Belgrade, Serbia was the destination for the 2021 GAZPROM European Table Tennis Championships qualifying event. Wales had both a Men’s and Women’s team hoping to qualify for the finals in Cluj, Romania. The event format saw 2 chances to qualify, firstly in stage 1 which was a group stage and the winner’s of each group gained a qualification place. Stage 2 saw all teams finishing 2nd in the stage 1 groups drawn into a straight knock out with 1 more place available in both the Men’s and Women’s event.
The Men were drawn into a difficult group with Turkey, Israel and Bosnia and Herzegovina for stage 1 of the qualification event. There were senior team debutants in Marc Castro, Louie Evans and Rhys Hertherton alongside the more experienced Callum Evans. First up was the groups top seed Turkey who showed their class winning 3-0. The second match was against Israel which was a tighter affair with Callum Evans beating the Israel number 2 Michael Tauber (WR 229) but the team unfortunately went down 3-1. The final match for the men was also a tight affair with Callum struggling with a back injury Marc stepped up to play at number 1 in the team. The first set was close but going to the Bosnian before pegging back to take a 2-1 lead, A close 4th set went to the way of Bosnia to set up a tense 5th Set which saw Marc go down 11-9 on a net ball. Rhys and Louie both put in strong performances but the experience of the older opponents showed in vital points with the team losing 3-0.
The Women’s draw saw Wales drawn against Estonia, Faroe Islands and Slovenia for stage one of the qualification event. First match up was Estonia with Charlotte Carey getting the team of to a great start with a 3-1 win. Followed by a great win for Chloe Thomas Wu Zhang against Airi Avameri (WR 318) putting the team into a 2-0 lead. Third to play was Danielle Kelly, another player making their senior team debut, who was unlucky to lose 3-1 brining Estonia back into the match. The fourth match saw Charlotte play against the Estonia number 1 and with the match going in favour of the Estonian and left the match poised at 2-2. Unfortunately Chloe couldn’t stop the Estonian come back and saw Wales lose their first match 3-2. Next up was Faroe Islands and a routine 3-0 win for the girls with Charlotte, Chloe and Beth Richards all winning their matches 3-0 to set up a must win clash with top seeds in the group Slovenia.
The women’s team got off to great start with Charlotte winning the first match with a comfortable 3-0 performance. Chloe then lost to the much higher ranked Strazar (WR 303) to level the score tied at 1-1. Next up was Danielle who narrowly lost out to Opeke (WR 642) 11-6 in the 5th set. The Slovenians now leading 2-1 in a match that was a must win for Wales if they wanted to gain a qualification spot. Match 4 saw an experienced performance from Charlotte to beat Strazar and bring the match level at 2-2. The deciding match saw Chloe use all her experience to pull away and take a comfortable 3-0 win and a win 3-2 win for the team. This result left the team in 2nd place and qualify for stage 2 of the qualification event.
In stage 2 their was only 1 qualification spot available. Wales were drawn against Bulgaria in the semi final. The match got off to a difficult start with Chloe losing out 3-0 to Trifonova (WR 384). At 1-0 down in the match Charlotte stepped up with a fantastic display to beat Yovkova (WR 123) 3-0. Danielle put a good display but was on the wrong side of the result with Histrova (WR 544) taking the match 3-1. Unfortunately Charlotte wasn’t able to deliver a repeat performance of her first match which saw Trifonva take the match 3-1 and secure the whole match for Bulgaria, 3-1.
“The men were a bit unfortunate with the draw but equally there all good teams out here at this stage, The team is a very young side with only Callum having played at this level before so it was a great experience and expose for the other players building up to Birmingham 2022” Matt Porter
“We are all disappointed to have not qualified to the finals’, but the team left it all on the court. Although the outcome wasn’t what we wanted it was a great opportunity for the players to gain valuable match time and experience after a long period of limited competitive opportunities.”