Liam Pitchford feels his game is in the best place it has been since before the pandemic – and his developing relationship with coach John Murphy is a major part of that.
As he reflected on reaching the final of the WTT Contender Muscat, Pitchford had praise for Murphy and the other Performance staff for helping him get back towards his best.
Pitchford was beaten 4-3 by world No 5 Hugo Calderano in the final in Oman and although he did not get his first WTT title, four victories over world-class players on his way to the final ensured he picked up a good stack of ranking points, meaning he is up eight places to 25 in the new world rankings list, out today.
It was the first time he had got to the final of a world event since the ITTF Platinum event in Qatar in March 2020, where he beat then world No 1 Xu Xin in the semi-finals and lost to world No 2 Fan Zhendong, just before lockdowns plunged the sport and wider society into hiatus.
He credits the Performance coaches, and in particular Murphy, for revitalising his game and his frame of mind and helping him to get back to that sort of level.
He said: “The four players I’ve beaten before the final – if you told me at the start I would beat them, I’d have taken that. I beat four world-class players this week and I felt probably the best I’ve felt since the final in Qatar.
“It’s been a tough journey since that final, but since John came in, he’s helped me find my enjoyment and love of the game again. Him, with Gavin [Evans] and Matej [Mamut] have given me the freedom to do the work I needed to do and I’m proud to be back fighting for titles.
“It’s been three months of hard work. Some of the events in that time haven’t gone as well as I would have liked, but I trusted the process. I think things were ready to click and they’ve clicked here.
“There’s still a long way to go and I think I have more to give, but I’m back challenging for titles and that’s always where I wanted to be, and it’s thanks to everyone who’s supported me.
“Tom [Jarvis] stayed out here to practise with me too, and I can’t thank him enough.
“I want to build on this, it’s hopefully the start and I can push on and give myself more opportunity to play these matches.”
The final was a curious match, with the two players showing domination at various stages – Pitchford winning the second 11-1 but losing the fourth 11-0.
In the end, Pitchford hung in by saving a match point in the sixth to take it to a decider, but came up just short against a player experienced at getting over the line in WTT events – it was his seventh title. The final scoreline was 4-3 (6-11, 1-11, 11-8, 11-0, 11-4, 10-12, 11-7) in favour of the Brazilian.
“Obviously I got a lot of momentum at the start and had a lot of chances which I took and got on a roll,” said Pitchford.
“The third set, I had a couple of chances to get back and make it close, but he started to get a lot of momentum. He changed his tactics and started to drop me a lot of short balls and I was in a place where I wasn’t comfortable and he started making a lot of shots.
“I clawed it back in the sixth and gave myself a chance, but I got a bad start in the seventh and against players like that, you can’t afford to do that.
“I’m obviously disappointed to lose a final 4-3. It was a tactically up and down match and we were both on top in parts. He played well and I didn’t do too much wrong, probably a few little things I could have changed in the middle of the matc,h but in the heat of battle it’s difficult to change the momentum.
It wasn’t enough today, but it’s been a good tournament.”
Pitchford’s next appointment on the international circuit is at the prestigious WTT Champions Frankfurt in Germany, which starts on October 29 and has a stellar entry list including almost all of the world’s top 20 players.