The British Para Table Tennis Team made a great start to the 2022 international season today when Ross Wilson (men’s class 8), Joshua Stacey (men’s class 9) and Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6) all won gold in their respective singles events in the Costa Brava Spanish Para Open in Platja d’Aro while Billy Shilton (men’s class 8) and Sue Bailey (women’s class 4-5) took bronze.
Men’s class 8
Wilson, who will bid to defend his World and Commonwealth titles this year, beat the 22-year-old French Open gold medallist Clement Berthier, 3-1 in the semi-finals to reach the final where he took on Piotr Grudzien, the former World and Paralympic team gold medallist from Poland. Wilson had won 13 of their last 14 matches but the former World number one has been in great form here and led 2-1 before Wilson showed his class and determination to come back and win the fourth 11-5 and the fifth 11-6 to take the gold.
“It means a lot to win and come back strong in the first competition of the year after having such a big break after Tokyo,” he said. “I feel that I’ve put in some strong performances here and I’m proud of the way I’ve played and how much I’ve enjoyed playing this competition. I just changed a bit on the serve and receive at 2-1 down in the final and then I found I could exploit his weaknesses and get the win as I don’t feel that I played very well at the beginning of the match.”
Shilton had won his previous match against Grudzien last year in Tokyo in five sets, but it was the Polish player who proved stronger in their semi-final today, taking the match 3-1.
“It was a difficult match and I think I played a bit silly at times,” said Shilton. “I had a lot of opportunities to get into the rally, but I rushed it and pushed too hard. I was really pleased with my win against Csonka yesterday - I had a couple of tough battles in the group and I was pleased with how I coped in those pressure situations. So there’s a lot to learn from and I’m looking forward to getting back into the hall in Sheffield and working on all those things.”
Men’s class 9
Stacey had lost 3-0 to the Chinese born World number two Ma Lin when they last met in Tokyo but took the first set in their semi-final today 11-9 and although the former World and Paralympic champion who now represents Australia led 2-1 Stacey fought back to edge the fourth 13-11 and beat his illustrious opponent 11-9 in the fifth.
That took him through to the final against the talented 17-year-old Spaniard Ander Cepas who had won gold here last year. Stacey made a flying start to take the first set 11-3 but Cepas levelled at 1-1 and led 10-8 in the third before the Welshman came back to take it 12-10 after a great rally ended with Cepas sending his forehand long. At 10-7 in the fourth Stacey had three match points but could not convert any of them and Cepas edged the set 12-10 to level again at 2-2 and looked to have the momentum heading into the deciding set. However, Stacey showed great character to refocus and take the fifth set 11-5 and the match 3-2.
“It was really good to be able to beat Ma Lin after losing to him quite comfortably in Tokyo,” said Stacey. “I feel that all the work we have done in the winter months has really started to come to fruition and I’m playing a lot better than I was before or during Tokyo. I think I was just able to take my chances against Ma Lin and again in the final against Cepas. I had match points in the fourth and he managed to squeeze past me in that one but in the fifth I felt that I took control quite well and it was a good experience overall.”
Women’s class 6
Pickard, who was defending her singles title here and bidding for a hat trick after winning her last two tournaments, won her semi-final against Park Nam-mi from Korea 3-0 to set up a rematch in the final against Morgen Caillaud, the 20-year-old World number eight from France who she had beaten 3-1 in the group stages yesterday. After losing the first set the 27-year-old from Burnley once again fought back to win the next three 11-7, 11-3, 11-8 and take the gold.
“It feels incredible to win three gold medals back-to-back,” said Pickard. “It’s really exciting to see the things I have been working on in training coming into my match play.”
Women’s class 4-5
Bailey’s semi-final opponent was Moon Sung-hae from Korea, the former World and Paralympic medallist who returned from 10 years away from the sport to win gold in the French Open last November. The 43-year-old former World number two has clearly retained all her ability and although Bailey rallied to win the third set 12-10 Moon went on to take the match 3-1.
“I couldn’t find my form today,” said Bailey. “I played well in patches but the Koreans are strong players and I was just making too many errors. It’s my first tournament for six months so hopefully in my next tournament in France I’ll be able to find my form and play the way I know I can.”