Joshua Stacey made the perfect start to Paralympic year and improved his chances of qualification for Tokyo 2020 by winning gold in the men’s class 9 singles at the Polish Para Open in Wladyslawowo today. Billy Shilton took silver in men’s class 8 and there were bronze medals for Sue Gilroy (women’s class 4-5), Tom Matthews (men’s class 1) and Ashley Facey Thompson (men’s class 9).
Stacey topped his group without dropping a set in his three matches against the Asian Championships bronze medallist from Hong Kong, Wong Chi Yin, European team bronze medallist Dezso Bereczki from Hungary and 14 year old Marcin Zielinksi from Poland.
In the other group in men’s class 9 Facey Thompson recovered from dropping the first set to beat Lucas Didier, the talented 16 year old Frenchman, 3-1, and then came up against the World silver medallist Iurii Nozdrunov in top form with the Russian winning 3-0. The 24 year old Londoner was beaten in five sets by Tibor Chmela from Czech Republic but took second place in the group on countback to progress to an all-British semi-final against Stacey.
The 19 year old Welshman beat his English team mate 3-1 and then had to fight off a determined challenge in the final from Wong Chi Yin, who twice levelled the match before Stacey took the deciding set 11-6 to claim the gold.
“I felt that I performed at a good level throughout the tournament,” said Stacey. “The final against Wong was a little tougher; he played at a higher level and really pushed me. The deciding factor was in the fifth set when I attacked his serves and he struggled being put under pressure early on in the rally. I feel that my game has definitely improved over the winter period and I feel more solid in the beginning of the rallies and it definitely helps my game plan.”
In contrast Facey Thompson was disappointed with his performance, saying: “I didn’t play my best at all here but onwards and upwards for the rest of the season.”
Shilton was a comfortable 3-0 winner against 16 year old Anton Grankvist from Sweden and recovered from dropping the first set against the former World number two Thomas Bouvais to beat the top seed from France 3-1. He progressed to the knockout stages as group winner after a 3-0 win against another former World number two Gyula Zborai from Hungary and defeated the Russian Artem Iakovlev 3-0 in the quarter-final to set up a semi-final against the Rio 2016 silver medallist Andras Csonka. Shilton had won their last two meetings and fought back from 2-1 down to beat the Hungarian 11-3 in the fifth. He played home favourite Piotr Grudzien in the final and the former World number one and World and Paralympic team gold medallist from Poland was just too strong in a 3-0 win.
“I was really pleased with my level,” said Shilton, “and my mental approach into the matches leading up to the final. I felt that the semi-final really took it out of me and I found it hard to focus in the final and get the job done. Overall it’s been a good singles competition and I need to focus for the team event now.”
In her opening match Gilroy edged the first set against Carlotta Ragazzini 19-17 and although the 18 year old Italian came back to level at 1-1 Gilroy took the match 3-1. She then fought back from 2-0 down against Caroline Tabib to beat the class 5 World championship bronze medallist from Israel 3-2 and progressed as group winner despite losing her final match to Jelena Sisic from Croatia in five sets. It was close again in the semi-final against Oejeong Kang from Korea and Gilroy twice came back to level before the class 5 World champion took the deciding set 11-6 and the match.
“I struggled to find my form yesterday,” said Gilroy, “but played with resilience against Caroline (Tabib) pulling the game back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 so I know my game is improving since getting more access to focused training in January. I was disappointed with my match against Sisic as I know I can play much better than that. Today I played better and my shots were flowing especially on my forehand which I struggled with yesterday. Hopefully I will have another chance to play Kang in the team event and I’m happy to have won bronze.”
Matthews had a tough start against World number one Young Dae Joo from Korea and the Paralympic and World silver medallist was on top form in a 3-0 win. The Welshman was a 3-0 winner against the unranked Italian Luca Chiarini and secured second place in his group with a 3-0 win against another Italian, the very experienced World team gold medallist Andrea Borgato. That set up a semi-final against Hyeon Uk Kim and the World champion from Korea took the match 3-0.
“My match against Borgato was a must win,” said Matthews, “so it was good to deal with the pressure situation and come out on top. He’s been playing well this tournament so to have a 3-0 victory over him was a confidence-building win. Against Kim I feel I gave him too much respect and didn’t stick to my game plan as well as I wanted to. But it was more of a learning curve for the next six month block of training. There are a few things I know I need to work on but nothing major – just controlling a few things. All in all I feel in a good place and I’m now looking forward to the Spanish Open in a couple of weeks.”
In men’s class 6 Martin Perry beat Irish teenager Conor O’Callaghan 3-0 and then fought back from 2-0 down against Danny Bobrov to level at 2-2 before the 2017 European team bronze medallist from Israel took the deciding set 11-7. Perry took second place in the group with a 3-1 win against 15 year old newcomer Piotr Manturz from Poland which took him through to a quarter-final against Marios Chatzikyriakos. The pair had met on five previous occasions with four matches decided over five sets and Perry leading their head-to-head 4-1 but today it was the European team silver medallist from Greece who came out on top in another five set match, taking the deciding set 11-7 after Perry had levelled at 2-2.
Megan Shackleton was unlucky not to join Gilroy in the knockout stages of women’s class 4-5. She led Kang 2-1 before the Korean came back to win 3-2 and was just edged out in her second group match by 18 year old Irem Oluk from Turkey, losing a titanic battle in the second set 22-20 and levelling at 2-2 before Oluk took the match 11-8 in the fifth.
The full squad for the Para Polish Open is:
Ashley Facey Thompson, 25, London/Sheffield (men’s class 9 – singles only)
Sue Gilroy, 47, Barnsley (women’s class 4)
Tom Matthews, 27, Aberdare (men’s class 1 – singles only)
Martin Perry, 25, Paisley/Sheffield (men’s class 6)
Megan Shackleton, 20, Todmorden/Sheffield (women’s class 4)
Billy Shilton, 21, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire/Sheffield (men’s class 8)
Joshua Stacey, 19, Cardiff/Sheffield (men’s class 9 – singles only)