Drinkhall steps up Olympic bid

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Rotherham-based Paul Drinkhall took another step towards fulfilling his Olympic dreams when he won the men’s singles title at the English National Championships at Ponds Forge.

He overcame the challenge of Chesterfield’s Liam Pitchford in the final to win his fourth national title in the tournament crucial for Olympic hopefuls as the final decision for Team GB selection beckons.

Drinkhall, who had fought his way to the final with wins over Lewis Gray (4-1), David McBeath (4-2), Chris Doran (4-0) and Darius Knight (4-2), successfully defended his title against the current English No1 winning 7-11, 11-4, 11-6, 11-3, 11-3. Eighteen-year-old Pitchford had beaten fellow Olympic hopefuls Andrew Baggaley (4-1) and Daniel Reed (4-0) in the earlier rounds. Both players will now look forward to the Olympic qualifying tournament in Luxembourg (April 11-15) where they will be joined by Baggaley in their pursuit of an Olympic place.

Drinkhall and Pitchford teamed up for the doubles but were surprisingly beaten in the final by Reed and Darius Knight which left Pitchford without a title after Gavin Evans won the Under-21s event.

Kelly Sibley won her third women’s singles title when she beat her main rival Joanna Parker 4-1, and went on to complete a superb hat-trick with wins in the women’s and mixed doubles.

The event was supported by the city’s Major Events Unit and the result of a long term relationship between the sport and the city which sees many of the leading GB players use the English Institute of Sport facilities.