PAUL DRINKHALL claimed the biggest win of his career last weekend as he became the first British table tennis player to lift an ITTF World Tour Open title for 18 years.
Drinkhall, who is from Loftus in East Cleveland, beat three players ranked in the world's top 90 to claim the Spanish Open crown in Almeria.
Despite only being the 23rd seed in the tournament, Drinkhall saw off Dimitrij Prokopcov, Yuto Muramatsu and Matasaka Morizono to make a mockery of his own lowly world ranking and secure a notable triumph.
The success will provide a perfect confidence boost ahead of this summer's Commonwealth Games, where Drinkhall will hope to compete for a medal in the individual, doubles and team competitions.
“It's a great achievement, especially after the first match being a bit shaky,” said Drinkhall, who made his Olympic table tennis debut in London. “I'm feeling tired, but also amazing. I could have gone out in the first game, but I fought through it and got stronger as the tournament went on.
“It's definitely up there with anything I've achieved in my career – my first senior title. Hopefully, there will be more to come.
“It's a big year, what with going for promotion to the top level in the World Team Championships and then the Commonwealth Games.”
Despite never having contested a major championship final, Drinkhall became less and less nervous as the tournament wore on.
“I started to focus on each point and just to win that, and I didn't really think too much about what was happening or what the score was,” he said. “Obviously, it (the possibility of winning the final) does come into your head, but I tried to get it out of my head straight away and focus on the next point.
“This can give me a confidence boost towards the other tournaments, and hopefully if we're in the medal matches or promotion matches, I can use this experience to help.”
Drinkhall's victory is even more notable because he has only recently returned from a hip operation that prevented him from playing for a number of months.
The problem had been nagging him intermittently for a number of years, and it appears as though addressing it once and for all has had a significant impact.
“Paul came back from the operation with a very strong mind,” said his coach, Nicky Jarvis. “His preparation before every match was what it should be for a champion.
“He said when he beat the Czech player (Prokopcov) in the quarter-final, it was the best table tennis he'd played in his life. He was focused and very professional, the epitome of a top sportsman.”