Ashley Facey Thompson showed his continued improvement by taking gold in the Para class 7-10 event at the PG Mutual English National Championships in Nottingham today, beating the defending champion Aaron McKibbin in an exciting five set final.
In the semi-finals McKibbin survived a late fightback from 15 year old class 10 player Shae Thakker to take their match 12-10 in the third but Facey Thompson had a much tougher battle against men’s class 7 Paralympic champion Will Bayley, who showed all his character and fighting spirit to come back from 2-0 down and level at 2-2. He saved two match points in the fifth before Facey Thompson finally edged it 12-10 to book his place in the final.
Class 8 McKibbin started the final well, taking the first set 11-8, and was 10-7 up in the second but Facey Thompson kept chipping away and finally won it 14-12. That changed the momentum of the match and he took the third 11-9 to lead 2-1 but McKibbin then came back to win the fourth 11-9 and take the match into a deciding set. Facey Thompson led 5-1 and 10-5 before clinching the match and the title 11-6 on his second match point.
“It feels really good,” said the 24 year old class 9 World number 10. “I was playing against a team mate but it was a good game and it shows everyone how strong we are and how the level of Para table tennis is improving. That last set could have gone either way but luckily I came out on top at the end. The second set was very important – it would have been a different game at 2-0 down because Aaron would have had the momentum and he was running away with it to be fair, so I showed a bit of experience and came through. Against Will I played really well – I was 2-0 up and he started to play well and his tactics changed but then I changed mine again so it looks as if I am getting better in fifth set thrillers!”
“I think it was a good final and a good spectacle for English Para table tennis,” agreed McKibbin. “Our level is getting stronger year on year – unfortunately Kim (Daybell) wasn’t here this year and Ross was injured so that would have added to the strength and made it even better The group matches against Will and Billy were very tight games so it shows the level is there. Obviously I’m disappointed not to have won. If I’d gone 2-0 up it could have been different. It wouldn’t have been game over but it would have put me in a good position and I think I was playing well. I didn’t do much wrong at 10-7, just a couple of points where I played a bit passive and a couple of points where I had him on the back foot and didn’t convert and those are the chances I need to be taking.”
Earlier in the day McKibbin had to fight off a determined challenge from Billy Shilton in his first match in Group 1, coming back from 2-1 down to beat the 20 year old 11-5 in the fifth. After beating Bayley in three close sets he came through the group undefeated with a 3-0 win against Alex Bland.
With both Bayley and Shilton recording wins against Bland their final match in Group 1 was for a place in the semi-finals. It turned into a great battle with Shilton fighting back to level at 2-2 after Bayley had taken a 2-0 lead. In the final set Shilton saved two match points and had one of his own before Bayley clinched his semi-final place with a roar of triumph on his third match point, 13-11.
Facey Thompson’s task in Group 2 was made easier by the withdrawal of men’s class 8 World champion Ross Wilson with a back injury. He defeated Thakker 3-0 and secured top place in the group with a 3-0 win against Craig Allen. Thakker showed great determination to come back from 2-0 down against Allen to win their match 11-5 in the fifth and take second place in the group.
At the Aspire2Be Welsh National Championships at the Sport Wales National Centre in Cardiff, the wheelchair class was won by Cellan Hall (class 5) who came out on top of the round-robin event with three wins from three matches. Paralympic champion Rob Davies (class 1) took second place after beating class 1 World championship bronze medallist Tom Matthews in three close sets and winning a great battle against his old friend and team mate Paul Davies in five sets.
Commonwealth bronze medallist Josh Stacey (class 9) took the open standing class without dropping a set and Paul Karabardak (class 6) won two out of his three matches to take second place.