Liam Pitchford is confident he can maintain his World Championship medal-winning form at the PG Mutual National Championships.
The Chesterfield ace will be defending both the men’s singles and men’s doubles titles, having won both in each of the last three seasons.
His main rivals are likely to be his doubles partner Paul Drinkhall and Sam Walker. The two were Pitchford’s team-mates when England won a brilliant bronze medal at the World Team Championships in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, England’s first medal at that level since 1983.
His other England team-mates from the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medal-winning team, Andrew Baggaley and Danny Reed, are also in the field in Hatfield.
The final stages of the event will be televised live on ITV4 between 3pm and 6pm on Sunday (March 20).
“It’s not as important as winning the medal at the Worlds, but it’s the biggest English tournament and I’ve won it three times in a row, so I want to make it four,” said Pitchford, 22.
“I can’t really complain about how I’m playing and I’m always confident, but you never know who’s going to play well. You’ve got to get yourself up for the first match and when it comes to the later stages hopefully I’ll still be playing and get a chance to play on TV.”
Pitchford and Drinkhall have met in the final every year since 2012, Drinkhall winning that year and Pitchford in the three following years.
And despite having to come from 3-0 down to win the final last year, Pitchford said: “I would say the first title was probably the hardest, getting over the finish line to win it for the first time wasn’t easy.
“Off the court, me and Paul are really good friends. We don’t see each other that often but when we get a chance to get together, we get on well.
“That’s probably one of the main reasons we played so well in Malaysia – the team spirit was probably the best of any team out there. We both want to win when we play each other but it’s just a game of table tennis and we’re friends afterwards.
“We’ve won the doubles three times in a row and we’re quietly confident we can retain it.”
Pitchford starts his singles defence on Friday evening (18th) against Alim Hirji, who is ranked 19th in the field of 32. The first round of the doubles sees Pitchford and Drinkhall up against youngsters Harry Dai and James Garrod.