Five England stars fly out to Durban today for the World Championships in good heart following their training camp in Nottingham.
Liam Pitchford, Tom Jarvis, Sam Walker, Paul Drinkhall and Tin-Tin Ho had some top-level practice under the watchful eye of Head of Performance Development, Gavin Evans.
Pitchford and Drinkhall in particular have their sights set high – as a pair, they reached the quarter-finals at this event in Houston in 2021, while Pitchford got through to the last 16 and narrowly lost out to Liang Jingkun of China in what was arguably the match of the tournament.
Evans said: “Last time, Liam reached the last 16 and had a fantastic match against one of the Chinese and lost 4-3 and the boys also made the quarter-finals of the doubles, so we’ve got a lot to live up to, particularly around the ranking system now, so there is an element of pressure.
“Liam is protecting some points there, in the doubles they’re also having to make sure they perform well so they keep inside that top 10 in the world.
“There’s lots of things on the line, but equally the most important is that we go there and focus on each match, how to get the best out of ourselves – and then what will be, will be.”
Drinkhall, who will be looking to move back inside the world’s top 100 having recently seen the points he won at the Tokyo Olympics lapse, said: “I think I’ve been a good place and playing well recently. I’ve not had good results, but I’ve been playing well.
“I’ve not put any specific round goals or anything like that. I’m working on a few things in my game and I’d like to put them into the matches and I think if I do that, I can perform really well – just taking each match as it comes.”
The Nottingham camp has been good for team-bonding as well as practice, and Drinkhall added: “It’s good to come together and get to know where each other are, so we can help each other.
“We’re used to going to events in quite small teams – there’s a few more of us this year which I think can really help and we can get behind and support each other, be there for practice and matches. Although it is an individual tournament, I think if we can come together and help each other, then we can all benefit from that.”
The competition – the first Worlds to be held in Africa since the 1939 edition in Cairo – begins on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the training camp saw the seniors working alongside a number of highly ranked Junior players in the same hall.
Evans believes camps like this one can help not just the current squad but also the future of English table tennis.
He said: “The support team we can create as one team is really important. People travelling around the world, playing in major championships know that there is a team behind them, and their team-mates want them to win more than anything – it’s really important to us.
“It’s England versus the world in that sense and that for us is really important that we always support each other, always get behind each other and do what we can to help each other.
“Bringing in younger players to the environment (is important) so they can learn and they don’t have to be always told what to do – they can look along the hall and see some of the best players in the world doing it and start to learn from that visual perspective.”