Chesterfield's Liam Pitchford fails to clinch place at Tokyo Olympics
Liam Pitchford fell at the final hurdle in his quest to earn a place at the Tokyo Olympics – but there are more chances ahead.
The England No 1 lost 4-1 (11-7, 7-11, 11-8, 14-12, 11-7) to Kirill Skachkov in the second-phase final at the world qualifying tournament in Doha, Qatar, as his Russian opponent took the fourth and final qualifying spot available.
Chesterfield athlete Pitchford has another chance to book his place via the European qualifying tournament in Portugal next month, and is likely to get in by virtue of his world ranking anyway – he is currently the world No 15.
The event was a rollercoaster event for Pitchford, who had not had an ideal build-up when a thumb injury meant he could not grip the bat properly or play without pain in the previous two tournaments in Doha.
But he started well in the first phase of the competition, in which three qualifying spots were available for the winners of three sections of the draw.
Pitchford defeated Benedek Olah of Finland 4-0 in his first match and then finally shook off Poland’s Jakub Dyjas 4-3 in the second.
That put him in the semi-finals of his section and up against Lubomir Jancarik of the Czech Republic, whose 4-2 victory meant Pitchford went into a repechage phase to decide the final qualifier.
Three wins would have sealed it, and he started confidently by defeating Russia’s Vladimir Sidorenko 4-1 before chiselling out a brilliant 4-3 victory over Panagiotis Gionis in the semi-final.
Pitchford was philosophical about his defeat in the final, against an opponent who played his first semi-final before Pitchford and won it 4-0.
Pitchford said: “Obviously, I went out there to win but I think I was slightly fatigued from the match earlier. He had nothing to lose and was fighting for his place, but it was a bit different for me because I will qualify by ranking anyway.
“The main thing was to get some matches under my belt after not playing any for four months. I was a bit rusty and not happy with how I played here.
“I had chances and leads in sets in the final, but it came down to loss of concentration, probably due to fatigue – the match in the morning took it out of me.”