Words by Francesca Bullock – Team GB
Joshua Stacey made the perfect start to Paralympic year and improved his chances of qualification for Tokyo 2020 by winning gold in the men’s class 9 singles at the Polish Para Open in Wladyslawowo today. Billy Shilton took silver in men’s class 8 and there were bronze medals for Sue Gilroy (women’s class 4-5), Tom Matthews (men’s class 1) and Ashley Facey Thompson (men’s class 9).
Stacey topped his group without dropping a set in his three matches against the Asian Championships bronze medallist from Hong Kong, Wong Chi Yin, European team bronze medallist Dezso Bereczki from Hungary and 14 year old Marcin Zielinksi from Poland.
In the other group in men’s class 9 Facey Thompson recovered from dropping the first set to beat Lucas Didier, the talented 16 year old Frenchman, 3-1, and then came up against the World silver medallist Iurii Nozdrunov in top form with the Russian winning 3-0. The 24 year old Londoner was beaten in five sets by Tibor Chmela from Czech Republic but took second place in the group on countback to progress to an all-British semi-final against Stacey.
The 19 year old Welshman beat his English team mate 3-1 and then had to fight off a determined challenge in the final from Wong Chi Yin, who twice levelled the match before Stacey took the deciding set 11-6 to claim the gold.
“I felt that I performed at a good level throughout the tournament,” said Stacey. “The final against Wong was a little tougher; he played at a higher level and really pushed me. The deciding factor was in the fifth set when I attacked his serves and he struggled being put under pressure early on in the rally. I feel that my game has definitely improved over the winter period and I feel more solid in the beginning of the rallies and it definitely helps my game plan.”
Tom Matthews had a tough start against World number one Young Dae Joo from Korea and the Paralympic and World silver medallist was on top form in a 3-0 win. The Welshman was a 3-0 winner against the unranked Italian Luca Chiarini and secured second place in his group with a 3-0 win against another Italian, the very experienced World team gold medallist Andrea Borgato. That set up a semi-final against Hyeon Uk Kim and the World champion from Korea took the match 3-0.
“My match against Borgato was a must win,” said Matthews, “so it was good to deal with the pressure situation and come out on top. He’s been playing well this tournament so to have a 3-0 victory over him was a confidence-building win. Against Kim I feel I gave him too much respect and didn’t stick to my game plan as well as I wanted to. But it was more of a learning curve for the next six month block of training. There are a few things I know I need to work on but nothing major – just controlling a few things. All in all I feel in a good place and I’m now looking forward to the Spanish Open in a couple of weeks.”
The full squad for the Para Polish Open is:
Ashley Facey Thompson, 25, London/Sheffield (men’s class 9 – singles only)
Sue Gilroy, 47, Barnsley (women’s class 4)
Tom Matthews, 27, Aberdare (men’s class 1 – singles only)
Martin Perry, 25, Paisley/Sheffield (men’s class 6)
Megan Shackleton, 20, Sheffield (women’s class 4)
Billy Shilton, 21, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire/Sheffield (men’s class 8)
Joshua Stacey, 19, Cardiff/Sheffield (men’s class 9 – singles only)