Liam Pitchford says his recent lay-off has helped him rediscover his enjoyment of the sport and find a new drive to challenge the world’s best players.
The England No 1 has been off the court with an arm injury – and taking the chance to look after his wellbeing at the same time – and had not played this year before returning at last week’s WTT Contender Amman.
There, he came from 2-0 and a match point down to defeat China’s Yan Sheng in the first round, before exiting in a close match against Yan’s compatriot Lin Shidong in the last 16.
Pitchford said: “I’m in a much more positive mindset than I was at the end of last year. It’s been good for me to be away from the table for a while and assess things, and it’s given me a new drive.
“Last year I put too much pressure on myself and wasn’t enjoying it. In Amman, I felt a lot better than at the end of last year.
“Results-wise, it wasn’t the best, but I wasn’t expecting much because I’ve not really been able to practise and I haven’t played matches for a while.
“I probably shouldn’t have been 2-0 down, but to come back from 2-0 and a match point down – last year, that would have been that, so it was enjoyable to be out there and find that will to win and get back to where I was before. To win that match shows I’ve still got the fight in me.
“It’s good to be back and I enjoyed being back out there, which I haven’t for a while, so that’s positive for me and hopefully I can build on that.
“It’s about feeling like I want to play table tennis again and then, with the work I do, the results will come. In the next few months, with a lot of practice and more matches, I can get back to challenging the top guys again.”
Pitchford’s next test is at the Europe Top 16 in Montreux on the weekend of February 25-26, where he will be the sixth seed.
He will be aiming to improve on his previous best performances, when he reached the quarter-finals in both 2020 and 2021.
He said: “I didn’t play last year through injury, so it’s a good chance to go back and have a shot at these guys. They are the big names and I’m in that company. I want to be out there and I want to win.
“I’ve got a chance to do some hard work in the next 10 days or so before going there and that puts me in a good place, and there’s more of a chance now I’m in a better mindset.
“The first match is the most important, to get into the tournament and start on the front foot and take it from there.”
The full field for the top 16 is:
Men: Truls Moregard (SWE), Darko Jorgic (SLO), Dang Qiu (GER), Dimitrij Ovtcharov (GER), Kristian Karlsson (SWE), Liam Pitchford (ENG), Andrej Gacina (CRO), Simon Gauzy (FRA), Marcos Freitas (POR), Yang Wang (SVK), Robert Gardos (AUT), Tomislav Pucar (CRO), Jonathan Groth (DEN), Joao Geraldo (POR), Elias Hardmeier (SUI), Emmanuel Lebesson (FRA)
Women: Ying Han (GER), Sofia Polcanova (AUT), Nina Mittelham (GER), Jia Nan Yuan (FRA), Fu Yu (POR), Bernadette Szocs (ROU), Hana Matelova (CZE), Xia Luan Ni (LUX), Elizabeta Samara (ROU), Barbora Balazova (SVK), Linda Bergstrom (SWE), Jieni Shao (POR), Georgina Pota (HUN), Rachel Moret (SUI), Christina Kallberg (SWE), Natalia Bajor (POL)