Pitchford’s Rio hopes in the balance

SPORT, Tischtennis, GAC WORLD TOUR 2015, Wels, 2015_09_04PITCHFORD Liam ENG�_PHOTO_PLOHE
SPORT, Tischtennis, GAC WORLD TOUR 2015, Wels, 2015_09_04PITCHFORD Liam ENG�_PHOTO_PLOHE

Liam Pitchford must wait to find out whether he can secure a place at the Rio Olympics.

The Chesterfield player, ranked No 39 in the world, came within a few points of booking a place in the Team GB squad at the European qualifying tournament in Halmstad, Sweden.

Pitchford beat Switzerland’s Elia Schmid 4-1 (12-10, 11-13, 11-7, 11-4, 11-5) and Zsolt Peto of Serbia 4-1 (11-7, 16-14, 12-14, 11-4, 12-10) to advance to one of eight finals in the first stage of the competition. There he faced world No 20 Tiago Apolonia, with the winner claiming a place in Rio.

After Pitchford blitzed the first game 11-2, it was close throughout before Apolonia prevailed 4-3 (2-11, 12-10, 11-8, 8-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8).

It meant Pitchford went into a second stage of the tournament, needing four straight wins to claim one of two remaining qualifying places.

But he came unstuck against 54-year-old world No 92 Zhiwen He of Spain, an awkward opponent, who beat him 4-1 (11-9, 12-10, 11-8, 6-11, 11-9).

It means 22-year-old Pitchford will have to wait until next month to find out whether he will be going to his second Olympics – with the field to be finalised according to world rankings after all the outright qualifiers are decided.

Prior to the qualifying tournament, Pitchford said: “It’s good to get a career-best ranking, it gives me confidence going in to the qualifiers.

“Obviously I want to go higher. I don’t want to set myself a limit on how high I can go. If I keep working hard and getting results I think the sky’s the limit.”