Olympic table tennis ace Liam Pitchford claimed his first men’s singles title at the English Senior National Championships at Ponds Forge.
It was third time lucky for the Chesterfield-born player after previous final defeats to Andrew Baggaley in 2010 and Paul Drinkhall in 2012.
The 19-year-old banished any lingering ghosts to exact revenge on four-time national champion Paul Drinkhall in six pulsating ends to win 4-2 (8-11, 11-8, 2-11, 11-7, 11-4, 11-9).
Pitchford said it was a difficult match against someone he knows very well from England training.
He said: “We practice against each other all the time and we know each others games. Every match is difficult but I’m just happy to have finally won one.
“He blew me out of the water in the third game with some ridiculous shots. After that I just said to myself ‘look, you’ve just got to try something different.’ I started putting more top-spin on my serves, waiting for him to flick and then playing down the lines - luckily it worked.”
It was a double celebration for the teenager, who put to bed any allaying fears about a hip injury that kept him sidelined over Christmas, by also winning a men’s doubles title with Drinkhall.
The pair beat Darius Knight and Daniel Reed 3-1 (11-8, 11-7, 8-11, 11-5).
Pitchford said: “I was out for five weeks but I did good rehab and I was in good hands.
“I’m still working on keeping on top of it. I’m feeling stronger than ever.”
The next big challenge for the TTF Liebherr Ochsenhausen club player is the Commonwealth Championships in May.
“We’ve got the Comonwealths coming up, I think I’m playing well enough to get a medal there. I’m looking to get gold,” he added.
Pitchford’s family witnessed his success on Sunday.
Mum Linda said it was a brilliant atmosphere at Ponds Forge: “It was a fantastic achievement for Liam. He deserves it. I’m pleased he finally won it after the other two finals.”