Paralympic champions Rob Davies and Will Bayley won their opening group matches at the World Para Table Tennis Championships in Slovenia today. On a good day for the British team, Commonwealth champion Ross Wilson and European silver medallist Dave Wetherill booked their places in the knockout stages that start on Friday by winning both their group matches and there were also wins for Kim Daybell, Ashley Facey Thompson, Jack Hunter-Spivey and Sue Gilroy.
Men’s class 1
Rob Davies put his below-par performance in last month’s Czech Open behind him with a convincing 3-0 win against World number 17 Alan Papirer from France and plays the PanAmerican champion Fernando Eberhardt in his second group match tomorrow.
“I’m really happy,” said the Welshman. “It was good to win 3-0 but I’m happy with the way I played more than anything. I managed to keep my focus which was the main thing. I want to keep improving and if I can keep in the tournament I think I will get better and better.”
On his World Championships debut Tom Matthews was bitterly disappointed to lose his first match 3-0 to 22 year old Hyeon Uk Kim from Korea, the 2017 Asian Championships silver medallist.
“I never really settled into the match,” said Matthews. “He is a really good player – I’ve never seen him before or played him before. He’s quite new on the scene and I didn’t really know what to expect. I need to get my movement a bit better and hopefully I can get through the next match. It’s a new experience for me being on the big stage in front of all the lights and I’ll learn from it and hopefully do a better job next time.”
Matthews plays his second match tomorrow against the World number six from Italy, Andrea Borgato while fellow Welshman Paul Davies has to wait until tomorrow to begin his challenge when he will play both his group matches against the in-form Endre Major from Hungary and the Argentinian Guillermo Bustamante Sierra.
Men’s class 5
Jack Hunter-Spivey made an assured start to his World Championships with a 3-0 win against Iakoba Taubakoa, the wild card from Fiji, and plays his final group match tomorrow against World team champion Cheng Ming Chih from Chinese Taipei, who took silver in the Asian Para Games last week.
“I feel like I played really well,” he said. “It was just getting used to the environment, the hall, the lights and everything. I feel that I did what I set out to do so for me it was a great first match and hopefully I can kick on now and perform at my best.”
Men’s class 6
David Wetherill was a 3-0 winner against the Oceania champion Trevor Hirth from Australia and then came back from losing the first set to beat the French World number eight Bastien Grundeler 3-1 and book his place in the knockout stages.
“First of all it was good to get the win,” said Wetherill. “I feel a bit rusty – I haven’t played a lot this year compared to what I’m used to and I felt mentally a bit fragile so it was good to have a nice little battle and work my way into the tournament. I know I’m only going to get better.”
Despite a late fight back in the third set Paul Karabardak lost his first match to the European bronze medallist Bobi Simion from Romania 3-0 but can still progress if he beats Kazuki Shichino from Japan tomorrow.
Men’s class 7
Defending champion Will Bayley was given a difficult match by Daniel Horut from Czech Republic and was relieved to come through in four sets after the former European bronze medallist took the first set 11-8. Bayley faces another tough match tomorrow against the French World number seven Stephane Messi.
“I’m really happy to come through that,” he said, “because there was one point in the match where I thought ‘this is very difficult’ and I was struggling a bit. I was playing really well but tactically not as well as I could have done and Daniel was playing probably the best he’s ever played against me today so it took me a bit by surprise. The first match is always the toughest and I’ve got another tough one coming up. Every game is a final for me and I’ve got another final tomorrow so we’ll see what happens.”
Men’s class 8
Ross Wilson got the British team off to a perfect start with a dominant 3-0 win against the 32 year old former World number one from Belgium, Marc Ledoux and then came through against the former World number one and Rio bronze medallist Piotr Grudzien from Poland 3-1 to secure top place in his group.
“It was really good,” said Wilson. “I knew I was going to have a fight on my hands in both matches so I came in very focused from the start. I went for it and took my chances and today was a good day. Grudzien is a really tricky player and he changed his tactics in the third set and that caught me out quite a lot. I needed to adapt to that and I did in the fourth set so I was pleased with that.”
Aaron McKibbin lost his first match to defending champion and World number one Viktor Didukh from Ukraine and must win his second match tomorrow against a former World champion Richard Csejtey from Slovakia.
“I wouldn’t say I played my best level and he didn’t have to do too much to beat me,” admitted McKibbin. “I was struggling a lot with his serves and when it was getting into open play and that was the difference between us – he was more solid in the first few balls really. The next game will be completely different so I’m not going to carry the result into tomorrow. I’m going to go back and focus and try and change things around.”
Men’s class 9
Ashley Facey Thompson looked really sharp against the 18 year old Brazilian Lucas Dos Santos Carvalho and was a comfortable 3-0 winner. He then demonstrated the improvement he has made this season with a 3-2 win against the World number seven from China Zhao Yi Qing, taking the match 11-7 in the fifth after the Asian Para Games champion had fought back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2.
“I’m very happy,” said Facey Thompson. “I had a lot of confidence going in and was focused on my movement because that has been going well and that came into the matches and made me play really well. This has probably been my best year in table tennis, beating top players and reaching a few finals so that has given me confidence and belief to know I can do well. I’m just going to keep focused and carry on fighting.”
The 23 year old Londoner plays his final group match tomorrow against Chao Ming Chee from Malaysia.
Men’s class 10
Kim Daybell started his competition with a 3-0 win against the PanAmerican champion from Brazil, Claudio Massad but then lost out in a five set battle against the World number eight Mateo Boheas, the Frenchman proving the stronger in the final set to take it 11-6. Daybell must now wait until the final group matches are played tomorrow to know if he will progress.
“I thought he (Boheas) played quite well but I was too negative and just didn’t go for the opportunities when they were there – my performance was just not good enough,” said a clearly frustrated Daybell. “I will try to forget about that one and move on to the next game and do my best.”
Women’s class 4
Megan Shackleton started her first World Championships with a match against the Paralympic and European champion Borislava Peric-Rankovic and the 19 year old from Todmorden put up a great fight, taking a tight first set 13-11 and pushing the World number two from Serbia all the way despite a 3-1 loss. She can still progress to the knockout stages if she can win her second match tomorrow against the World number 10 Pi-chun Lu from Chinese Taipei.
“I think for my first Worlds to draw the current Paralympic champion was always going to be a challenge,” admitted Shackleton, “but I think I managed to compose my nerves really well out there and to get 3-1 against someone so highly ranked in my class is promising for the future. I’m just showing now that I do have that ability under pressure to make the right decisions and hopefully in the future sets will start coming my way. I can take a lot of positives from this and I’m really enjoying playing out here so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Sue Gilroy began with 3-1 win against the wild card from Australia, Lisa Di Toro but then found World number three Sandra Mikolaschek just too strong and the 21 year old German took their match 3-0. Gilroy players her final group match tomorrow against the PanAmerican champion Martha Verdin from Mexico.
“Everything I did she (Mikolaschek) had an answer to,” said Gilroy. “She’s just playing really well. I did play a lot better than this morning but I just couldn’t get near her today. I’m never as good at the beginning of a tournament – I always get better as the tournament goes on so tomorrow is another day and hopefully I can play a lot better than I have done today.”
Women’s class 6
In her first World Championships Fliss Pickard could not have picked a tougher opponent than World number one Marina Lytovchenko, the Ukrainian who has won gold in Slovakia, Slovenia and China this year. However, the 26 year old from Burnley kept battling and was far from disgraced in a 3-1 loss. She now has to wait until Friday to play her final group match against Gabriela Constantin from Romania.
“She’s definitely got a lot more experience than me,” said Pickard. “She’s been to Paralympics and she’s the top player in class 6 this season with a lot of good wins against classes above her as well so she’s very good. I felt I played OK – my level wasn’t great in technical terms but I’m happy with my attitude and the way I kept fighting for every single point.”
The final group matches will be played tomorrow with the knockout stages played on Friday and Saturday.
The full British squad for the World Championships is:
Will Bayley MBE, 30 years old (men’s class 7) – Tunbridge Wells (home town)/ Sheffield (lives)
Paul Davies, 51 (men’s class 1) – North Cornelly
Rob Davies MBE, 34 (men’s class 1) – Brecon
Kim Daybell, 26 (men’s class 10) – Sheffield/London
Ashley Facey Thompson, 23 (men’s class 9) – London (Stratford)/Sheffield
Sue Gilroy MBE, 45 (women’s class 4) – Barnsley
Jack Hunter-Spivey, 23 (men’s class 5) – Liverpool/Sheffield
Paul Karabardak, 33 (men’s class 6) – Swansea
Tom Matthews, 26 (men’s class 1) – Aberdare
Aaron McKibbin, 27 (men’s class 8) – London (Wandsworth)/Sheffield
Fliss Pickard, 24 (women’s class 6) – Burnley
Megan Shackleton, 19 (women’s class 4) – Todmorden
David Wetherill, 28 (men’s class 6) – Torpoint
Ross Wilson, 23 (men’s class 8) – Minster/Sheffield