A busy weekend of international table tennis saw players and coaches from the club in action at tournaments across Europe. Familiar faces from the club could be seen collecting medals at the Hungarian Para Open, the Lignano Master Open and the Junior & Cadet Six Nations.
The Hungarian Para Open was held last weekend in the medieval Central European city of Eger. Coaches from the club Nathan Thomas and Danielle de Jong travelled to Hungary to represent Great Britain and Holland respectively, while decorated Para athlete Paul Karabardak, who trains regularly at the club, was also in action for Team GB alongside Nathan. Paul would later travel straight from Eger to Italy for the mid-week Lignano Master Open.
Closer to home, club members dominated the Welsh selection for the Cadet category of the annual Six Nations tournament. Cade Short, Benedict Watson, Lydia John and Anna Hursey all made the short trip to the Sport Wales centre in Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens just days after returning from another European open in Italy.
Playing in the class 10 standing disability category in Hungary six weeks after a major operation on his shoulder, Nathan Thomas topped his group after Friday’s play, progressing comfortably into the knock out stage. Nathan reached the final after beating the host nation’s Bela Szigeti 3-0 on Saturday morning to meet Austria’s Krisztian Gardos in the final. Brother of the current world number 18 Robert Gardos, Krisztian proved himself an accomplished player in his own right at the tournament, beating Nathan in the final and leaving the Cardiff City Coach to pick up the silver medal.
“Even at full fitness I don’t think I would have beaten Gardos,” admitted Nathan after the tournament. “I would rather play him than anyone else there though, just to get the experience. He was probably the best I’ve ever played against.”
There would be more medals for Nathan on Sunday as Team GB collected a bronze in the team event. Partnered with Englishman Ashley Facey-Thompson, who represents London’s Greenhouse TTC in the British League, Nathan’s team made it confidently through the group stages but slipped to a 3-2 defeat to Italy in the semi-finals, picking up a bronze for their progress.
Team GB’s most successful player at the tournament was Cardiff club member Paul Karabardak. Paul, who has already represented Britain at the 2012 Paralympics, added two more gold medals to his collection in Hungary with wins in both the standing disability class 6 singles competition and the class 6-7 team event.
Paul’s singles final against Romania’s Bobi Simion was marked by a terrific comeback from the Cardiff player as Paul recovered from being 2-1 down to win the match in the fifth. The following day would see Paul triumph again, this time alongside sixteen year old English prodigy Billy Shilton. On Sunday the Team GB pair saw off challengers from Japan, Korea, Holland, Croatia and Russia as they claimed yet another GB Gold.
Paul’s busy week saw him travel straight from Egar to Northern Italy on Tuesday as he was again included in the GB Para squad for the midweek Lignano Master Open. Paul topped his group in Italy then beat Crotian Vjekoslav Gregorovic in the next round to progress into a semi-final clash with the world number nine in the class six category, Alexander Esaulov. Paul beat the highly regarded Russian 3-0 to set up another clash with his fellow finalist from Hungary, Bobi Simion. In a match of fine margins this time it was Simion who took three sets, leaving Paul to collect the silver medal. This weekend Paul will be paired with Scotland’s Martin Perry as Team GB go on the medal hunt once again in the Lignano team event due to conclude on Saturday.
Representing her native Holland, club coach Danielle de Jong was also in action in Hungary last weekend. In the standing disability class 9-10 singles competition, Danielle progressed through the group stages last Friday but was then eliminated at the quarter final stage by the Romanian Iona Tepelea.
Danielle would go further on Sunday, however, reaching the final of the team event partnered with Polish player Malgorzata Janaowska. Danielle and Malgoratzata found themselves up against another international team made up of the Italian Anna Brzan and that same Romanian who had knocked Danielle out of the singles competition: Iona Tepelea. This time Danielle beat Tepelea in their one-on-one set, but defeats in the other sets meant that Danielle’s side slipped to a 3-1 defeat overall and collected silver medals from the team event.
Meanwhile, in the more familiar setting of the Sport Wales National Centre in Cardiff’s Bute Park, the next
generation of table tennis internationals were in action at the annual Junior and Cadet Six Nations. In a slight alteration from its rugby-based cousin, table tennis’ own Six Nations competition comprises of young national sides from Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
Several of the young Welsh players arrived at the tournament having only recently returned from international duty at the Italian Junior and Cadet Open, also held in Lignano. Club members Cade Short, Lydia John and Anna Hursey had all been in action in Italy as late as March 8th, before travelling back to Cardiff ahead of the Six Nations the following weekend. Another club member, Benedict Watson, joined the Welsh ranks especially for the clash with the home nations.
In both the boys and the girls Cadets divisions Wales finished fourth in the final team standings, with England topping both team tables. Eight year old club member Anna Hursey once again impressed on the international stage, competing against players who could be anything up to twice her age. Anna exited the single’s competition to the eventual winner, Ireland’s Kate Whelan, in the Semi Final but ended the day with a bronze medal.
All the club players involved in the national set-up for the Six Nations entered the competition’s Cadet age group; the younger of the competitions two categories, catering for players under the age of fifteen. The youth of some of the players already gaining international call-ups is something that the coaches and staff at Cardiff City TTC find particularly exciting. The continued development of the club’s youngest players, assisted considerably by gaining early international experience, suggests the reputation of the club will continue to grow and that the successes of the club’s international players will prove a source of pride for many years to come.