by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor (interviews by Francesca Bullock)
In the Men’s Team events, Rio Paralympic Games gold medallist, Will Bayley and 18 year old Billy Shilton alongside Rio Team bronze medallists Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson are both in contention in Men’s Team Class 8.
Likewise Jack Hunter-Spivey and his Norwegian partner Tommy Urhaug reserved a semi-final place in Class 5; whilst London 2012 Paralympic Games bronze medallist, Paul Davies, and new partner Tom Matthews are very much in the mix for the top prize in the Class 1 event.
Success for the British men; it is no different for their female counterparts. Sue Gilroy and 18 year old Megan Shackleton are all through to the semi-finals of Class 4-5.
First position in the group secured, Will Bayley and Billy Shilton reserved their place in the penultimate round by recording a two matches to one win against the Hungarian partnership of Andras Csonka and Gyula Zborai. Similarly in the opposite half of the draw, Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson, after topping their group, recorded a two-nil win against the Slovak Republic combination of Richard Csejtey and Jozef Krsiak to reserve their penultimate round place.
Crucial to both quarter-final wins was the doubles; fixtures start with the doubles, followed by a singles contest and one further singles if needed to determine the outcome.
Will Bayley and Billy Shilton recovered from a two games to nil deficit against Andras Csonka and Gyula Zborai (8-11, 10-12, 11-9, 17-15, 11-6), before Andras Csonka overcame Will Bayley (11-8, 11-9, 11-9) and proceedings concluded in anti-climax with Gyula Zborai having to concede the match to Billy Shilton owing to injury.
“We had a great doubles match again today, we were two-nil down and we managed to get through so I’m really happy. It is great to play in a tournament like this with so many top players; it is so beneficial to my game.” Billy Shilton
A motivated Billy Shilton, it is very much the same for Will Bayley who is a Class 7 player and is thus competing against opponents of a lesser disability. He was delighted with the win over the Hungarians and is relishing the semi-final contest against Sweden’s Emil Andersson and Linus Karlsson, Men’s Team Class 6-8 silver medallists at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“It is fun to be a part of a match like that with lots of good rallies. It was just a crazy match and we had to save a few match points. It could have gone either way but Billy played some great shots on the big points and kept us in there. We are looking forward to tomorrow. We haven’t got anything to lose as we are the underdogs, so we can go for it and enjoy ourselves. If we play as well, we have a good chance against anyone.” Will Bayley
A tough task ahead for Will Bayley and Billy Shilton; it is even tougher for Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson, they face the top seeds, Ukraine’s Viktor Didukh and Ivan Mai. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Viktor Didukh in partnership with Maksym Nikolenko won gold, they beat Aaron McKibbin and Ross Wilson at the semi-final stage.
Avenging the defeat is very much in the mind of the two British players in Lasko; claiming a medal at the forthcoming World Team Championships which start in Bratislava on Wednesday 17th May is also high on the agenda.
“With the new system the doubles is always very important. Ukraine is probably a bit stronger than they were in Rio as they have Mai in the team. Ross and I are playing well and we have both had a good tournament so far but this is obviously preparation for the World Team Championships next week, so we can try a few things out tomorrow and see what works and what doesn’t and go from there. We are playing well in doubles. We are not fully ready yet for the highest level but we are building up to it and that is all we can do. We’ve been working well together and hopefully we can carry that on.” Aaron McKibbin
Success in Lasko and in Bratislava is also very much on the mind of Paul Davies and Tom Matthews in Class 1; after losing by two matches to nil to the combination of Hungary’s Endre Major and Frenchman, Alan Papirer, they recovered to post a two-nil over the duo formed by Argentina’s Fernando Eberhardt and Russia’s Dmitrij Lavrov.
“That was like a flashback of London. All the team was there supporting when I really needed it; it was amazing and a lovely feeling. If we can beat the Italians we have a chance of gold which would be nice to take on to the World Champs next week. To be fair, Tom has developed well throughout the day. He has listened to the older fella and it is showing in the results in the doubles; fantastic results today and another day tomorrow.” Paul Davies
The British pair now meets the Italian duo of Andrea Borgato and Federico Falco in the title decider; also they have a record of two wins and one defeat. Likewise, they lost to Endre Major and Alan Papirer, experiencing a two-one reverse. However, in their opening contest Endre Major and Alan Papirer had experienced a two-nil defeat in opposition to Fernando Eberhardt and Dmitrij Lavrov
“Our partnership has developed throughout the day. It is great to play alongside Paul. He is keeping me calm and controlled and saying: “calm down, take your time and be composed”; we are doing quite well together considering it is our first time, so bring on the Italians tomorrow.” Tom Matthews
Tense times for Paul Davies and Tom Matthews; for Jack Hunter-Spivey and Tommy Urhaug in Class 5; live was less dramatic. In their first phase fixtures, they recorded a two-nil win against Argentina’s Gabriel Copola and Elias Romero, prior to overcoming the Turkish duo of Ali Ozturk and Hamza Caliskan by the same margin. Undoubtedly, the most impressive result was the win recorded by Jack Hunter-Spivey against Hamza Caliskan, the British player prevailed in four games (8-11, 11-7, 11-7, 11-9), having in the quarter-final encounter in the Men’s Singles event, needed the full five games to succeed (6-11, 11-6, 7-11, 12-10, 11-8).
“I learned a lot from the quarter-final yesterday. We played a great doubles today against a good team. To beat Caliskan a bit more comfortably today and learn from that was a good thing for me to do.” Jack Hunter-Spivey.
Impressive performances by the British men; it was the same for the British women. Sue Gilroy and Megan Shackleton, after finishing in second place in their group behind the combination of the Slovak Republic’s Alena Kanova and Hong Kong’s Wong Pui Yi, recorded a two-nil win against Mexico’s Edith Sigala amd Martha Verdin to reserve their place in the penultimate round.
“We haven’t played together for a while now but throughout the day we just remembered that we do have good experience together and we carried on battling through and won even if it was ugly.” Megan Shackleton
At the semi-final stage they meet Serbia’s Borislava Peric-Rankovic and Nada Matic, the top seeds and silver medallists in Women’s Team Class 4-5 at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
“Doubles is such a vital part of team events now and obviously we need to start improving that in the future but as the day has gone on we have tried a few things out. Coming closer together seems to have worked a lot better for us today. There was a big gap down the middle this morning. Overall I’m really pleased with how we played.” Sue Gilroy
Medals await but for 22 year old, Felicity Pickard, partnering Poland’s Katarzyna Marszal, it was to be third place in the group and the end of the road. The combination formed by Kelly van Zon of the Netherlands who joined forces with Turkey’s Kubra Korkut and Canada’s Stephanie Chan topped the group with the pairing of Argentina’s Giselle Muñoz and Russia’s Diana Gilmanova in second spot.
Nevertheless it was a philosophical Felicity Pickard who is clearly adapting to international demands.
“It’s all about experience and I feel that I’ve grown as this tournament has gone on. I feel that I’ve implemented some of the things I’ve been trying to work on in the doubles. It is all coming together and obviously I’ve a lot to work on back at home. It has been good experience playing with a more experienced Class 6 player; seeing how she can deal with certain points and maybe plays with a bit more confidence whereas I back off a little. I’m really looking forward to my next tournament. I‘ll go back home now, work really hard and come back stronger.” Felicity Picard
Play in Lasko concludes on Tuesday 9th May.
2017 Thermana Lasko 14th Slovenia Para Open: Latest Results (Monday 8th May)