Jack Hunter-Spivey and Ross Wilson took the honours in the Para classes at the Mark Bates Ltd Table Tennis England Senior National Championships in Nottingham, winning the Class 3-5 and Class 7-10 finals respectively. At the Welsh National Championships in Cardiff Joshua Stacey retained both his Para Standing and Men’s U21 titles.
English National Championships
The key match in Group 1 saw Hunter-Spivey come back from 2-1 down to beat Dan Bullen 3-2 and it was these two who progressed to the semi-finals after they both defeated Lee York. In Group 2 Megan Shackleton recovered from losing the first set to beat Sue Gilroy 3-1 and topped the group after beating Romain Simon 3-0.
A 3-1 win against Simon also saw Gilroy through to the semi-finals where she was beaten 3-0 by Hunter-Spivey. In the other semi-final Bullen beat Shackleton in four close sets, 13-11 in the fourth, to set up a rematch against Hunter-Spivey.
The final was a high quality match which again went to five sets. Hunter-Spivey took the first set 11-8 but Bullen came back to level at 1-1, winning six points in a row after taking a timeout at 7-5 down. Hunter-Spivey moved ahead again, taking the third set 11-8, but once again Bullen showed all his determination to take the fourth 11-7 and level at 2-2. The final set was all square at 6-6 before the experience of Hunter-Spivey proved key and he took the set 11-7 and the match 3-2.
“Winning the title here means a lot to me,” said the 24 year old from Liverpool. “Being English national champion is everything to me. I’m proud to be British and I’m getting pushed by players every day so it is a great tournament to win. It was really close; I’ve played Dan so many times and he has really been playing well this weekend. I felt the pressure in the last set and raised my level but so did Dan so it was a good match.
“I am the more experienced player but we don’t get to play in these sort of situations very often so I really enjoyed being put under pressure in front of a crowd and replicating major championships. For me it is a godsend to have this sort of experience. I haven’t played a tournament since October so it has been a great experience playing here and I’m happy with my level going into the final qualifying tournaments for Tokyo.”
For 22 year old Bullen from St Neots it was the first time playing on a show court and he lost nothing in defeat.
“I’m really pleased with how I played this weekend,” he said. “Everything I am doing in training is starting to come into my matches. Belief is something I have struggled with over the past years so to be able to have a five setter twice here against Jack has really helped me with believing that I can do it.
“I felt the pressure a little bit in the first set and then I started to relax and then I felt that I could play how I know I can. It was the first time I have played in front of a big crowd like that so I did feel the pressure. It is our Nationals next and I’m hoping to do well there. I’ve learnt a lot from playing with Jack – what I need to now work on to raise my level even more so hopefully in a few weeks I can give him another good match at the BPTT Nationals.”
Wilson topped Group 1 with three wins from three although he was pushed all the way by Billy Shilton, who fought back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 before Wilson took the deciding set 11-7. Shilton secured second place in the group with wins against Jack Stockdale (3-1) and Alex Bland (3-0).
In Group 2 Kim Daybell also won his three matches against Craig Allen (3-0), Ashley Facey Thompson (3-1) and Shae Thakker (3-1). Thakker took second place after beating Facey Thompson in three close sets and coming through a close match against Craig Allen 13-11 in the fifth. Wilson came through against 16 year old Thakker 3-1 in the first semi-final and Daybell overcame the determined challenge of Shilton 3-0 in the second.
The final was a repeat of the Commonwealth Games final in 2018 which Wilson won but it was Daybell who came out of the blocks faster today, looking sharp and focused as he took the first two sets 11-6 and 11-5. Wilson led 10-5 in the third but Daybell levelled at 10-10 and had three match points before Wilson finally clinched the set 16-14. He ran away with the fourth to take the match into a deciding set and although Daybell had a further match point it was Wilson who edged it 13-11 to take the match 3-2.
“At 2-0 down I was thinking that Kim was playing really well and I’m probably not going to win today,” admitted the 24 year old from Minster. “Kim and I have played a million times and sometimes you get the feeling it is just not your day. He was playing so well and I couldn’t really get into it and I couldn’t find my feet. It was just lucky really that I managed to pinch the third set and from there I just tried to build myself back into the game. All credit to Kim though; we’ve had some great matches and this is one to add to the list I think.
“I wasn’t really thinking about the Commonwealth final because we play and practice together all the time but every time there is a little bit of pressure the game changes a little bit. I just tried to start to think about what I need to do today to get the win and it wasn’t about confidence or thinking back to previous matches, it was more about just trying to find any little chance I could take and hope that it worked and I was lucky enough that it did.
“Obviously there are a lot of spectators here and we are playing with all the guys from Table Tennis England which is great that we mix together and we get an appreciation of each other. We get to watch and see how they play and they get to see how we play – we’ve got some good friends in Table Tennis England so it is great to showcase Paralympic sport to people and at the same time it is fantastic that they showcase to us as well. It is a brilliant event and I’ve loved every second of it.”
Although disappointed to lose such a close match 27 year old Daybell, who now combines his sporting career with work as a junior doctor in London, was also happy to be involved in a match that showcased the best of Para table tennis.
“It was a great match,” he said. “I got off to a good start but I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park because it is so hard to beat a really good player 3-0. Once he got back into it and ran away with that fourth set it was always going to be a tough fight. It was 50-50 in the final set as to who was going to take it but it was a good match and I enjoyed it a lot.
“Losing the third set was a little bit in my mind going into the fourth set and obviously Ross is such a great competitor – he is World champion and a multiple major medallist and he knows how to win games and how to save games so he is a very tough player to put away which he proved again today. Hopefully there will be more games to come in the future and if I’m going to lose to anyone then I don’t mind it being him.
“As Ross said it is good to play here in front of the English able bodied players and I think it is good for us to come and show people what we are all about because they don’t often see us play. I think it is important for everyone to remember that Para sport is about inspiring younger kids; it is about more than just medals and elite finding. I don’t want that message to get lost along the way and hopefully we have inspired a few people today.”
Welsh National Championships
Joshua Stacey took the Para Standing title after beating Dan Mead (3-0) and Jacob Wickes (3-0) in the round-robin event and then retained his men’s U21 title by beating Marc Castro 4-3 in the final. He also reached the semi-finals of the men’s singles, losing to eventual winner Callum Evans 4-1.