Chesterfield's Liam Pitchford sets sights on Olympics
Liam Pitchford has Tokyo in his sights at the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament starting in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday.
Pitchford, Paul Drinkhall, Tin-Tin Ho and Wales’ Charlotte Carey will represent Great Britain, with four men’s singles places and five women’s singles places at the Tokyo Olympics to be decided.
Pitchford has been competing at two WTT events at the same venue in the build-up to the qualifiers but has been disrupted by an injury to his right thumb which meant he was playing in varying degrees of pain and had to rest for periods when he could have been practising.
He was unable to win his first match in either tournament, going down 3-1 (11-4, 11-8, 5-11, 11-7) to Andreas Levenko of Austria in the first and then being edged out 3-2 (14-12, 3-11, 11-7, 2-11, 13-11) by Sweden's world No 29 Kristian Karlsson in the second.
The Chesterfield man said: “There’s still a bit of pain but there’s a lot less than there was a few days ago.
“The first match I played, I couldn’t really play without feeling it and thinking about it, whereas the second, I could block it out.”
“I played okay in that match and felt I was dominating in some parts. I had a match point and could have done things a bit differently. But at the end of the day, I’ve not played enough matches recently and that’s probably why I lost.
“The physio has told me to rest it, so I hadn’t been practising as much and at points I wasn’t quite confident in my game and a little bit stressed at times. If I’d played a few matches, I’d have been a lot more calm in some situations.
“It’s frustrating to lose such a close match and frustrating because I could have won, even feeling not 100%.”
Pitchford, the world No 15, is top seed for the qualifying tournament as those above him in the world have either already qualified via the team event or are not eligible as no country is allowed more than two singles competitors at the Olympics.
Pitchford says he does feel his confidence coming back, despite less than ideal preparation which, as well as the injury, saw a trip to Japan for league matches and training called off.
He said: “I know in the lead-up to an event, I need to be away for high-level practice against different styles, pushing me every day. But I don’t want to complain, because it’s a tough situation.
“Being able to practise with different players here has given me a bit more confidence and I’m slowly getting back to where I want to be.
“The qualifying tournament is another chance to play matches and hopefully, I’ll find the level I need and be in a better place thumb-wise as well.
“Obviously, I want to qualify and if I do the work in the training hall and get confidence from that, it’s a big opportunity.”
Even if he does not qualify, Pitchford will have another chance at the European Qualifying Tournament in Portugal next month.