Even reigning Paralympic champions get nervous but Will Bayley put anxiety to one side as he kickstarted his table tennis men’s singles class 7 title defence with an impressive victory.
Facing Poland’s Maksym Chudzicki in a Group B match, Bayley sealed a 3-1 victory in 28 minutes – edging a close first game 13-11 before dropping the second 11-8 but bouncing back to wrap up the next two 11-3, 11-8.
An opening victory in the group stage didn’t prompt the same reaction as his gold medal in Rio five years ago – when he climbed on to the table to celebrate – but the Strictly Come Dancing star was still relieved to waltz through the first match.
“I’m really happy,” explained Bayley. “Obviously it has been a massive build-up to the tournament and I did feel the nerves before my match even though this is my fourth Paralympics, I still felt just as nervous because it means so much to me.
“I’ve trained so hard for this – just like my Polish opponent, who was brilliant. I’m pleased to get through the match and on to the next one now.
“I’ve trained probably harder for this competition than for any other Paralympics – I don’t think I could have trained any harder. I’ve prepared unbelievably hard physically for this tournament so I know that if it goes to five sets I’m ready.”
Bayley is back in Group B action on Thursday, when he takes on Thai player Chalermpong Punpoo.
Meanwhile, Ross Wilson relished finally being back in the competitive arena as he opened his campaign with an impressive straight-games victory over Clement Berthier.
International competition has been scarce due to the COVID-19 pandemic but the Brit showed no signs of rust as he raced to an 11-6, 11-7, 14-12 triumph over his French opponent in Group C of the men’s singles class 8 event.
Having won the first game in seven minutes, two-time Paralympic team bronze medallist Wilson strung a run of seven points together to take the second game from 7-4 down before sealing victory by edging out Berthier in a tight third game, 14-12.
“He’s a tricky player and for a first game in the Paralympics it makes it even tricker,” explained Wilson, who became world and Commonwealth champion in 2018.
“He is quite an awkward style to play against and when you are feeling the nerves a little bit it is quite hard to get a rhythm against him.
“I haven’t competed for a year and a half and as athletes that is why we do it. We love to get out there and put ourselves in that moment and I absolutely loved it out there – I’ve really missed it.
“It was lovely to come out and get the first win for the team and kick us off to a good start and I hope that continues.”
Wilson plays his second group match on Thursday against Asian champion Peng Weinan from China, while his class 8 compatriot Aaron McKibbin also started with a win on Wednesday by beating Australia’s Nathan Pellissier 11-9, 11-5, 11-5.
In the men’s singles class 9 event, Ashley Facey Thompson and Joshua Stacey both fell to defeat in their first group match.
Facey Thompson contested a thriller against home favourite Koyo Iwabuchi but ultimately went down 3-2 (11-6, 9-11, 8-11, 11-9, 12-10) in Group D, while Welshman Stacey fought gamely against four-time Paralympic gold medallist Ma Lin, yet the Australian won 11-3, 11-4, 11-6 in Group C.
In the women’s single class 4, Sue Bailey began her sixth Paralympics with an 11-7, 11-5, 11-6 Group B defeat to reigning Paralympic, world and European champion Borislava Peric-Rankovic, while 22-year-old Megan Shackleton impressed against two-time Paralympic and world champion Zhou Ying before losing 11-8, 11-6, 11-6 in Group A.
Image courtesy: imagecomms