Chesterfield ace shines on world stage

Liam Pitchford
Liam Pitchford

Liam Pitchford is taking plenty of positives from his table tennis World Championships performance in Suzhou.

The 21-year-old athlete from Chesterfield became the first Englishman since Matthew Syed and Carl Prean in 1999 to reach the last 32.

Pitchford certainly caught the eye with his 4-2 (11-8, 8-11, 10-12, 11-4, 11-6, 11-9) second-round win over world No 20 Tiago Apolonia before bowing out to 17th-ranked Saehyuk Joo of Korea, renowned as one of the best defensive players in the world.

The first two sets were closely contested and Liam had game points in the first, but Joo asserted himself in the second half of the match and pulled away to win 4-1 (12-10, 9-11, 11-5, 11-4, 11-8).

Despite his disappointment, Liam said: “Overall it’s been quite a positive tournament for me.

“I started off quite nervous in my first match (when he beat world No 90 Kalinikos Kreanga of Greece 7-11, 11-5, 11-5, 10-12, 11-7, 11-7) but I think I handled it well and started to play some good stuff.

“Against Apolonia, we played together at the same club for two years, so I knew how I wanted to play against him and he knew how to play against me. It was a close game and I was very happy to beat a player with a high ranking.

“In the last match I felt like I started off really well in the first two sets. If I had taken the first it would have put him under pressure, but he got used to my style of play a little bit.”

Had Liam won, his prize in the last 16 would have been a chance to take on world No 1 and top seed Ma Long of China. But while he admits he would have relished the challenge, he was also philosophical, saying: “I’m happy with the tournament and how it’s gone and hopefully next time I’ll get the chance again.”

Pitchford also featured in the doubles with Paul Drinkhall, where they were beaten 4-2 (7-11, 6-11, 11-4, 11-7, 8-11, 8-11) in the round of 64 by Youngsik Jung & Minseok Kim of Korea.

Table Tennis England Performance Coach Alan Cooke said: “Liam came out here with some slight shoulder issues which affected his preparation, and he had a tough first match. But he came through that and stepped it up and showed what he can do when he beat Apolonia.

“Joo is the best defender in the world and for two-and-a-half games it was blow for blow.

“It’s such a fine line but it was a very positive competition and hopefully it’s all good experience for the future.”