National Table Tennis Championships 2018

As the snow fell on Thursday 1st March; I was aware that not only would I now have to battle against my opponents but the elements too as I travelled to London in order to compete at the National Table Tennis Championships, which were being held at the Copper Box Arena (one of the venues at the Olympic Park in the Stratford, East London). The annual competition, involves the Top 32 English Ranked Men and Women, and I received my invitation in January, with my ranking at 19 in the Senior Women.

Women’s Singles:
My first singles match was an incredibly tight, hard fought match, against a player from Middlesex, who played with short pimples on her forehand side.  The short pimples are a form of rubber that generates less spin than ‘normal’ reverse rubbers, therefore making it a little more awkward. I lost the match 11-13 in the fifth and deciding set despite my best efforts against such an unorthodox opponent. Unfortunately, my second singles match also went against me, losing 1-3 to a previously top England junior who’s attacking topspin game, proved a little too sharp on the day.  I was slightly disappointed with my singles performance, but it was important that I refocused my attention with the doubles events on the horizon and partners that I didn’t want to let down.

Mixed Doubles:
In the mixed doubles, I played alongside Michael O’Driscoll from Yorkshire who is ranked top 15 in England and a former European junior champion. Our first match involved playing two juniors (under 18 players); and we were triumphant in 4 sets despite a combined age difference of over half a century. In the quarter finals, we faced Liam Pitchford and Tin-Tin Ho, the number one seeds, and Glasgow Commonwealth Games Silver Medallists. It was a great opportunity to play against such good opponents and despite losing, we competed well and pushed the champions elect, so were both very pleased. Liam and Tin-Tin are also heading out to Australia for the forthcoming Commonwealth games in April.

Women’s Doubles:
In the women’s doubles, I played with Evie Collier from Nottingham. Similarly to Michael, she was a left-handed player, which is a great combination in doubles due to the positioning of the players, assisting in more effective shot selection. Due to some alterations to the playing schedule and withdrawal of players, our first match was at the quarter final stage. Evie and I played against two girls from Sussex, one of which I had lost to in my second singles match. Despite dominating the majority of the match, it went to the deciding end; with Evie and I winning 11-5 in the fifth set. It was a really exciting match, and was broadcast live on the BBC website and red button, which is certainly a first for any of my matches throughout my playing career! The semi-final match was played later on the Saturday evening, where we faced Tin-Tin Ho, alongside Denise Payet, who is also going to represent England at the Commonwealth Games. Our younger opponents were just that little bit sharper at crucial times in the match; but this was not surprising with both players training full time; at least 4-5 hours per day.

Despite the loss, both myself and Evie were incredibly proud to have reached the semi-finals and were as equally honoured to have won a bronze medal at the Senior National Championships, England’s flagship event for the sport of Table Tennis.  Standing on the medal podium I felt both a huge sense of pride and also became aware that my dedication and commitment to the sport had been rewarded for all my hard work over the last 24 years I have been playing.

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Although table tennis has been seen as a minority sport historically; over the last few years it has begun to get a little more publicity, and this year it was really exciting to see that the latter stages of the National Championships were shown on the BBC website and coverage was available on the red button. Overall, this season has been really successful for me. The team I am part of on the National circuit were Premier Division Women’s British League Champions. Additionally, I once again represented Warwickshire County, and as a team we retained our position in the top division for the 2018/19 season. Locally, I won the Warwickshire Closed Women’s singles, Women’s and mixed doubles titles.

I try to practice once a week during the season; although this can be difficult with the demands and commitments of a teacher. However, I am pleased with the success I have achieved and being able to compete at such a high level nationally.

Over the Easter holidays, I am going to attend the World Schools Championships in Malta as I have been selected as the non-playing captain for the England Junior Girls Team. I am really looking forward to this opportunity; giving something back to the sport, by supporting other younger players and offering guidance and assistance both on and off the table.

K Hughes