International medals, royal guests at Bat & Chat and a big reunion – the first half of our review of 2023 is packed with highlights across the sport.
As name-dropping goes, mentioning that you played table tennis alongside the future king and queen isn’t bad. That’s exactly what members of the Falmouth Bat & Chat session were able to do after the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall visited their session in February (pictured above).
Back in January, table tennis royalty in the shape of Paralympic and world champion Will Bayley made his debut for Brighton in the British League, Premier Division. And it was a victorious one as he took two wins to inspire his team to a 6-1 victory over BATTS.
Elsewhere in January, there were plenty of medals for English players at the World Veterans Championships, including a gold for Betty Bird. Wales’ Mike Marsden was also a champion.
Also on the world stage, Liam Pitchford & Paul Drinkhall crashed into the top 10 at No 7 in the world doubles rankings, while Tom Jarvis picked up a fantastic win over Chinese star Xue Fei at the WTT Contender in Durban.
And two lucky young fans (pictured below) got to share the table with Drinkhall and Jarvis in a special exhibition match when England’s European qualifying tie against Serbia in Crawley was cut short by injury.
After taking a break of a few weeks, Liam Pitchford returned to the table with a bang in February as he won a superb bronze medal at the Europe Top 16, beating top see Truls Moregard on the way.
There were also some big changes both on and off the table as we set about delivering on our Table Tennis United pledges.
On the performance side, we appointed Gavin Evans as Head of Performance Development, with Emma Vickers coming in to the role of Head of Pathway Development.
Meanwhile, on the development front, we launched our Area Manager Network to support participation at all levels and help build A Table Tennis Nation.
An era came to an end as Colin Clemett stepped down as Chairman of the Table Tennis England Rules Committee at the age of 94, his contribution going back to the 1950s.
And Commonwealth Games medallist and twice national singles champion Maria Tsaptsinos called time om another, shorter, era as she stepped back from playing to focus on her career in Tv production.
British Para Table Tennis supremo Gorazd Vecko received an honour in his home nation of Slovenia to recognise his contribution to the sport.
March was dominated by the Mark Bates Ltd National Championships and the top honours of singles champions went to Tom Jarvis and Tin-Tin Ho. The para champions were Jack Hunter-Spivey and Ashley Facey, while Liam Pitchford & Paul Drinkhall won the men’s title for the eighth time and Ho & Emily Bolton won the women’s crown in the doubles finals.
There was a surprise in the Mixed Doubles as Ismaila Akindiya & Mollie Patterson upset top seeds Pitchford & Ho to take the title, while Jasmin Wong and Connor Green were the two under-21 champions.
Also at the Nationals, the Pride of Table Tennis Awards winners were honoured.
National champion Jarvis started April with the milestone of breaking into the world’s top 100 for the first time, also going above Drinkhall in the England No 2 slot.
Another champion, Hunter-Spivey, presented an ITV programme praising some of the unsung heroes who have helped shape his career.
There was another deserved award for Gorazd Vecko as he was awarded an Honorary MBE by His Majesty the King for his services to Paralympic Table Tennis.
It cannot have been often that a table tennis star has been celebrated with a heritage blue plaque, but that changed when Alan Hydes’ part in ‘Ping Pong Diplomacy’ was marked in that way at Yorkshire YMCA, where he learned the sport.
There was a superb TT Insider film on TTE.TV as Liam Pitchford met former Cadet national champion turned singing sensation Zak Abel for the first time in a decade, discussing their shared memories and how their paths had taken divergent courses.
Pitchford was also in the news in May as he and Drinkhall once again came oh-so-close to winning a doubles medal at the World Championships, going out in the quarter-finals for the second edition in succession.
There was success in the performance arena for some young English player, however. Abraham Sellado won the under-13 boys’ competition at the WTT Youth Contender in Spain, while there were eight medals, including five golds at the Mulhouse International Youth Open in France.
There was more good news in the pathway as John Murphy was appointed as National Coach, joining having had success with Table Tennis Australia.
Meanwhile, Table Tennis England’s Head of Competitions & Events, Neil Rogers, graduated from the UK Sport Event Leaders Programme.
The first winners of a major new domestic competition were crowned in June as BATTS TTC in Harlow won the inaugural Senior British League Premier Division Cup.
There was delight for three table tennis volunteers who were awarded the BEM in the King’s Birthday Honours.
But there was also great sadness across the table tennis world as we mourned the loss of multiple world champion Diane Scholer (nee Rowe), who passed away at the age of 90.