Commonwealth champion Joshua Stacey put up a brave fight against World number one Laurens Devos but had to settle for silver after a 3-1 loss in the final of men’s class 9 at the World Para Table Tennis Championships in Andalucia.
Beating Devos is the Para table tennis equivalent of climbing Everest. The 22-year-old Belgian has not lost a men’s class 9 singles match since 2015 and is the reigning World, Paralympic and European champion. The pair had met twice before with Devos winning in three sets and when the Belgian took the first two sets 11-6 11-1 he looked to be on his way to a comfortable 3-0 win.
But Stacey fought back magnificently, taking an 8-3 lead in the third set and holding his nerve when Devos levelled at 8-8 to take it 14-12. Devos then showed why he is the World number one by taking the fourth set 11-6 to retain his title but Stacey showed that he will be a worthy opponent for the Belgian in next year’s European Championships and in Paris 2024.
“It was obviously good to have got back into it and win that tight set,” said a despondent Stacey. “I felt that in the third set I got a bit more comfortable with the kind of quality that he can play with and the kind of things that he can do with a table tennis ball. He’s dominating the class for a reason and I think that showed in that match. There are definitely positives to take from it – I’ve obviously taken him a little bit closer and I’m sure in the next two years leading up to Paris I’m going to chase him down. I think I’m going to be the one that is biting at his heels and ideally I’ll be at the top come Paris.”
Despite taking silver in singles and doubles at his first World Championships Stacey was far from satisfied with his tournament.
“If I’m honest I’m not happy with two silver medals,” he said, “but these kind of losses are what motivates an athlete to the fullest effect and I think it will do that for me for the next two years leading up to Paris. I think I’ll use it more as motivation rather than settling on that silver and I’ll try and push as hard as I can to make sure the next one is a gold.”
Rob Davies and Joo Young Dae last met in the Paralympic final in Rio where the Welshman won in four sets, Davies was unable to defend his title in Tokyo due to injury and the Korean is now Paralympic champion and World number one while Davies is still working his way back to his best form after two years out through injury, this time they meet in a World Championship semi final and it was Joo who proved the stronger in a 3-0 win and Davies coming away with Bronze medal. Having come into these World Championships with little expectation, Davies can take confidence from a bronze medal as he continues to build towards Paris in 2024.
“It didn’t go so well,” said Davies, “but you can’t be 60% and play against someone like Joo and it showed today. At the moment it is probably my level and I’m really surprised to have got through to the semi-final and very chuffed to have got the bronze medal and beaten the two guys I did to be honest. So it is coming together and I’m just getting more used to playing matches again which is a positive. It was always going to be about next year for me really because I’ve only been back to full fitness for about two months so I’m happy with where I am and I can’t wait for next year now.”
Davies wasn’t the only Welsh scalp for Joo at these championships as he came up against Aberdare’s
Tom Matthews in the quarter final. Matthews put up a great fight against World number one Joo in. Having lost the first set 12-10 he took the second 11-4 and then edged the fourth to level at 2-2 after Joo had won the third 11-9. The Welshman was 8-5 down in the final set but worked his way back to level at 8-8 and set up a match point at 10-9 that the Paralympic champion saved with a smash before setting up a match point of his own. Matthews saved that but a service error gave Joo a second match point and he took the set 13-11 and the match 3-2.
“I’m pleased with how I played,” said a heartbroken Matthews. “Fair play to him – he was on his game today and he came out the better player. I’ve made a lot of improvement since Tokyo and I’m proud of the way I played and I’ve got to say a massive thank you to my teammates for their support in the crowd and everyone back home.”
Newly crowned doubles World Champion Grace Williams fought back from 2-1 down to win her last 16 match against Aneth Araya from Costa Rica and her reward was a quarterfinal against the top seed and World number one Aida Dahlen from Norway. Their two previous meetings resulted in 3-0 wins for the World and Paralympic bronze medallist and although Williams played well Dahlen was just too strong in a 3-0 win.
Another Welsh recently crowned doubles World Champion Paul Karabardak was unfortunate to be drawn against the men’s class 6 World number one Peter Rosenmeier in the last 16 who is the reigning World and European champion and a two-time Paralympic champion from Denmark. The Dane was in top form beating Karabardak 3-0.
“I prepared well but it was a difficult first round to play the World number one,” said Karabardak. “I thought I did OK but he was playing really well today and I couldn’t really find a way to get into the match. He was tactically very good and hit some good shots. Maybe I wasn’t at my best but he was excellent so good luck to Peter for the rest of the competition. The doubles was fantastic – it is amazing to become World champion – but I’m just a bit disappointed with such a difficult draw in the singles because I feel the way I’m playing I could have progressed through a few rounds and maybe challenged for a medal. But on the whole I’m very happy with my World Championships.”
Grace Williams (Wrexham) & Fliss Pickard (Burnley) – Woman’s Doubles class WD14 – Gold
Paul Karabardak (Swansea) & Billy Shilton (Stonehouse) – Men’s Doubles class MD14 – Gold
Joshua Stacey (Cardiff) & Ross Wilson (Minster) – Men’s Doubles class MD18 – Silver
Joshua Stacey (Cardiff) – Men’ Class 9 Singles – Silver
Rob Davies (Brecon) – Men’s Class 1 Singles – Bronze
Tom Matthews (Aberdare) – Men’s Class 1 Singles – Quarter Final
Grace Williams (Wrexham) – Woman’s Class 8 Singles – Quarter Final
Paul Karabardak (Swansea) – Men’s Class 6 Singles – Last 16
Joshua Stacey (Cardiff) & Grace Williams (Wrexham) – Mixed Doubles Class XD17 – Last 16