Will Bayley MBE

Date and place of birth: 17/01/1988, Poole
Home town: Tunbridge Wells
Lives: Sheffield
Family: Mum Chrissie, step-father Gary, brother Tom
TT Class: 7
Current world ranking: 3
TT Style: Shakehands attack
International debut: 2006, Las Vegas
Major titles: Paralympic champion 2016; World champion 2014; European champion 2011

Four years after taking silver in London 2012 Will realised his dream of becoming Paralympic champion in Rio and his celebration provided one of the most iconic images of the 2016 Paralympic Games.

As he converted the first of six match points in the final against the home favourite Israel Pereira Stroh to secure the gold he leapt on to the table and held his arms aloft – a reaction that earned him a yellow card from the Chinese umpire.  It was a moment of pure relief and elation for Will, who had lost his opening group match in the competition to Stroh but had never wavered in his belief and determination to succeed.

Born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that affected all four of his limbs, Will underwent numerous operations at Great Ormond Street Hospital from the age of three months old. He returned to Great Ormond Street for chemotherapy when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at the age of seven and it was while recovering from cancer that his grandmother bought him a table tennis table. The rest, as they say, is history.

Having joined Byng Hall Table Tennis Club in Tunbridge Wells he went on to represent Kent men’s abled bodied team and after moving to Bristol to continue his studies Will trained at the Bristol Table Tennis Academy with former international player Kevin Satchell. He joined the GB Para table tennis team in 2006 and after representing ParalympicsGB in Beijing in 2008 he returned to China on his own for several months to train with the best in the world.

In October 2011 Will won gold in the European Championships in Croatia and was voted Players Player of the Year.

At the start of 2012 he was confirmed as World number one in men’s class 7 and featured in a series of inspirational advertisements for Channel 4’s coverage of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. He went on to reach the final in men’s class 7, losing an emotional match to his nemesis Jochen Wollmert from Germany, who had ended Will’s challenge in Beijing. True to form Will came back stronger and regained the world number one ranking in April 2013.

“Being world number one means everything to me,” he says. “I’m always pushing myself to try and improve and be as good as everyone else and sometimes it’s frustrating because you want to make a shot that you can’t make but I like to challenge myself so that’s what I love. I’m lucky that my mum and dad encouraged me from a very young age and never saw my arthrogryposis as a disability. I’ve always played sport and pushed myself and if I hadn’t had that behind me I wouldn’t be the player I am.”

In 2013 Will was involved in a battle for the world number one ranking with Maxym Nikolenko from the Ukraine and he beat his great rival in the semi-finals of the European Championships in Italy, only to lose 3-1 to another Ukrainian, Mykhaylo Popov, in the final. World ranked number two at the start of the 2014 season, Will avenged his European Championship final defeat by Popov on the way to winning gold in the Lignano Master Open in Italy and won gold in Slovenia as well in his build up to the World Championships in China in September. After beating Paralympic champion Jochem Wollmert in the group stages of the tournament he defeated Popov again in the semi-finals and then beat world number one Nikolenko in the final to become World champion.

“To win the World Championship was one of my dreams,” he said. “I’ve worked for all my life to get to that moment when I can say I’m the best in the world and to come here and win the World Championships and say I’m world champion means a lot to me.”

In December 2014 Will received recognition for his achievement in becoming world champion when he won the Disability Sport award at the inaugural Daily Mirror and Sport England Pride of Sport Awards.

In June 2015 he regained the World number one ranking and in October he reached his fifth consecutive major singles final at the European Championships in Denmark, taking silver after losing 3-1 to an inspired Jean-paul Montanus from the Netherlands.

After a disappointing start to the 2016 season in Italy Will returned to form in May to take gold in the Slovenia Open, playing superbly to beat Popov in the semi-final and Nikolenko in the final. He went to Rio as World number one in men’s class 7 and showed all his character and fighting qualities to come back from defeat in his opening group match to secure his place in the knockout stages with a 3-0 win against the Chinese player Keli Liao. After wins against the Egyptian Ahmed Sayed and the Spaniard Jordi Morales he overcame both the Brazilian crowd and his Brazilian opponent to take Paralympic gold and went on to add a bronze medal in the men’s class 6-8 team event with Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson.

In December 2016 Will was awarded the Bill McGowran Trophy for ‘outstanding achievement in Paralympic sport by a male athlete’ by the Sports Journalists Association and he received an MBE in the New Year Honours List.

In 2017 Will attempted to add the European title to his World and Paralympic crowns but he had to settle for bronze after losing his semi-final to Popov who went on to reclaim the title he won in 2013.

“That is sport and that is table tennis and anything can happen on the day,” said Will. “He got on top of me and deserved to win today for sure. I reached the final in every major from 2011 to 2016 and although the bronze is not what I wanted, to get another major medal makes me proud. I need to look forward now towards the World championships and try and improve again.”

In October 2017 Will became a father when his partner Fiona gave birth to a baby girl, Bella.

At the World Championships in 2018 Will was hoping to retain his title but came up against an inspired Jordi Morales in the quarter-finals and the Spaniard took the match 3-2 before going on to take the gold medal.

“I’m really disappointed to lose a tough match because I’ve trained so hard for this,” said Will, “but this is the way sport is sometimes and he played really well. Today he held on when I fought back and I thought for a moment that it was going to be enough to overcome him but he came out with some really good shots in the fifth set to win it. I thought the momentum was with me and I maybe started to think about winning instead of what I needed to do to finish it off so maybe that was a problem. I played some good points in the fifth set but he managed to play clever as well. He played well today – I’ve got to give him credit.”

Will enjoyed one of his best ever seasons in 2019, winning singles gold in Italy, Slovenia and Japan and regained the world number one ranking in men’s class 7. He was bitterly disappointed to lose in the quarter-finals of the European Championships to young Swedish player Thomas Westerberg. After dropping the first set Bayley came back to lead 2-1 but roared on by the home crowd the young Swede levelled the match at 2-2 and after saving a match point converted his own to win 12-10 in the fifth.

“He is a really promising young player and played really well today,” said Bayley. “I’ve played him a few times this season and haven’t dropped a set but he played really well and it just wasn’t my day. I’ve had the best season I’ve probably ever had – winning three tournaments in a row - so it is a real disappointment when you come to a major and you don’t do as well as you’ve done all season. That’s sport and now I need to bounce back. This gives me massive motivation for Tokyo – it is my dream to win it again and I need to learn from this and come back stronger.”

Will went on to win the hearts of the nation as a result of his performances on BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing.

“Strictly has been an amazing experience,” he said, “and I’ve loved every minute of it. Learning to dance is really going to help me when I am playing table tennis. It has improved my balance and strengthened my core so I think that will really help my movement around the table. It has also shown me that I can do things I never thought were possible; I can’t wait to get back in the training hall and it is all about Tokyo 2020 now.”

Take 5 with Will:
Favourite sport apart from table tennis: Football (Arsenal fan)
Most admired sportsman: Rafael Nadal
Favourite film: Rocky
What’s on your ipod: Rap, R&B
Three words that describe you best: fighter, loving, passionate

and finally – Will attended the Brit School for Performing Arts in Croydon and appeared in a DVD ‘We’ve Got The Toaster’

2019 Results:
European Championships, Sweden – QF, men’s singles (class 7)
Japan Open – gold, men’s singles (class 7); silver, men’s teams (class 7)
Slovenia Open - gold, men's singles (class 7); bronze, men's teams (class 7)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – gold, men’s singles (class 7); silver, men’s teams (class 8)

2018 Results:
World Championships, Slovenia - QF, men's singles (class 7)
Slovenian Open – bronze, men’s singles (class 7); QF, men’s teams (class 8)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – silver, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 7)

2017 Results:
European Championships, Lasko, Slovenia – bronze, men’s singles (class 7)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – gold, men’s singles (class 7): bronze, men’s teams (class 8)
Slovenia Open – bronze, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 8)

2016 Results:
Paralympic Games, Rio de Janeiro – gold, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 6-8)
Slovakia Open – bronze, men’s singles (class 7)
Slovenia Open – gold, men’s singles (class 7)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – QF men’s singles (class 7); group stages, men’s teams (class 8)

2015 Results:
Belgian Open – silver, men’s teams (class 9)
European Championships, Vejle, Denmark – silver, men’s singles (class 7); silver, men’s teams (class 7)
Bayreuth Open, Germany – silver, men’s teams (class 7); last 16, men’s singles (class 7)
Slovenia Open – silver, men’s singles (class 7); gold, men’s teams (class 7)

2014 Results:
World Championships, Beijing, China – gold, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 6-7)
Slovakia Open – silver, men’s teams (class 7); QF men’s singles (class 7)
Slovenia Open – gold, men’s singles (class 7); gold men’s teams (class 7)
Lignano Master Open, Italy – gold, men’s singles (class 7); silver, men’s teams (class 6-7)
National Championships – winner, singles (mixed class 7)

Career Highlights:
2017: European Championships, Lasko, Slovenia – bronze, men’s singles (class 7)
2016: Paralympic Games, Rio de Janeiro – gold, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 6-8)
2015: European Championships, Vejle, Denmark – silver, men’s singles (class 7); silver, men’s teams (class 7)
2014: World Championships, Beijing, China – gold, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 6-7)
2013: European Championships, Lignano, Italy – silver, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 7)
2012: Paralympic Games, London – silver, men’s singles (class 7); bronze, men’s teams (class 6-8)
2011: European Championships, Split, Croatia – gold, men’s singles (class 7), silver, men’s teams (class 7)