Rob Davies

Rob Davies was a gold medallist in Rio seven years ago Pic: Getty Images.

Rob Davies v Tom Matthews . . . Welsh Mates But Euro Rivals

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By Hannah Blackwell

As the world’s leading players eye Paralympic gold, the battle for supremacy in one para table tennis class could come down to a clash of two Welsh friends.

Wheelchair athletes Rob Davies and Tom Matthews are both training partners and rivals and, as two of the best in the game, have their sights set on the same top prize.

Davies, a two-time Paralympian, gold medallist in Rio seven years ago and winner of four European titles, is the more experienced of the pair.

But after a two-year injury lay-off that forced him to miss the Tokyo Games, the 39-year-old has had a long battle to get back to the summit.

In the meantime, Matthews, 31, has firmly asserted his credentials in the class one category, claiming bronze on his Paralympic debut in Japan and repeating that result at last year’s World Championships.

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Both are ranked in the world’s top 10 and will be favourites at next week’s European Championships in Sheffield, where a precious qualification spot for Paris 2024 will be on the line.

“We’re team-mates and rivals in the competition,” says Davies.

“We have a good bit of banter. He beats me and I beat him – that’s how it goes.

“Whether it’s me or him that gets the medal it’ll be really nice. I wish him well, he wishes me well and hopefully we can meet in the final.

“It’s been a long road back for me for the last two years. I had a medical problem that affected my nervous system and I wasn’t able to defend my title in Tokyo.

“That was really upsetting but I’ve been battling back. I was losing to people I’m not used to losing to but I’m finally getting up to the standard I’m used to now.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge. Paris has been my motivation to come back. I know I’m coming towards the end of my career but I’ve got something to prove and I want to go there and prove it.”

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The pair have met plenty of times, both in training and more seriously, with Matthews’ victory in the Czech Open final this summer among their more high-profile recent encounters.

“It is a friendly rivalry,” said Aberdare’s Matthews. “I’m based in the Valleys and he’s up in Brecon, so we both train at Sport Wales in Cardiff.

“Off the table we are friendly. He is a really good guy and I respect him highly for what he has achieved in his career. Recently I came out on top but we know each other’s games inside out, so it could sway either way on the day.

“Hopefully we can meet in the final and make it a British one-two, but I’m hoping I come out on top!

“That’s the main aim. If you win the Europeans you get automatic qualification for Paris and I want to get that golden ticket.

“I obviously want to win the Paralympic Games – I’ve achieved winning a Paralympic medal and I haven’t got the right colour for myself yet – but the Europeans are next and that’s the only thing on my radar at the moment.

“I’ll take it match by match but I really want to win this one.”

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