Exclusive: Paul Drinkhall writes about his World Team Bronze and 5th National Title!

World Team Championships

I’m writing this as a bronze medallist at the World Championships – what a feeling. Of course, growing up you only ever want to win the Gold, but given the position we started the competition in we are most certainly happy and you won’t find any complaints from team England at the colour of the medal, that’s for sure!

We prepared in Singapore, on a training camp with our old coach Jia Yi Liu who was in charge of the England men’s team and developed so many players over the years, myself and Liam included. He’s coaching the Singapore women’s team now so it was great to hook up with him again, and we had a good pre-competition camp.


I think as a team our form wasn’t great in our first couple of games, mine included! Our first game against Sweden was really a 50/50 match, and Pitch played the best of us all to give us a head start winning the first against Kristian Karlsson – I still don’t think he hit top form but he had enough, and that’s all that matters, and we couldn’t complain at the 3-0 game score line! That’s as far as it went, as I lost to Mattias Karlsson three deuces and Sam lost to Jon Persson 3-0 as well, leaving Karlsson against me which he won in 4. The first game was so tight and I could feel that I was finding my form, but at this level against two top fifty world ranked players if you’re not on your game it’s going to be tough.

It was proven against France again the next day… Lebesson, the French number 2 managed to beat Pitch in five in the first game in what is again on paper another 50/50 team game with the French. I lost to Gauzy who had a good tournament and then Sam lost to Tristan Flore 3-0, suddenly it’s all over before it started seemingly. Of course, we went on to get our revenge later… more on that to come though!

Our revival started against Denmark, though this was a frustrating game for me personally. I lost to Groth, the Danish number 1 at a score line of 16-14 in the fifth… It’s so annoying when you are close to hitting form and just nearly there, it’s something we can all relate to no matter what level we play at, and this one left me a very annoyed player. Thankfully Liam and Sam did the business and we got home 3-1, those points on the board were to prove important.

The Germans are never an easy team to beat (don’t us English sports teams know it?!) but our confidence was boosted knowing that the European No 1 Ovtcharov was out injured, and the German No 2 and European No 2 Boll was ill for the match. Still, a very tough match lay ahead, with Steger (World Ranked 37), Filus (World Ranked 42) and Franziska (World Ranked 43) – talk about strength in depth!

After a few days of absolute frustration, I was pleased to hit form against Steger and get the team off to a winning start in a five game battle. He’s an experienced and tough competitor who’s never easy to beat, so that certainly gave us a boost. Liam had a good game against the defender Ruwen Filus, but couldn’t quite find his top gear and went down in 4. The key game here was Sam against Franziska; on paper Franziska was the favourite, but Sam is improving rapidly and also had beaten him in the Bundesliga this season, in the end he won in 4 and it should have probably been 3 straight! As is so often the case in a team event the battle of the number 3’s can be pivotal, and this set the scene for Liam to go on against Steger. With the pressure mounting on the German’s and Liam playing better, he took the game and the match – what a result, and suddenly it’s a different tournament.

With the hardest games out of the way, this left Malaysia as our final group game, and we knew that things were looking very positive for us in terms of a count back situation. We concentrated on winning the match (we managed to win 3-0) and watched as Sweden spoilt Germany’s chances by losing to them 3-2, the fact they got one end or more would result in us going through. If anything, this result shows that it’s important to always, always keep fighting as you never know what can happen. At this level almost anyone in the top 100 – 20 ranking wise is a 50/50 game depending on the form on the day, so things can change so easily. Luckily for us, they did!

After coming up last year from the Championship division, to finish as a guaranteed top 12 team was already a great bonus, but when we looked at the draw on paper we certainly weren’t going to settle for that. We knew that 6 of the teams were basically a very similar standard… France, Sweden, Austria, Croatia, Poland and ourselves. That means the draw is critical, it’s always nice to avoid one of the top 2 or 3 seeds so early on, obviously. Our draw was with Poland, which we were more than happy with in all honesty.

I’d found form at last, and managed to take it into our opening game, where I gave us a 1-0 lead beating the Polish Number 1 Wang Zengyi who’s a tricky opponent. A traditional penholder in many respects, quick and close to the table and awkward to play… I was playing well and with confidence and won 3-1. Pitch then had a massive 5 end tussle with Dyjas, winning  11-9 in the fifth when it mattered. Sam lost to Daniel Gorak in 5, in reality it could have been 3-0 to England, that’s how close it was! Wang Zengyi played well against Liam winning 3-1, which left the match poised at 2-2 with the Polish on a roll after winning the last two games. I wasn’t in the mood to lose to Dyjas with a quarter final place at stake, and knowing that another 50/50 game with the French (and the chance for revenge!) awaited us I went on to win in 4. Result, England through to the quarter finals, after the start we’d had who’d have believed it!

To say we were up for the France game would be a massive understatement. The problem was, so were they! When it’s a world semi final up for grabs it’s 100% passion from the word go, and that’s exactly what it was in a match that was so topsy turvy it left us all sea sick!


Gauzy beat me in 3 close games, he was great at the end of the matches and it made the difference. The result was the opposite against Lebesson, Liam did the same to him and got home in three tight ends, match score 1-1. Sam had his chances against Flore, but he was consistent and won in 4 so we were 2-1 down with Liam going on to play Gauzy, his team mate at Dusseldorf. Obviously they know each other’s games very well, so it was anybodies match really. Pitch fought like a tiger and won in four after losing the 2nd end 21-19 (!!!) which set me up for a show down with Lebesson, who co incidentally is my team mate in the French league, you couldn’t make it up! You couldn’t make the scores up either, I was 2-1 down and managed to scrape a 4th end at 11-9 setting up the fifth end decider. at 10-6 up in the fifth and playing strongly, you’d think I was home and dry – Lebesson had other ideas. I’ve watched the match back and he deserves a hand shake, as he played 4 tremendous quality points under pressure, flicking wide and re looping off the bounce back at me like it was the first end, impressive stuff. I was feeling tough mentally also though, and when I won 13-11 with a winning forehand topspin I was beyond ecstatic – England through to the semi finals of the world championships, who’d have thought it? We did, as we believed – but I’m going to be honest and say we were a very, very happy team going to bed that night.

The semi finals brought the Japanese, who are a classy, classy outfit. Mizutani, the world No 6 never knows when he’s beaten in the rally. You feel like you have won the point three times, played three winners and still it comes back, his agility and consistency are fantastic. He’s also a very cool customer and just doesn’t seem to feel the pressure, which at this level is obviously huge. The first 2 ends I threw everything at him, and I really think they could have gone either way, they were so close. The 3rd he played really well and had so much confidence, so that was Japan off to a winning start thanks to him.

Yoshimura was picked for the game instead of Koki Niwa, possibly because Liam has beaten him before, so not a bad selection call at all from the Japanese. He’s another world class player and showed it against Liam, winning 11-9 in the fifth from being down. He deserves credit, Pitch didn’t do a lot wrong, it could have very easily been 1-1 but sadly it just got away at the end.

At 2-0 down Sam went on knowing it was all on his shoulders, and on paper playing someone of a much higher standard. He was having none of it and his attitude was amazing, going 2-0 up in the game before winning in 4. What a result, fully deserved, fantastic!

That still leaves the small matter of Liam against Mizutani however. Not an easy match, I’m sure we’d all agree. When Pitch went 2-0 up, I was warming up for what would have been possibly the biggest match of my life, a 2-2 clash with Yoshimura for a place in world team championships final against the Chinese… what a prospect. I couldn’t wait and felt that winning 2 in a row the pressure would be hugely on him and the momentum with us, but Mizutani had other ideas. He’s a fighter, and won the 3rd and also the 4th, saving 4 match points. Agony, so close to being 2-2, He got a good start in the 5th and his experience saw him home 3-2.

The disappointment for us all was just massive. What a kick in the stomach, so close yet so far, if Pitch had of just had a bit of luck when it mattered we’d have been 2-2 and me playing for the win. Sam deserves credit for the victory in the middle once again, he can look back on this tournament with pride as he stepped up for his team and showed his metal when it mattered. Of course we are delighted with a bronze medal, especially being newly promoted, but we couldn’t help but feel the disappointment of ‘it was oh so close…’ that’s sport I guess.

I guess we can all take positives and say with our heads held high, here’s to the future!

National Championships

Of course, another massive success this season has been the National Championships, always a highlight for the English players of course. Going into the event I’d won it four times before, and been a beaten finalist a few times also – it hurts! What’s interesting about it is that if you make your way through to your seeded position, you end up playing an England team mate and we all obviously know each other’s games so well after playing against each other for years and training together so often.

Last year in the final I was up against Pitch (Liam Pitchford) who’s my friend and doubles partner, we know how each other plays absolutely inside out and form goes out of the window. That’s what makes it such a great competition I guess. After an intense match, I was really disappointed not to claim the title for the 5th time after leading 3-0. That’s the thing with playing team mates; form, standard, the way you have played in the game before can just all go out of the window! I suppose the spectators got some more value for money, but that was little consolation to me at the time!

This time it was a little different – I felt really fast out of the blocks, and started on the Friday evening playing incredibly well. My timing felt great, I felt fast, and everything was working. Obviously the format has been different this year, matches on the Friday and Saturday before finals day on the Sunday, and I have to give credit to Table Tennis England for making the event much more professional than it has been before. I think there are still some minor tweaks to be made in terms of the presentation but what a huge improvement, the event felt much more special and to have the finals day sold out was brilliant – and played in front of the TV cameras on a terrestrial channel for the first time. Awesome!


After both Danny Reed and Andrew Baggaley pulled out injured, in left a chance in the draw for some other players to step up to the mark. I played David Mcbeath in the quarter finals, a really good friend of mine and a much improved player – the Saturday I didn’t feel as good, and Dave had his chances, he won an end but I battled and managed to get home. If Dave can improve again, I think he’ll be fighting for the fourth place in the national team.

Sam Walker pulled it out of the bag again, and stepped up a level against Liam in the other semi final to win 4-3. Like I say, playing against team mates is always tough and he found the form to take a good win – when you know each other’s games so well, it really can go either way. That set up a final that maybe people didn’t expect, but us players are never that surprised when playing against each other, and after Sam’s performance at the worlds he probably feels he deserved his win.

Our final was a tussle, I was 9-5 up in the first and felt in control only to lose 11-9. You can’t afford to take your foot of the gas for a minute, and that could have cost me dearly! I won the next couple of games and felt strong, I think experience matters too and this was Sam’s first final, so I had a head start there for sure. I think tactically I played well and tried to stop Sam from playing the way he had against Liam, and I was totally delighted in the end to win 4 – 2 and become National Champion for the 5th time – what a feeling!!


Posted on 30th March 2016