Liam Pitchford was at his blistering best as he won two matches to storm into the final of the WTT Contender Muscat.
He saw off Japan’s Sora Matsushima in the quarter-finals before sinking in-form Swede Anton Kallberg in the semis to set up a final against Hugo Calderano of Brazil tomorrow.
Pitchford has a 3-2 winning record against Calderano, although the Brazilian has won the last two and Pitchford has not beaten him since 2018. That was also the year he blitzed Calderano 4, 6, 6 at the Team World Cup at the Copper Box.
The final is at 1.15pm UK time on Saturday – watch on the WTT YouTube channel.
It was a scrappy opening against Kallberg, but as the first game but when points developed into rallies, both had the chance to showcase some great winners – Pitchford notably off the forehand side.
One such swinging crosscourt winner brought him level him to 9-9 and then a trademark backhand brought up a game point, which he took after two more powerful backhands pinned back Kallberg.
Kallberg, ranked 10 places higher than Pitchford at No 23, hit back strongly in the second, winning it 11-4 as Pitchford made a few errors.
He wasn’t missing by much, and the radar was found again in the third as he pulled out to a 9-5 lead. Kallberg fought back to 9-9 but Pitchford and coach John Murphy refrained from taking the timeout – and their trust paid off as a spinny backhand flick secured a game point. Pitchford took it and let out a roar of approval as he moved within a game of the final.
Pitchford became more and more ruthless as he took virtually every opening in the fourth. Kallberg hung in there but was forced into a timeout at 5-8.
Whatever was said had an effect as he won the next three points, the last of them with a superb backhand down the line.
They traded the next two points before a forceful forehand saw Pitchford bring up a match point. It was a brilliant rally, but Pitchford gradually forced Kallberg back and the Swede eventually sent a return long.
Pitchford fell to his knees in delight, and will have the chance to step to the top step of the WTT podium for the first time in his career tomorrow, when he takes on Brazil’s World No 5 and second seed Hugo Calderano.
Earlier in the day, fresh from defeating world No 8 Lin Yun-Ju in the last 16 yesterday, Pitchford carried his form into the last eight clash against Japan’s Matsushima (WR 50).
He made a slow start, though, his left-handed opponent opening up leads of 6-1 and 9-4 in the first. When Pitchford whittled that back to 9-8, Matsushima took an early time-out, but it had no effect as Pitchford continued on his roll to win the game 11-9.
The second saw Pitchford make all the running, sealing it with five successive points from 6-4. He was dictating the pace and showing a level of power and precision too great for his opponent to handle.
He dipped a little in the third, however, trailing 5-1 and 10-6. He almost turned it around, before finally losing it 11-9.
The fourth was tight as both players took it in turns to lead by two, only to be pegged back. That pattern persisted until 8-8, but three in a row sealed the match for Pitchford.
In between Pitchford’s two singles matches, he & Tom Jarvis were up against Kallberg & Kristian Karlsson of Sweden in their Men’s Doubles semi-final.
It was a match the Swedes controlled as the English pair struggled to put any runs of points together and it was done in three comfortable games as Karlsson & Kallberg went into the final.
Liam Pitchford bt Sora Matsushima (JPN) 3-1 (11-9, 11-4, 9-11, 11-8)
Pitchford bt Anton Kallberg (SWE) 3-1 (11-9, 4-11, 11-9, 11-9)
Anton Kallberg & Kristian Karlsson (SWE) bt Liam Pitchford & Tom Jarvis 3-0 (11-6, 11-7, 11-6)