Table tennis star Pitchford ready for European Championships

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Liam Pitchford is targeting more success as he prepares to return to international table tennis action for the first time since the Olympics.

He will swap Team GB kit for the England Leopards’ livery as he heads to the European Championships, which begin in Budapest on Tuesday.

The Chesterfield man is eyeing an improvement on his last-16 appearance at the last championships, where he gave top seed Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany a fright before bowing out.

“Last time I went to the last 16 in singles and I was playing pretty well but I had a tough match against Ovtcharov which I was disappointed to lose,” said Pitchford, who is seeded 22nd for the event.

“My aim is to go further this time. We’ve seen in the last few Euros the likes of (18th seed) Par Gerell win a medal, and we’ve proved we can compete at that level. If I play well, I feel anything is possible.”

Pitchford will partner Paul Drinkhall in the doubles — the pair are ranked 13th — again looking to go further than the last-16 stage.

Pitchford said: “In the doubles, last time we had two or three match points (against Gerell and Jon Persson) to get to the quarter-finals and were disappointed to lose that. But then we beat the same pair a few weeks later at the Swedish Open.

“I think we play well together and if we’re on the top of our game, there’s a chance to go far. I don’t see any other pairs that really stand out or to be afraid of. They will probably be afraid of facing us.”

Pitchford was referring to the huge improvement in results delivered by the top English players on the world stage in the last few years, including winning World Team Championships bronze this year.

He added: “Before, everyone thought ‘they’ve got potential but never seem to come to the party’, but in the last few years, that’s changed. We’ve worked hard as individuals and a team and we’ve improved. I’m proud to be part of that. Hopefully we can be the stepping stone for the future and getting English table tennis back to the top.”

Pitchford and Drinkhall have been preparing for the Championships at a training camp in Denmark, alongside top Swedish, Danish and Russian players.

He has also been in action in the French League and Champions League for his new club Hennebont, having ended a five-year stint in the German Bundesliga at the end of last season.

His permanent training base is in Sweden, meaning more travelling, but Pitchford is relaxed about that.

He said: “It’s obviously a change for me. I’m travelling a lot more but I’m enjoying it — it’s a new step for me and I’m happy travelling, so it’s not a problem.

“I took a week’s holiday after Rio, then got back into it after that. I feel I’m playing pretty well after a long season and a long summer.”