Liam Pitchford admitted he was outplayed by Sharath Kamal Achanta of India in the men’s singles gold medal match at the Commonwealth Games today.
Pitchford was beaten 4-1 and had to settle for silver – still the best English singles result at the Games.
The pair had met four times before and it stood at two wins apiece – though they hadn’t played each other since the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Pitchford beat Achanta twice at those Games – once in the team event semi-finals and, memorably, overcoming him 4-2 in the bronze medal match.
Not that it would have much bearing on a match for gold eight years later, but perhaps a good omen.
Pitchford started well enough, saving a game point in the first and then putting away two brilliant forehands to win it 13-11.
Achanta hit back 11-7 in the second and streaked out to 7-1 in the third, mixing up his play and forcing errors from Pitchford. The game quickly slipped away 11-2.
Pitchford could probably write that one off as one of those games that can sometimes happen, but when he went 3-1 down in the fourth it was time to seek guidance from Gavin Evans. A timeout was taken.
At 6-1 down, Pitchford appeared to give himself a gee-up after top-edging a backhand, his fabled main weapon yet to fire consistently.
If he was giving himself an internal talking-to, it had an impact straight away as he won the next four points, showing glimpses of his semi-final form, to provoke Achanta to take his timeout.
Perhaps that broke Pitchford’s flow, or perhaps he was still struggling to find his game. What was evident was the Englishman was not hitting the ball anything like he can.
Could he find a spark to ignite himself? Perhaps Achanta serving into the net at 5-1 up in the next could do it?
There were glimpses as Pitchford moved from 5-8 to 7-8, but then it went to 7-10 and the energy drained from the arena.
Suddenly, drama on match point, Liam calling for a flick off Achanta’s shirt as the Indian hit what he thought was the winner. The point was reversed.
It was a temporary reprieve, Pitchford top-edged a forehand and it was all over.
After the match Pitchford said: “It was a difficult match, he played unbelievably well and credit to him, honestly after the first set and a half I didn’t really know where to play against him he was just there, he knew every ball where I was playing; he was just solid.
“I think I got caught up in trying to hit the ball past him and he was just waiting. I struggled a bit with his serve, I didn’t know if it was half-long or short, I was struggling to keep it there and you have to keep him out otherwise he is on top of you.”
“He just played tactically well against me today, and I couldn’t really do anything. I don’t think I played particularly badly but I honestly didn’t really know where to play the ball against him, and I need to go back and do my homework for next time.”
“If you told me two weeks ago I would get a silver medal in the singles I would have bitten your hand off because people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. It’s been tough and honestly I’ve been close to not stepping out on the court anymore and to come and get to a final, and give everything, I just didn’t have anything left today.”
“But I’m proud I came out and got a silver medal today, I’m obviously disappointed with losing but a silver is better than nothing.”
Gold medal match
Sharath Kamal Achanta (IND) bt Liam Pitchford 4-1 (11-13, 11-7, 11-2, 11-6, 11-8)