27 August 2021

Relieved Bayley battles into final and three table tennis bronzes confirmed

An incredibly relieved Will Bayley reached his third consecutive table tennis men’s singles class 7 Paralympic final courtesy of an enthralling 3-2 semi-final victory over China’s Liao Keli.

Bayley, 33, looked to be steamrolling his way to a guaranteed silver medal at Tokyo 2020 after winning the opening two games 11-6 and 11-9 against an opponent he whitewashed in the group stages five years ago.

But Liao, ranked No.3, fought back superbly and Bayley was forced to save a match point having been pegged back to 2-2 before finally prevailing 11-6, 11-9, 8-11, 9-11, 12-10 to put him one win away from defending the gold medal he won at Rio 2016.

Will Bayley fought hard and booked his place in a third consecutive singles table tennis Paralympic final

“It was pure relief,” said Bayley, who will play China’s Yan Shuo in the final. “And surprise as well because there were thoughts going through my mind at some points in that match that I had thrown it away.

“I was expecting him to stop playing so well but he didn’t – after two sets down he just blew me away, so it was difficult.

“He’s improved so much; he is not the same player I played in Rio, he is a better player now.

“I knew that before I played him as I’ve seen him in training and he is a real world-class player and I knew I was going to have to be at my best. I managed to win but it was tough.”

Liverpudlian Jack Hunter-Spivey won his first major medal with a bronze in the men’s class 5 singles but refused to make excuses after losing his semi-final to German Valentin Baus in straight games (11-7, 12-10, 11-7) to miss out on a shot at gold.

“I don’t think it was a match too far today, I just think we didn’t quite get it right on the day, but he was better than me,” said Hunter-Spivey, 26, who beat the world No.2 and No.3 on his way to the podium.

“I think when I get the medal round my neck on the podium it will sink in. No-one can say I was given a medal.

“I’ve got a whole load of work in front of me but if I carry on like I am doing I can definitely dominate.”

Jack Hunter-Spivey leaves Tokyo with a bronze medal

Welsh duo Paul Karabardak and Tom Matthews also had to settle for bronze after missing out in their semi-finals matches.

Karabardak, 36, confessed he was emotionally drained after finally securing a Paralympic medal at his fourth Games and he was no match for American Ian Seidenfeld in class 6, going down 11-6, 11-2, 11-6 in a one-sided encounter.

“It was really difficult because I was tired after the emotion of yesterday,” admitted Karabardak.

“If you put that aside, Ian played superbly and he deserved to win. Even if I was at my best and even if I was fresh, I think I would have struggled to live with him the way he was playing.”

Matthews, 29, said he surprised himself by winning a medal on his Games debut after a 3-0 reverse (11-7, 12-10, 11-9) against South Korean Hyeon Uk Kim in the class 1 semi-final.

Tom Matthews won bronze on his Paralympic Games debut

“I feel I played well. Credit to him, he played really well and he came out on top today but I’ll be back,” explained Matthews. “It’s my first Games so I’ve got to be proud of coming home with a medal - I didn’t think I’d do that.”

And three class 8 Brits were knocked out in the quarter-finals with Ross Wilson and Aaron McKibbin both losing 3-1 to Ukrainian opponents in Maksym Nikolenko and Viktor Didukh respectively, while Billy Shilton went down 3-0 to China’s Zhao Shuai.

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