Olympian Pitchford bids for Rio team glory after singles exit
Olympian Liam Pitchford says he is determined to focus on the team event after his brave bid for individual table tennis glory bit the dust in Rio.
The 23-year-old from Chesterfield won through to the third round (last 16) of the men’s singles competition after a terrific victory over Zokhid Kenjaev, of Uzbekistan.
But then he bumped into the number nine seed, South Korea’s Jung Young-sik, who defeated him 4-1 (11-6, 8-11, 13-11, 11-5, 11-5).
All is not lost for Pitchford, though, because his attentions now turn to the table tennis team event, which begins on Friday with a match for Team GB against France.
“I tried everything against Young-sik, but he just had all the answers,” reflected Pitchford. “I would have liked to have beaten him and had a shot at the woprld number one in the next round. But it just wasn’t to be. Hopefully, it will go my way next time.”
Pitchford also lost 4-1 to Young-sik earlier this year, but it was a close contest, so he had every hope of exacting revenge, with the pressure very much on hos opponent, given that he was the clear favoueite.
The Chesterfield star started well enough and not only took the second game but also had set point in the third. But he just couldn’t get his nose in front, and the South Korean bossed the fourth and fifth games.
“I think I probably surprised him a bit because it was his first match of the tournament,” said Pitchford, who is ranked number 48 in the world. “I had chances, and if I had taken that set point, things might have been different.
“However, it was a great atmosphere, and I had a few people on my side, which was nice. The plan now is to focus on the team event against France and, hopefully, that will go our way.”
Pitchford, who has been playing table tennis since the age of eight and won three medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, is relishing his second crack at the Olympics.
“At London 2012, I was there for the experience and not really ready to compete with the big guys,” he said. “But it has been a long four years and I have improved a hell of a lot since then, so I’ve come to Rio with a lot of confidence.”
That confidence showed in his win against Kenjaev, whom he hammered 4-1 (11-3, 12-10, 8-11, 11-7, 11-4) after a bye in the opening round. Pitchford said: “It had been a long wait to play that first match, so I was happy to get out there and get the win.
“I didn’t really know much about him before we played, so I prepared by watching videos of him to gauge his style of play.
“He surprised me a bit and played really well, so I had to step it up after losing the third game to secure the victory. I was a bit nervous early on, but after the first few points, I settled down and I was really focused on my game.”
Pitchford first made his mark on British table tennis as a youngster when taking the national singles title at various age levels. At senior level, he won the Home Countries Championships in 2009 and, a year later, he won two medals at his first Commonwealth Games.
Last year, he was crowned the British men’s singles national champion and also reached the last 32 of the World Championships, knocking out two-time World Cup runner-up Kalinikos Kreanga and world number 20 Tiago Apolonia. In March this year, he was part of the England team that took bronze medals at the World Team Championships in Malaysia.