We caught up with Liam Pitchford this week to get first-hand gen on how he’s doing since the re-start for professional Table Tennis.
It’s safe to say that he’s done plenty of travelling, seen lots of hotel rooms and at last count… had brought up his half century in COVID-19 tests!
How did it feel getting back playing competitively after nearly 8 months break?
I was bit apprehensive at first, I was on such a high from the Qatar open having beaten World No 1 at the time Xu Xin to reach the final – you are never really sure how you will play with such a long extended competitive break. I was at the ITTF Men’s World Cup and the standard was unbelievably strong with every player being top 30. It took me the first set to settle down and after that it felt fine, I played ok and felt I had some good chances to progress in the tournament especially against Ovtcharov but he just pulled away in the final set. This was part of three back to back #Re-Start ITTF tournaments in Asia including the ITTF Finals where I encountered an ‘on fire’ Calderano and there was a new format at the World Table Tennis Macao tournament (WTT) where again I played OK beating one Korean and then losing to another in the next round!
How did you find practising and the long quarantine before playing?
Prior to re-starting the competitive play and heading out to China, I had been practicing in Nottingham, Denmark and Germany, so I felt fairly well prepared. Having two weeks of quarantine prior to play was really tough, although I was lucky to have Gavin Evans out there with me to coach and keep me sane! Travel was difficult and having so many COVID-19 tests is not great! All in all I was away for nearly 5 weeks but it was good to get back playing and at the end of the day I enjoy playing and competing so in that respect I was thankful.
How are you finding the uncertainty around life/competing?
Being a professional player, training, competing and travelling is the norm, so to have a long break from competition is unheard of. In some respects, it is nice to have spent more time at home, but with the lockdowns life isn’t exactly normal or much fun for anyone.
After I got back from China and Macao, I had a few days back in the UK and then I headed out to Russia to play for my new club (UMMC) in the Russian Club League and the Champions League. We had a really good run in the Champions league, however, we were knocked out in the last four by Borussia Dusseldorf. Fortunately, I was back in the UK in time for Christmas, I had trouble getting flights back and had to go via a stop over in Frankfurt. Early in the new year I was due to play in the Japanese T.League but this has been postponed – it was a shame as I have always enjoyed my trips out there to play, meet people and see the country.
So what’s next in this stop/start year?
Good question! In lockdown it will be keeping fit, catching up on box sets (Tin Star was enjoyable) and getting competitive with friends on the PlayStation with some ‘Call of duty’! Oh and where possible watching Liverpool FC matches and of course see them win the league again…
In terms of competition, we are scheduled to be taking part in the Olympic Qualifiers in Lisbon, Portugal, on the 10-14th February. However, with the current situation, it’s difficult to see it going ahead. We are still practicing hard as always and Paul, Sam and myself have been training in Nottingham with practice partner Wu Jiaji. Next in March, there is the return of the WTT tournaments in the Middle East – hopefully heading back to Qatar – I can repeat my form from almost exactly a year ago!