Paul Drinkhall’s Commonwealth Games Blog

Wow! As usual, Paul’s blogs give us a real insight to the roller coaster ride of big events. As Paul says, Take it all, weigh it up and then times it by ten, because this was even more special; a home Commonwealth games, with your family and friends in the audience willing you on.

I think many of us saw Paul play some of the best Table Tennis and showed unbelievable fight in nearly pulling off the comeback of the century! Now the dust has settled, here’s his take on the 2022 Games…

How do you sum up the experience of another Commonwealth games? It’s not easy to put that into a blog, with so much going on, so much to consider, so many emotions – looking forward to the buzz of competing, the hours of training and physical conditioning, and the expectations and pressure that comes with being a top Commonwealth Nation. Take it all, weigh it up and then times it by ten, because this was even more special; a home Commonwealth games, with your family and friends in the audience willing you on.

I knew coming into the competition I was peaking about right physically. I’m an experienced player, I’ve been conditioning and learning to get myself to my best form (or giving myself the best chance or doing so) since I was 16 years old, so I could feel I was ready to go and compete for three medals in the singles, doubles and team event.

The men’s team event was huge for us. Given our history as a team with the World Bronze medal and the run in the Olympics, we were desperate to win this event. In the end as a team we didn’t quite find our top form, and that’s just sport – it definitely wasn’t through lack of preparation or desire, that’s for sure. I managed to play well throughout the team event, as the elder player in the team I wanted to step out and try to lead by example, but the other guys are consummate professionals themselves so really this only helped me get the best out of myself. It’s still a great feeling to win a Bronze medal at a multi-sport event like this, but realistically we went into the games going for Gold and we were disappointed to lose out. One thing I will give us credit for is re-grouping, pressing the reset button and going out to win the Bronze, and that’s easier said than done after the disappointment of losing in the semi-finals.

Myself and Pitch knew that we started as favourites in the men’s doubles event. We’ve played together for years now, we understand how each other thinks, our individual strengths and weaknesses in a way that only endless months of training, travelling and competing together can bring. Both on paper and in our minds, we knew that this on top of being the defending champions brought with it a great deal of expectation, but also a golden opportunity to go out as favourites and prove ourselves as the best men’s combination in the commonwealth.

On paper it’s all well and good, and we found great form right the way through to the final; the problem with a final is that it almost doesn’t matter about form OR standard, due to the situation it becomes a 50/50 match regardless, and that’s what happened. The Indian pairing are dangerous – Achanta is massively experienced, he knows how to impose his strengths onto anyone and with that forehand anything can happen. When you pair him with a speed demon like Gnanaskeran, who’s also so consistent on both wings, it’s never going to be an easy match – and the score line reflected that! In the end we managed to lift ourselves and play the big points well, and cement our status amongst the Commonwealth nations… it might be the second time that we’ve won it, but it didn’t feel any less special.

I started the singles with the same goal in mind as the other two events – put simply, I was going for gold, and I was going to leave everything on court trying to win it, and I can hold my hand up and say that I did just that.

I knew I was in good form after the doubles and team events, but it’s not easy trying to maintain that level over such a long period of time. I think I showed my best game in the match against Quadri Aruna; on paper he’s top seed, and we all know how lethal that forehand attack is when he is moving well, and the power and athleticism he possesses. I knew that I had to match that, whilst at the same time try to get him playing more backhands from the backhand side, switching him out wide to his forehand to try to stop him from running around the backhand corner and launching that scud missile – it’s sometimes what people try to do to me, so I’m more than familiar with the tactic!

In the end I was quicker over the table, my receive felt great and that stopped him from launching the first attack time after time. I found my flow, and to beat the World number 11 and top seed is always a good win, but I know that I can beat those players when I’m on my game.

Sharath Kamal Achanta… he doesn’t seem to age! He was never a hugely speedy player to begin with, but he hasn’t slowed down and his control and attacking game are as strong as ever. He’s hugely experienced and a former champion, and never a push over, but I thought I had the form to beat him. In the end he was able to receive my service well enough to keep me out and put me under pressure with his serve and third ball, and I could feel my form dipping slightly at the wrong time as his was picking up. I feel I started as favourite form wise, but all credit to Sharath, he’s a world class player and a world class guy, and on the day he played the better of the two of us as the match progressed, but I can’t pretend I wasn’t bitterly disappointed to lose and not go onto contest the gold medal.

I gave everything… in fact absolutely everything… in the bronze medal match. This was purely down to fight at this point; I knew I’d peaked a couple of days prior, Gnanasakeran found his feet quickly and I started to slow. The way I got back to 3-3 is simply, I quite simply just fought for every single point, accepted I wasn’t finding my flow or player as well, but tried to make myself hard to beat and turn it into a dog fight. In the end I nearly did it; to come back to 3-3 from that position and then take those final two points to win 11-9 I think would have been an amazing ending in front of a home crowd, but he played better on the day, and I have to give him enormous credit even though the loss left me so disappointed.

Part of being a professional athlete is learning, recovering, and responding – you have to do this quickly as the sport develops, the standard goes up all the time, you can’t afford to sit still or you’ll be left behind, and that’s exactly what myself and the rest of the team will do…

Many thanks to Michael Loveder for use of his fantastic photos – you can find more on his flickr page.

Posted on 14th September 2022