Pitchford and Drinkhall rivalry great for English table tennis

What sporting drama! At the recent 2015 English Table Tennis Championships, Liam Pitchford staged a remarkable comeback to claim his third consecutive men’s singles title.

Pitchford was trailing top seed Paul Drinkhall 3-0 and defeat was looking inevitable. But he dug deep, saved two Champinship points in 5th set, before finally securing 4-3 victory.

This was the fourth consecutive final between Pitchford and Drinkhall. Pitchford currently leads 3-1. All four finals have had moments of drama, but the latest final was by far the best yet. Not only because of Pitchford’s comeback but also because of the very high standard of table tennis. Their first three finals were good, but the fourth one was exceptional (full video below).

Both players, at time of writing, are ranked in the world’s top 50. This is a great situation for English table tennis. During 2013, Pitchford was very much the player in ascendancy, with a number of impressive victories against higher ranked players at the Polish and German opens.

But Drinkhall had a fantastic 2014, winning the Spanish open, getting to the final of the Russian open, and climbing to a career high ranking of number 33 in the world.

The success of one player seems to be spurring on success of the other. A great rivalry is emerging. Pitchford is 22 and Drinkhall is 25, so this rivalry has many years left to run.

Exciting times for English table tennis

It’s an exciting time for English table tennis. Pitchford and Drinkhall are inspiring a number of very good young players, such as Sam Walker, Helshan Weerasinghe, Tom Jarvis and Igor Morais. Walker took two sets off Pitchford in the semi-final of the national championships and currently looks most likely to challenge the top two.

With such fierce competition amongst the juniors and under-21s, the standard of table tennis should continue to rose and it’s quite possible that England could have 3 or 4 more players in the top 100 over the next three or four years.

Success at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 (1 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals) has given the England squad belief that they can compete at an international level.

And much needed reforms of the English Table Tennis Association (now Table Tennis England), including a new Chief Executive, a new governance structure and relocation to new purpose-built headquarters in Milton Keynes, has resulted in a more professional governing body. This has been recognised by Sport England, who have restored Table Tennis England’s funding for the next two years.

So the future for table tennis in England is looking very positive. It would be great to see Pitchford or Drinkhall break into the world top 25 and win more ITTF World Tour titles. When Drinkhall won the Spanish Open in April 2014, he became the first English player to win an ITTF World Tour singles event for 18 years. With Pitchford’s and Drinkhall’s rivalry pushing standards ever higher, let’s hope we won’t have to wait another 18 years for the next world tour title.

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