and was pleased to come through that match quite comfortably. Against Grudzien we always have some good matches and credit to him he played really well. I took a lot of things after the match that I can work on back in Sheffield and I’ve hopefully put myself in a good position ranking-wise for Paris.”

Men’s class 7

Theo Bishop fought back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 against Filip Prchlik but was edged out 12-10 in the fifth by the 15-year-old from Czechia. Bishop twice came back to level against Krizander Magnussen before the 17-year-old World number 19 from Norway, silver medallist in Egypt and Montenegro this year, took the deciding set 11-5. A 3-0 win in his final match against 12-year-old newcomer Mihai Voivod from Romania left him in third place in the group and he did not progress to the knockout stages.

The tournament continues with the doubles events that conclude on Saturday.