18 Mar 2018

Titles for Ukraine’s Maksym Nikolenko and Viktor Didukh, as well as for the host nation’s Mohamed Amine Kalem but as play in the Men’s Singles Standing Classes at the 2018 Lignano Masters Para Open came to a close on Friday 16th March, there were surprise winners.

Romania’s Bobi Simon won Class 6 contrary to expectation as in Class 10 did Great Britain’s Kim Daybell,

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager

The no.3 seed, Bobi Simon proved the nemesis of Great Britain; at the semi-final stage he beat David Wetherill, the top seed (11-9, 11-7, 12-10), before in the final accounting for Paul Karabardak (4-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-6).

“I thought I played some of my best table tennis on the way to the final. Bobi is a very tough opponent for me and he was also playing really well. Unfortunately, I came up a bit tactically short and he was able to exploit my weaknesses but I’m really happy to come away with a silver medal. I feel it was a solid start to the season with plenty of positives and things I can improve on.” Paul Karabardak

Defeat at the final hurdle for Great Britain, in Class 10 it was the reverse scenario. Kim Daybell, the no.2 seed, after beating Ukraine’s Serhli Boiko (11-8, 11-8, 13-11) overcame Germany’s Lion Bauer to seal the title (11-7, 11-5, 11-3).

Notably the German was a player very much in form; at the semi-final stage he had beaten South Africa’s Theo Cogill (11-7, 13-11, 11-9), having on the opening day of play overcme Austria’s Krisztian Gardos, the top seed, in a most impressive manner (11-3, 11-7, 11-5).

Certainly the result bodes well for Kim Daybell who has two major events in his sights; in April he will compete in the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, later in the year in Slovenia he will be on duty at the World Para Championships.

“I feel like I put in a professional performance throughout the event and am pleased to come away with the gold medal. There were lots of potentially difficult players in the draw so it was nice to come through so comfortably; this gives me confidence going into the Commonwealth Games in a few weeks’ time and hopefully I can carry this form through the World Championships later in the year.” Kim Daybell

Two surprises outcomes, in the remaining categories the top seeds prevailed with Ukraine very much in evidence, Maksym Nikolenko won Class 7, Viktor Didukh secured the Class 8 title.

At the final hurdle Maksym Nikolenko accounted for Great Britain’s Will Bayley, the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, gold medallist. He won in five games (8-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-9), both players having been most impressive in the penultimate round; Maksym Nikolenko beat Egypt’s Moahmed Ahmed Sayed in three straight games (11-7, 11-4, 11-9), by a similar margin, Will Bayley had ended the hopes of Mykhaylo Popov, like Maksym Nikolenko from Ukraine (11-7, 11-5, 11-9).

“I feel that I played a great semi-final. It’s always a hard match against Ukrainian players but I played tactically perfect against Popov. The final was very close and I won a good first game but then Nikolenko changed tactics and I struggled to adapt. I feel I should have won the fourth game having been 9-7 up but I have to congratulate Nikolenko, he played a great match.” Will Bayley

Meanwhile in Class 8 an all Ukraine title decider saw Viktor Didukh beat colleague Ivan Mai to secure the top prize (11-7, 11-7, 7-11, 11-7), the two finalists having ended British hopes in the penultimate round.

Viktor Didukh accounted for Aaron McKibbin the no.4 seed (8-11, 11-2, 5-11, 11-5, 11-2); Ivan Mai overcame Ross Wilson, the no.2 seed (11-9, 11-3, 12-10).

“I am number one in the ranking and so I am expected to win the tournament, I have managed to keep in good condition. I am satisfied; my game is at 90 per cent. It’s difficult to play all matches at one hundred per cent. I usually win against Ivan, to play against a compatriot isn’t easy because we know each other. My next tournament will be in Bratislava in Slovak Republic, at the beginning of May. As regard to World Championships, I prefer to say nothing, we will see.” Viktor Didukh.

“Every round up until the semi-final I won three-nil and I was receiving serve well which I have been working on in training. In the semi-final I felt in patches that I played very strong and was bringing things into my match play that I have been working on since the Europeans last year. I let myself down in some of the games by making the wrong decisions and letting it get away from me but it is the second time in a row I have pushed Didukh to three-two. I feel that I am getting closer to turning that result into a win.” Aaron McKibbin

“I don’t feel that I played my best today but I’m hoping that I can change that in the team event. It’s a positive for me that I have started the year off with a medal and I am looking to improve on my performance going forward.” Ross Wilson

Titles for visitors from foreign shores, there was also success for the host nation in the Men’s Singles Standing events. Mohamed Amine Kalem justified his top billing in Class 9 to emerge victorious. At the final hurdle he beat Ukraine’s Lev Kats (11-8, 11-9, 11-7), having in the penultimate round ousted Great Britain’s Ashley Facey-Thompson (11-8, 8-11, 11-9, 11-6).

“In Lignano I had already won in 2016, beating twice Iurii Nozdrunov from Russia. Here I was the favourite and in the final I played for the third time against Lev Kats, also from Russia. In the previous matches I had won in an easier manner. Today he played better. At the beginning I had to understand better how to return his serve. After winning the first game, in the second I was behind and I had to come back. Then I began to serve to his forehand and things were better. In order to win you have always to play at 100 per cent, as soon as you relax you risk defeat.” Mohamed Amine Kalem

“I played fine. It was hard to get into the match in the semi-final and I was struggling to put easy balls away. I will have to learn about these situations and hopefully I can perform better in the team event. I didn’t play my best table tennis but Kalem was too good today. It was good to test myself against one of the best players in the world and it showed me the level that I need to be at to become one of the best.” Ashley Facey-Thompson

The individual events over, the team competitions now assume centre stage; play concludes on Saturday 17th March.

2018 Lignano Masters Para Open – Day Two
Photos: Michele Castellani

Lignano Para Masters: Draws for main events and latest results

Paralympics Para Table Tennis Kim Daybell Bobi Simion