Liam Pitchford is convinced he has got his all-conquering Chinese rivals running scared as he targets Great Britain’s first Olympic table tennis medal in Tokyo.
China has dominated the sport since its Olympic debut in Seoul in 1988, claiming all but four of the 32 gold medals awarded to date, and more than half of the 100 podium places in total.
But Pitchford’s stunning win over then world number one Xu Xin at the Qatar Open in 2020 gave him hope of bridging the gap – and he is no doubt it put the Chinese team on red alert.
Pitchford told the PA news agency: “I think the Chinese will definitely have done their homework on me. They will have several partners who play the same style as me, and they will be practising against that every day.
“It gives me confidence that they are worried about me. You have to fight for everything and I am not going to go on to the court and give them the match just because they’re the best players in the world.”
The Chesterfield 28-year-old, who is playing in his third Olympics, was part of the British team that won a bronze medal at the World Team Championship in 2016, the nation’s first at that level since 1983.
He also claimed gold and silver medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games with doubles partners Paul Drinkhall and Tin Tin Ho respectively – both of whom make up the three-strong Team GB team in Tokyo.
But it was his win over Xu in Doha, and the narrow final defeat to world number two Fan Zhendong that followed later that same day, that truly announced Pitchford’s place among the challengers to China’s traditional domination of the sport.
Pitchford’s only regret is the advent of lockdown so soon after his breakthrough in Qatar robbed him of the kind of momentum that he is still struggling to regain.
“The lockdown probably came at a bad time for me because I was on a good run of form and had played one of the best tournaments of my career,” said Pitchford.
“The first couple of months were pretty difficult. I didn’t pick up a bat, then I ended up getting a table in my house and playing a little bit, and trying to keep on top of my fitness.
“It’s got easier but it’s still not the same as it would be normally. But I still have that confidence and there is more expectation than at previous Olympics. I know if I perform at my best I can beat the best in the world again.”