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British Table Tennis Association for the Disabled Tournament: 21 - 22 March 2010, Crewe

This was certainly a weekend when I would have wanted to remain in Bristol. As a lifelong Bristol City supporter and season ticket holder meant I was going to miss one of the biggest home matches of the season against Newcastle United and not to mention the annual Bristol Beer Festival.

As a sportsperson I was not going to be deterred by these distractions because deep down I was still looking forward to this event, the annual British Table Tennis Association for the Disabled (BTTAD) tournament that was held over the weekend of 20th – 21st Match 2010, Crewe.

Unfortunately the Saturday proved to be a non starter. The tournament started with the Singles Categories and in my Classification 6 Division I was competing against some of the top British Paralympians. My first match was against British Paralympian and world ranking number 3 player, Will Bayley. It is always a joy and privilege to compete against Will and I can only benefit from competing against players of such high calibre. Needless to say this match was a foregone conclusion with Will easily beating me 3 – 0. In my next two matches against Farrel Anthony and Joe Stotesbury, I suffered the same fate, losing in straight sets 3 – 0. The group matches round robin demonstrated the high calibre of athletes with the performance level that any new Classification 6 entrant will have to achieve if they want to compete at the highest level.

The afternoon session consisted with the Doubles section and again I didn’t fare any better. With me it is always an unknown quantity because currently I have not got a regular Doubles partner and at each tournament it is always pot luck with the calibre of player I shall be competing with. Again, in the group round robin matches my partner and I lost all our matches 3 - 0.

Saturday evening was the gala meal at the Crewe Arm Hotel and it was time for a bit of relaxation and to meet up with friends for a chat before competing the next day.

Sunday morning consisted with the Band Categories, where individuals compete within their Band Classification, which are A or B, with Band ‘A’ classification for the top players. I am registered as a Band ‘B’ player. Again, this format was the same as on the Saturday, with a round robin group matches. This time I was in a pool with two other athletes. My first match started extremely badly, when for some unknown reason my nerves kicked in and I underperformed before losing 3 – 2. I was disappointed and frustrated because I didn’t perform to the level I am capable of achieving with the range of shots I’ve developed over the past few years that has helped me to improve my game. In my second match there was an improvement in my play and I was able to win this match 3 – 0. The only saving grace was that I had qualified for the quarter-finals knock-out stage.

It was at this stage in the morning when I was relieved to have qualified through to the knock-out stages when I started to relax and this approach certainly helped when I won my quarter-final match, again in straight sets, 3 – 0 to reach my first Singles Band ‘B’ semi-final that was scheduled to be held after the lunch interval.

Instead of stopping for lunch, I wanted to keep my concentration and with assistance from another Mencap Sport athlete and friend, Partick Cox had a good practice session whereby he was feeding balls on my forehand for me to hit. This was a good warm-up session and confidence boaster before the semi-final match and when this match was played, I thought my performance wasn’t too bad before losing 3 – 0. As a competitor, at times I can be hard on myself and the important aspect in this match felt that I didn’t let myself down. With the two losing semi-finalists, there was not a match to decide the 3rd and 4th positions ensuring I was guaranteed my first Singles bronze medal.

After a weekend of table tennis thrills and spills, the icing on the cake was at the award ceremony when the Chairman of the BTTAD explained the criteria of the ‘Player of the Tournament’ award. This involves not only how the athlete had performed but also the social interaction between the other athletes and match officials. It was to my astonishment when I was selected as the recipient of this prestigious award.

Ian Thomas
Filton Table Tennis Club, Bristol

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