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16 March 2012

Paul Drinkhall successfully defended his Men’s singles title and in doing so claimed his fourth English Senior National Men’s Championship victory over the weekend of the 3rd and 4th of March 2012 at the Ponds Forge Leisure Centre in Sheffield – meaning consecutive victories at this event and well and truly establishing Paul at the top of the table tennis tree in this country once again.

With one eye on London 2012 and having landed in the capital from playing a National League match for his Italian club in the early hours of the morning, it was never going to be easy despite Paul being the clear favourite in the eyes of most going in to the event.

Pauls first match was against the Kent youngster Lewis Grey, who exceeded all expectations in taking the first game from the Champion at deuce – Grey clearly ’in the zone’ and pumped, however Paul was able to weather the storm, contain the onslaught and gradually take control of the match to emerge with a comfortable 4 – 1 victory.

The last 16 saw Paul matched with the fast improving David McBeath – again McBeath was not about to be used as cannon fodder and looked impressive as he took the first end 11 – 5. Paul quickly hit back and upped the pace to take the next game 11 – 9, before a scrappy third game saw McBeath get home 13 – 11. This was to be his final glimpse of glory however, as Paul moved up a gear and took the next 3 games 11 – 2, 11 – 9 and 11 – 6 with his power play over the table being too much for the Hampshire man.

Paul’s opponent in Sundays Quarter Final was the big man from Northamptonshire Chris Doran. Doran had earlier in the competition came through a titanic seven end marathon with Hungarian based Will Maybanks before brushing aside English Junior No 1 Sam Walker 4 – 1 in his round of 16. A sharper looking Drinkhall dominated proceedings, seemingly now getting better each match – Paul’s power two wing attack combined with fantastic shot selection took him to a straight forward 4 – 0 victory.

The penultimate stage saw Paul matched with the London man and English No.4 Darius Knight – when two players who know each other’s games as well as these two are pitched together the results are often fantastic for the crowd, and this was no exception with some outstanding table tennis from both players. Paul always seemed to have the upper hand and was able to work the play to his strengths more and more, getting in time and time again behind his serves with a strong third ball attack and containing Knight (now based at The Werner Schlager Academy in Austria and looking the better player for it) to move to a 4 – 2 victory and proceed to the final after an exceptionally entertaining match for the Sheffield crowd.

Paul’s opponent in the Final was Liam Pitchford, the Derbyshire man who has hit the headlines this season with a couple of big wins in European competitions. Pitchford had earlier looked impressive beating Andrew Baggaley 4 -1 and then England Team mate Danny Reed 4 – 0 in his Semi Final to join Paul in the main match of the day.

Pitchford looked well intent on upsetting things as an edgy first game saw him move to an 11 – 7 victory, but a fired up Paul hit back in the second end with an impressive 11 – 4 win. When the third game also went Paul’s way 11 – 6, it was beginning to look much more comfortable for the man from Cleveland as he dominated the play with his power play being simply too strong and consistent. This pattern was unchanged in the 4th and 5th games – Paul preventing his opponent from attacking

when required and then opening up with his own brand of attacking play, producing powerful winners laced with spin that Pitchford struggled to deal with more and more as Paul moved in to pole position for the match.

The last two games were a straight ahead 11 – 3, 11 – 3 for Paul as he claimed the title once again, his fist clenched as he saluted the Cleveland contingent who had travelled down to see him remind everyone just why he is Britain’s best when it matters. With London 2012 being a matter of months away, this victory along with Pauls silver medal in the Men’s Double event confirms him as England’s top prospect yet again.

Paul Drinkhall © 2008-2011