Paul Karabardak and Billy Shilton produced a superb performance on day two of the Andalucia 2022 World Para Table Tennis Championships to take gold in the men’s class 14 doubles in only their second tournament together. Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey took silver in the men’s class 18 doubles and Shilton will also take bronze in the mixed class 14 doubles with Fliss Pickard, who will play for gold tomorrow with Welsh teenager Grace Williams in the final of the women’s class 14 doubles.
In their semi-final Shilton and Karabardak took on the three-time World team champions from Spain – class 6 former World and Paralympic champion Alvaro Valera and class 7 World champion Jordi Morales – and they looked to be in control at 2-0, 5-2 but the Spanish pair, cheered on by the home supporters, used all their experience to take the third set 11-9. At 5-4 down in the fourth GB coach Andrew Rushton called a time out and it worked as Shilton and Karabardak led 7-5 but Valera and Morales are great competitors and they fought back to level at 9-9 and had a point to take the match into a deciding set before the GB pair edged it 12-10 to take the match 3-1.
“We were on top for the whole of the match really,” said Shilton, “even in the third set we could have won it. Under the pressure and with a home crowd it wasn’t easy for me and Paul and we’re obviously delighted to have made the final.”
“I think we played really well,” said Karabardak. “They are good players and their experience brought them back into it, but I knew if we kept going for our shots and being positive we’d have a great chance to win.”
In the final they took on Thailand – class 6 world number three and former Paralympic champion Rungroj Thainiyom and class 8 Phisit Wangphonphathanasiri, gold medallist in Mexico and Thailand this year. Karabardak and Shilton made a great start and took the first two sets 11-8 11-8 but won only one point in the third set as the experienced Thai pair fought back. The GB pair edged ahead in the fourth and had three match points at 10-7. The first one was saved but when Wangphonphathanasiri sent a backhand long Karabardak punched the air in triumph before hugging Shilton and Rushton.
“They changed the tactics a little bit in the third set,” said Shilton, “and there were a few mistakes on my part but in the fourth set we just went back to what we know we can do with the serves and the receives and I’m really happy. I just think our togetherness on the court and the way we are talking all the time is so important. The way we communicate with each other in a match is amazing and I honestly think that is one of the reasons why we are World champions. What a feeling – it is something I’ve thought about every day when I’m in the hall, something I wanted to do as a kid and to do it for the first time with Paul is so special.”
“It is amazing,” said Karabardak. “I’ve won a lot in my career and obviously Tokyo was really special and will take some beating but to be World champion here is one of the best things I’ve ever won and to do it with such a great doubles player like Billy who is also such a good friend makes it even more special. Winning in doubles rather than singles makes it a bit more special that you get to share that feeling with someone. I think because I lack self-belief it makes me better and makes me more positive having someone by my side telling me that I can do it and that helps me a lot. I’m not sure there are many World champions who come from Swansea so I think they will be really proud and it is going to be really special for the city as well.”
Rushton was full of praise for his players.
“All the work they have put in together in the training hall, doing the video analysis, the way they spoke with each other and communicated throughout the competition was incredible – the best I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “In the crunch points and the pressure situations they worked together as a team and that is all you can ask of them; I’m so, so proud and it is absolutely incredible.”
Fliss Pickard and Grace Williams produced an incredible performance at the World Para Table Tennis Championships in Andalucia today to take gold in the women’s class 14 doubles, beating the top seeds from Germany 3-0. The pair, who started playing together last year, had already exceeded all expectations in beating France in their semi-final last night and they stepped up another level in today’s final against the hugely experienced German pair of class 6 World number two and Tokyo bronze medallist Stephanie Grebe and class 8 World number three Juliane Wolf.
Pickard and Williams started well and fought back from 9-7 down to take the first set 11-9 before dominating the second set 11-4. At 4-1 down in the third set Germany took a timeout but the young British pair moved to 9-6 and within touching distance of the gold. At 9-8 GB coach Shaun Marples called a timeout and at 10-8 Pickard and Williams had two match points. Both came and went but at 11-10 it was third time lucky and when Grebe’s shot flew high into the air Pickard fell to the floor before being hugged by Williams.
“I knew we’d get there one day,” said 28-year-old Pickard from Burnley, “but I never thought it would happen so soon. Yesterday was a real breakthrough for us and I knew if we could play the same way again today we had a chance. Grace was incredible – the way she dealt with the pressure was unbelievable and I think you could really see out there we were both having lots of fun and that is what has got us to where we are.
“It was important to get a good start but we didn’t think too much about what we were going to do, we just went out there and played the way we wanted to play and tried to dictate the game and work from there really and luckily our best is good enough. At match point I was trying to say to Grace ‘OK, we just keep doing the same things’ but obviously whether you like it or not it is going through your head. I knew Germany had the experience and ability to pull it back and until the fat lady sings it’s not over so we had to keep fighting and that is exactly what we did.”
19-year-old Williams, from Llanfyllin in North Wales, who only started playing table tennis five years ago and was awarded a wild card to compete here, these Championships have signalled her arrival on the world stage and her performance with Pickard has more than justified the faith that the team has in her talent and potential.
“I felt pressure before the match and a bit overwhelmed as it was a World Championship final,” she said, “but I knew I had Fliss beside me and Shaun in the corner and I knew whatever the outcome they’d be proud of me and I’d be proud of myself as well. I didn’t think too much about it but once we got a good start against Germany I thought ‘I really want this now’. As soon as we won the final point I thought ‘that’s it’ but it hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
Williams trains with Pickard and the rest of the British team at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield where she is also studying nutrition at University.
“Coming to the Worlds as a wild card I kind of expected to come for the experience,” she said, “and learn what to do in matches – what to do on the table and off the table and see what everyone else is doing. But the fact that I’m here and I’ve got a gold medal is just surreal and I can’t believe it.”
For coach Shaun Marples, BPTT’s Pathway manager, this result is testament to the success of the development programme that he has guided since 2013.
“I’m unbelievably proud of them and what they have achieved today,” he said. “Being part of their journey since coming on to the programme and progressing into the Performance programme and for them to be able to deliver a mature performance like that on the biggest stage really shows you what great characters they both are, what champions they are and what key qualities they have as brilliant table tennis players which they’ve just become.
“When I called timeout at 9-8 in the third set we decided it was a free point because we brought the focus back on to our serve – we lost those first two match points but it was about the momentum and keeping composed and doing the same things. I just said to them ‘look we’ve got ourselves into this position by doing the right things so make sure we execute it and let’s see – what will be will be.”
Ross Wilson and Joshua Stacey came through their semi-final 3-1 against class 8 Paralympic and World team medallist Thomas Bouvais and class 10 Paralympic silver medallist Mateo Boheas. They led 2-0 but the French pair came back to take the third before Wilson and Stacey secured their place in the final 11-6 in the fourth.
“It was a very good performance from both of us,” said Stacey. “I think we followed the tactics that we were given by Dave (coach David McBeath) very well and were able to adapt based on where we were in the set and how the game was going.”
“Our partnership has strengthened with the strength of the competition,” said Wilson. “We got a bit tested there by losing the third set and it showed we stick together and keep going through those processes we have and we played some good stuff in the fourth set.”
Their opponents in the final were the experienced class 9 pair of Tokyo bronze medallist and World number five Ivan Mai and European silver medallist and World number two Lev Kats and it was the Ukrainians who made the best start, taking the first set 11-9 and the second 11-4. Wilson and Stacey rallied in the third and had chances to win it but couldn’t take them and had to settle for silver as Mai and Kats took the set 13-11 and the match 3-0.
“I think they just had that solidity around the basics of the game a lot earlier than us,” said Stacey. “In the third set we started to find our feet a bit and we had two chances to win it but didn’t manage to take them. If we had it might have changed the outcome of the game but we didn’t. As a doubles partnership the relationship we had before has only improved so although I’m very disappointed it’s a learning curve and I’m sure we’ll do better next time.”
“The game didn’t go how we wanted it to,” said Wilson, “but considering we’ve only played together a few times it’s been a successful competition I think. Obviously right now it doesn’t feel like that because we’ve just come off from a loss but there is plenty to build on going forwards. In that match the disappointing thing was they did to us what we had done to other teams. They are an experienced doubles team and we are not yet and we just couldn’t quite get the win today but we’ve got the foundations to build on for the future.