Liam Pitchford powered to a fifth career Men’s Singles title at the PG Mutual National Championships – and afterwards revealed he is to play in the top league in Japan next season.
The Chesterfield ace, ranked No 17 in the world, was in imperious form at the championships in Nottingham and won the title without dropping a set.
He had a few nervous moments, particularly in the third and fourth sets of the final against No 2 seed Paul Drinkhall, before coming through 4-0 (11-6, 11-4, 12-10, 13-11).
The singles finalists had earlier teamed up to win the Men’s Doubles, the Commonwealth Games champions seeing off England team-mates Sam Walker & David McBeath 3-0 (11-8, 11-6, 11-5) in the final.
Pitchford, 25, said: “It was tough. Coming in as heavy favourite but knowing each other’s games so well, you can never call it.
“I’m happy I did a professional job and played a solid game. I’m not going to say I played my best table tennis, but now I’ve found that level where I can play a solid game.
“I knew if he won a set he would get some confidence from that – and when he gets confidence, he can beat anybody in the world. So I knew I would have to win the last two sets and I’m happy to sneak them both.”
On the doubles, he added: “We showed our authority. Everyone has seen the levels we can play to.”
Pitchford later announced he is to join Saitama in the Japanese T.League next season – a league which includes all the top Japanese stars and many others from the upper reaches of the world rankings.
Pitchford, who has been at Hennebont in the French League for the past two seasons, said: “I had a few offers from clubs in Europe. Saitama gave me a very good offer and I weighed everything up and decided it’s a very good opportunity for me. I’m looking forward to it.
“Every match will be tough, and that’s what I need before the Olympics. I think it’s really going to help my development. I couldn’t turn this opportunity down.”