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Australia’s Para-table tennis squad secured two more silver medals in the teams events on Friday, bringing the squad’s total medal haul at the Tokyo Paralympics to six.

The medals in the women’s and men’s Class 9-10 Teams mark Australia’s most successful result at a Paralympic Games, finishing second overall with two gold and four silver medals, behind China.

First up on Friday the women’s trio of Li Na Lei, Qian Yang and Melissa Tapper won silver after being defeated by defending champions Natalia Partyka and Karolina Pek of Poland in two matches.

The Women’s team class 9-10 final was a partial rematch of the Rio 2016 gold medal playoff when Li Na Lei and Qian Yang finished second representing their former country, China.

The opening doubles was spellbinding, with the two pairs exchanging breathtaking blows right down to the wire. In the end, the Polish duo edged Qian Yang and Li Na Lei for the win, taking the match to 11-9 in the fifth set.

In the second match Qian Yang squared off against Partyka for the second time in Tokyo after having beaten her in five games in the Class 10 Singles semi-final. Partyka emerged the winner this time, as the four-time Paralympic champion (2004-2016) never allowed Qian to find her rhythm and took the win in straight sets with a confident performance.

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Melissa Tapper was due to play the last match and didn’t get a chance to take to the court, but she was incredibly proud of her teammates’ effort.

“That was sensational. The girls played unbelievable,” Tapper said. “They were definitely in there with a chance to take it down to the last match. So, I’m super proud of them.

“Obviously we were fighting for gold and if it got to the last match I was going to be ready to go. Poland is an incredible team. Natalya’s sensational along with Karolina Pek.

“It was a fantastic fight and they really took it to them. The doubles was an awesome match to watch. They fought for every ball and that’s what’s most important.”

Despite the final disappointment it’s been an amazing Paralympics for the Australian women’s Para-table tennis team.

“First Paralympic medal, so I’m over the moon,” Tapper said.

“To get to be a part of that is something very special and I’m really excited that the girls were able to finish today with a silver.

“They [Lei, Qian and Ma Lin] are fantastic. They’re incredible players and they’re amazing for our Paralympic team, practicing, training, they fight hard. They’re amazing for our culture and environment, so it’s an honour to get to play alongside them.

“They’re incredible training partners and they’ve helped lift the standard inside Australia. We’re very lucky to have them – all three – and we’re quite excited about where the future of table tennis in Australia can go.”

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The men also went down fighting to the reigning Paralympic champions, with China dominating to take the win 2-0.

Joel Coughlan, Ma Lin and Nathan Pellissier could not finish their fantastic Games with a win but were thrilled to walk away with the silver.

The Chinese duo of Hao Lian and Yi Qing Zhao was unstoppable from the outset, with Coughlan and Ma not allowed to settle at all in the opening doubles match. The Aussies could never find an answer for the opponents’ commanding performance.

“We didn’t really get into a groove, they were too solid for us today,” Coughlan admitted after the match. “We pushed as hard as we could, but they were just too consistent. We missed some easy balls and they ran away with it.

“China plays at this level so regularly, so when they get to the pressure points, they just play so well. We stumbled a little bit and they took advantage. They’re a very tough team.”

Ma faced his former China teammate from 2016, Hao Lian, in the singles match. The 26-year-old Chinese built a lead in the opening game and kept it throughout the match, never letting the Aussie make a real challenge for the win. In the end it was straight-set win for China, taking the gold medal playoff 2-0 and retaining a Paralympic title in the class they have held since 2004.

“It’s my first time winning silver in the team event. I’m satisfied to get this result,” said Ma, who had previously won gold with China in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

“Today I was slow to get into my rhythm. After losing doubles, I was lacking a bit of spirit. I was the underdog.”

Despite the loss, Coughlan was proud to come away with a silver medal at his Paralympics debut.

“Plenty to be proud of. Our team was supposed to come sort of dead last, so we’re absolutely stoked to come away with a silver,” he said.

The Men’s Team Class 9-10 final was the last Para-table tennis event at the Tokyo Games. The Australian team leaves Japan with a record six medals and an amazing overall performance from the 11-strong squad that makes Australia’s Para-table tennis future look bright.

“We’ve been great for the whole two weeks,” Coughlan said.

“Singles, teams – everyone’s gelled together, the team has come together and supported everyone and that has really helped.

“I think the success will just keep coming for years and years to come.”

Men’s Team class 9-10 gold medal final

China d. Australia 2-0
H. Lian / Y.Q. Zhao (CHN) b. J. Coughlan / L. Ma (AUS) 3-0 [11-3, 11-6, 11-9]
H. Lian (CHN) b. L. Ma (AUS) 3-0 [11-7, 11-5, 11-6]

Women’s Team class 9-10 gold medal final

Poland d. Australia 2-0
N. Partyka / K. Pek (POL) b. L.N. Lei / Q. Yang (AUS) 3-2 [11-6, 7-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-9]
N. Partyka (POL) b. Q. Yang (AUS) 3-0 [11-5, 11-9, 11-5]

By: Lauren Ryan, Paralympics Australia
Posted: 3 September 2021