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Bayley takes gold in Slovenia
Bayley takes gold in Slovenia

In his first international tournament since taking two silver medals at the Tokyo Paralympic Games last year Will Bayley marked his return by winning the men’s class 7 singles title at the Slovenia Para Open in Lasko on Saturday.

With all the leading nations competing apart from China this was the strongest tournament this year outside the World Championships and Fliss Pickard (women’s class 6), Tom Matthews (men’s class 1), Jack Hunter-Spivey (men’s class 5), Martin Perry (men’s class 6) and Aaron McKibbin (men’s class 8) all took bronze in their respective singles events.

Bayley has had some great battles over the years with Jordi Morales, including a five-set epic at the World Championships in 2018 that the 37-year-old Spaniard won before going on to take the title. Bayley started well in their semi-final and led 2-0 but Morales is a great competitor and took the third 11-5. Bayley then raced to a 10-4 lead in the fourth but as the match points came and went coach Greg Baker called a timeout at 10-7 and Bayley clinched the set 11-8 and the match 3-1 when Morales sent his service return long.

That took him through to the final where he faced Chalermpong Punpoo from Thailand. They last met in Tokyo, when Bayley won in three close sets, and the Asian Championships bronze medallist made a flying start to take a 7-2 lead in the first set. Bayley then won seven consecutive points and took the set 11-9 and was always in control from that point, taking the second 11-5 and the third 11-5 for a 3-0 win.

“I started pretty slowly,” admitted Bayley, “but I have to give credit to him because he started really quick and smart and I was expecting that to be honest. At 7-2 down I said to myself that his serves are coming long and I have to try and attack because otherwise he is getting on top of me. I don’t want to lose because someone is going at me and I just don’t show anything so I knew I had to try and attack. Luckily I won that set and I think that was massive momentum for me and I was solid for the rest of the match.

“I’m really happy with the way I’ve played at this tournament. It’s been tough mentally because we’ve been going from doubles to singles and doubles to singles and it is tough mentally and tiring but I’m really pleased that I held it together. Every tournament now is hard to win so I’m proud to win this tournament. It is not easy and I’m fighting and working as hard as I can so I’m really proud and I need to enjoy it and celebrate a little bit because you never know how many more tournaments you’ll win.”

The Rio Paralympic champion celebrated by holding up the shirt given to him on Friday by three-time World and Paralympic champion Jochen Wollmert after they lost in the quarter-final of the men’s doubles in what will be one of the German’s last tournaments before he retires.

“He is my hero and I wanted to win for him,” said Bayley. “I learned so much playing the doubles with him – I learnt so much about my own game and how to play tactics. He speaks to me about table tennis and he has so much knowledge and I wanted to do it in his honour today because he is the best player in history and I want everyone to remember him and know how good he was – I’m really passionate about that because he was unbelievable.”