Liam Pitchford’s recent performances have been the talk of the table tennis World Tour – and have boosted his confidence for the European Championships which begin on Tuesday.
Defeats of world and Olympic champion Ma Long and men’s World Cup winner Dimitrij Ovtcharov, both recent world No 1s, were the latest and biggest in a series of impressive victories this season.
They have catapulted the Chesterfield athlete to a career high of No 31 in the world and No 11 in the European rankings going in to the Europeans.
Reaching the semi-finals of the Czech Open with that win over Ovtcharov, on the heels of beating Ma Long in the Bulgaria Open, has given Pitchford the belief that he can handle whatever the draw throws up.
He said: “I’ve always believed I can beat all the European players on my day and now I’ve got the confidence to do it in 5 or 6 matches in a row.
“Everyone is going to be looking at me now, and they might know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to that. If I play as well as I have been, I can do well.”
The two World Tour events further boosted the confidence of a player who could already draw on the belief supplied by a run of superb results at tournaments earlier this year, including the Team World Cup and World Team Championships.
Pitchford said he went into the events with expectations after a good pre-season period, adding: “The Czech was the one I wanted to do well in and Bulgaria was better than I expected. I had a tough draw but beating Ma Long – and not many Europeans have beaten him – gave me a lot of confidence.
“I’d taken Ovtcharov close a few times and I knew he was worried about me. I went into that match with a lot of confidence and even though I lost the second set after leading it, I knew I was still in control. I played really well and he didn’t have any answers.
“Obviously I was disappointed to lose the semi-final, but it was two good weeks which gave me a lot of confidence. There’s a lot of positives but there’s always things to work on.”
The European Championships begin in Alicante on Tuesday. Also representing England are Paul Drinkhall, Sam Walker, Tin-Tin Ho and Maria Tsaptsinos.