Table Tennis

Return to France a big boost for me, says Pitchford

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Liam Pitchford believes returning to a happy hunting ground will make a big difference to his game on the international stage – with a year until the Paris 2024 Olympics.

The England No 1 has signed to play for Hennebont in the French league, returning to a club where he spent three successful years, culminating in winning the ETTU Cup in 2019.

Since then, things have not gone as planned for Pitchford in terms of his club commitments – his involvement in the Japanese league was curtailed by covid, while his time with Russian club UMMC came to an end because of the war in Ukraine.

But now he has secured a good training and competition environment to keep his game at a high level in between international tournaments.

“I’m excited,” said Pitchford. “I had three good seasons there, won the ETTU Cup and had very positive scores in the league. I was able to take that into my international results at the time as well.

“It’s good for me to get back to playing more regular league matches – I’ve not had that really since covid for one reason or another.

“It will be good to be able to play consistent matches against top players in the world and that will take the pressure off and help my form going into WTT tournaments.

“I like the club, the fans are good and they’ve got a brilliant new hall and good training facilities.

“And it’s good for me to play with (Hennebont team-mate) Kristian Karlsson. I know him very well and it’ll be good to train with him and learn from him, so it’s positive all round.”

Pitchford has had some league action since the world opened up after the worst effects of the pandemic, helping UMMC reach the Champions League semi-finals in January last year.

Now he is banking on more regular action to get him firing again on the international stage – just before covid, on the back of a good stint in the Japanese League which resulted in him extending his contract there, he had some great WTT results in Hungary and Qatar, reaching the last four in Hungary and then being beaten the final of the latter by World No 1 Fan Zhendong.

He said: “I decided to sign again but it was difficult to get out there and I think I only played four matches – I managed to beat (World no 5 Hugo) Calderano.

“Since then, I’ve not had many league matches – UMMC was great for the Champions League, but the Russian league’s not that strong.

“I’ve been going into WTT events playing against top 20 or 30 players in the first round and that puts a lot of pressure on me.

“But I’ve been training a lot better recently and now with going to Hennebont, hopefully that will give me confidence going into WTT events.”

Pitchford freely admits -covid period has been difficult for him mentally, saying: “It did get me down, not playing as much as I wanted and not getting the results I wanted. I had to find a way to get back into enjoying it again and wanting to be on the table, working hard. It took some serious internal reflection.

“I’m doing the work on the table with (Performance coaching staff) Gavin Evans and John Murphy, and off the table with a sports psychologist and I’ve got that desire to get back to where I was.

“It’s about a year to Paris now and that’s the big aim. I trust the process we’ve got in place and hopefully it will all come good.”

Return to France a big boost for me, says Pitchford Table Tennis England.

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