Liam Pitchford became the first Englishman to reach the singles final of an ITTF World Tour event -- the Qatar Open last month.

The landmark was even more special because he defeated the World No.1 Xu Xin of China in the semifinals. He eventually lost to Fan Zhendong in the summit clash.

“That [beating Xu Xin] was the biggest win of my career. He is a tricky player; he is a pen-holder, uses spin very well. His serves and returns are of top quality. Moreover, I had never taken a set off him before,” Pitchford told Sportstar on Wednesday, over a phone conversation from his hometown Chesterfield.

Forced to be indoors due to COVID-19 pandemic at a time when he is at his peak must have been a dampener for the 26-year-old, but he has taken it in his stride.

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“It’s tough in the United Kingdom. We don’t know how long [the lockdown] will continue. I go out for a jog in the morning and do my treadmill and gymming at home,” said Pitchford.

Describing the situation as “uneasy”, he advised all the Olympic aspirants to take care of their mental health. “Apart from physical health, it is important that players take care of their mental health. I request everyone to follow the guidelines [of their respective countries] during the time,” he said.

The Englishman attributed his rise to his coach Gavin Evans, with whom he began working towards the end of 2019. “I have known him [Evans] for a long time. We’ve played together. It takes time for everything to come together. I trusted the process and the results came. In fact, I am surprised at my own growth. Actually two great performances [reaching the semifinals of Hungary Open in February and the Qatar Open final in March] have boosted my confidence,” said Pitchford, who is world-ranked 22 and he is expected to be in the top 15 when ITTF releases the ranking list on April 15.

Pitchford’s career-best ranking was 12 in August last year, but he felt this was the best phase of his career. “I feel like I am a more rounded player now and have improved on my weakness,” he said.

Sharath Kamal, who has played a lot with Pitchford since 2009, traced his career. “He was dubbed a child prodigy. It took him a while to find his balance. His forehand, which was weak earlier, has become fantastic. His backhand is superb. He beat Ma Long in the first round of the 2018 Bulgarian Open. Since then, he has been quite consistent,” said the Indian.


Pitchford has fond memories of the first two editions of the Ultimate Table Tennis League in India. “It brought out the best in me,” said the Commonwealth Games medallist, who has verbally informed the UTT organisers of his keenness to participate in the forthcoming edition.

Pitchford said there is a lot of depth in the Indian men’s team now. “Earlier Sharath used to be the torchbearer of the team. Now there are 6-7 players challenging him,” he said.

Pitchford is looking forward to a medal in the Tokyo Olympics. “I hope to qualify based on my rankings. At the moment, it is difficult to say anything. There is a lot of pressure in the Olympics. Winning a medal at the Olympics is a dream for me. I believe I have a chance,” he said.