Forget toilet rolls and bread flour – Great Britain’s top table tennis player has welcomed the news that his sport has become the latest focus for panic-buying in the coronavirus crisis.
Sales in table tennis tables have been soaring since schools were shut and the nation was placed into lockdown, with one Bristol-based retailer telling the BBC he has sold 124 tables in the last week alone.
Along with team-mate Paul Drinkhall, Chesterfield player Liam Pitchford has been used to fighting a near-solitary battle to challenge the complete dominance of the sport in the Far East.
Pitchford told the PA news agency: “I definitely think it’s the ideal sport to play in the lockdown – provided you’ve got a big enough room, or you don’t mind it being affected by the wind outside.
“There’s so many kids sitting at home bored at the moment and this is the ideal thing for them to learn a new skill. Maybe they’ll enjoy it and in a few years we’ll have a lot more kids coming through.”
Pitchford admitted the Tokyo 2020 postponement could hardly have come at a worse time, less than a month after he pulled off the biggest win of his career.
The 26-year-old beat Chinese world number one Xu Xin en route to his first World Tour final in Qatar last month, putting him firmly in contention for what would be Great Britain’s first Olympic table tennis medal next year.
Whilst acknowledging the wider context of the decision, Pitchford added: “It has come at a slightly frustrating time for me because I felt like I was really starting to find my top form.
“Beating the world number one in Qatar, a guy who I had never previously taken a set off, was probably the best match of my life.
“It’s taken a while but I’ve always gone in against the Chinese players with nothing to lose, and recently I’ve sensed that they are a bit more nervous against me. If I play my game, I know I’m good enough to win.”
Pitchford reached the last 32 at his second Olympics in Rio in 2016 and subsequently went on to win Commonwealth Games gold in the Gold Coast with his doubles partner Drinkhall.
But he acknowledged fulfilling his dream of ending the Chinese dominance at the Olympics – the country has won 53 of the 100 table tennis medals awarded at the Games, and all but four of the 32 golds – will require another level.
“It’s difficult to win a medal at the Olympics no matter how big of a favourite you are,” Pitchford added.
“Even for the Chinese, there’s the pressure to go in and win matches. But I know if I keep in the shape and form that I’ve been in recently, there’s no reason I can’t go out there and give it a go.”