by Ian Marshall
Competing in men’s singles class 2, Fabian Lamirault beat Russia’s Razul Nazirov (11-4, 11-3, 11-5); in class 5, Cao Ningning accounted for Chinese Taipei’s Cheng Ming-Chih (11-8, 11-9, 11-6).
Likewise, class 5 there was success for the Rio silver medallist, Germany’s Valentin Baus, he beat Nicolas Saint-Aira (11-3, 11-3, 11-4). However, in the same category there was defeat for Serbia’s bronze medallist, Mitar Palikuca; he was beaten by Turkey’s Ali Ozturk (13-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6).
Meanwhile in class 2, something had to give; the Czech Republic’s Jiri Suchanek, Rio bronze medallist, opposed Poland’s Rafal Czuper, silver medallist; the verdict went to Jiri Suchanek, he prevailed in four games (11-6, 11-4, 7-11, 11-9).
Likewise in men’s singles class 1, Korea Republic’s Joo Youngdae and Nam Kiwon, the respective silver and bronze medallist in Rio de Janeiro, enjoyed success.
Joo Youngdae eventually overcame the spirited resistance offered by Cuba’s Yunier Fernandez (8-11, 11-8, 11-4, 2-11, 11-7), Nam Kiwan ended the hopes of Hungary’s Endre Major (11-6, 14-12, 11-3).
However, if there were performances to stand out from the crowd, it was those afforded by Great Britain’s Tom Matthews and colleague Jack Hunter-Spivey. Both booked semi-final places.
Competing in his first ever Paralympic Games; in class 1, Tom Matthews beat Italy’s Andrea Borgato (11-9, 10-12, 11-4, 12-10), after leading 10-6 in the decider; in class 5, Jack Hunter-Spivey halted the ambitions of Norway’s Tommy Urhaug, the winner in 2012 in London. He prevailed by the very narrowest of decisions (9-11, 13-11, 11-9, 10-12, 12-10).
“I’m ecstatic. I really can’t put it into words to be honest. To come to my first Paralympic Games and medal, if you had told me that before I came here, I literally thought I only wanted to win a match and here I am a Paralympic medallist and I can’t believe it. When I lost the four match points it was almost like, “Oh God, here we go” but I held my nerve and as I said yesterday Andy Hill (psychologist) has done an amazing job with me and my coach Neil Robinson in the corner has done a great job by slowing me down and we got through so I’m really happy with that.” Tom Matthews
Although assured of at least a bronze medal Matthews is not intending to rest on his laurels.
“I want to change the colour. We’ll go for the semis now and see what happens but I’m going to fight all the way and try to get to the final and become Paralympic champion.” Tom Matthews
An emotional Tom Matthews, Jack Hunter Spivey was no different.
“It doesn’t feel real; going into this match I felt nervous. Tommy is the guy I’d idolised when I was a kid, the guy I watched YouTube videos of and the guy I wanted to be and he’s one of my best friends. But I just knew I’ve worked so hard for this; I’ve been through a hell of a lot on and off the table and it’s paid off. I only wanted to be the kid who wasn’t watching the TV but was on the TV and now I’m a Paralympic medallist. It doesn’t feel real. I was down in every set but I just kept on fighting and kept on believing in myself. I’ve been through such a journey and it is quite a good metaphor for life I suppose, being down and coming back and prevailing and I just want to say if anyone is out there and struggling it does get better I promise. I’ve just won a Paralympic medal.
Going 2-1 up and losing deuce in the fourth was tough but Rushy (coach Andrew Rushton) did an incredible job in the corner. He got me focused and we managed to go again and it wasn’t a chance missed it was another chance to take a medal so we managed to do it now and I’m so proud of myself.” Jack Hunter Spivey
Like Matthews, Hunter-Spivey is not content with just a medal.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I’m going all the way. I really think I can take this gold. It sounds so strange coming out of my mouth but I don’t think anyone realises how much hard work I’ve done in lockdown. Having a table in my living room – training on it, going underneath it to do my press-ups, eating my dinner off it. Table tennis has been my whole life for 16 years and my whole family’s life as well and this medal isn’t just for me it is for everyone back home and everyone who has supported me.” Jack Hunter Spivey