Sam Walker is looking to take a “huge” career step on home ground and win his first PG Mutual National Championships singles title in Nottingham.
The Worksop player, a Team World Cup and Commonwealth Games bronze medal-winner with England last year, has reached the men’s singles final in each of the last three years but is yet to win the title.
He was beaten by fellow Rio Olympians on each occasion - Paul Drinkhall in 2016 and 2017 and Liam Pitchford last year.
Walker, 23, admitted winning the Nationals was one of his biggest unfulfilled ambitions, adding: “It’s huge. It’s something I’ve wanted to win since I was young and a step I need to take in my career at some point – and the earlier I can do it, the better, because it will give me more confidence and belief.
“I’ve got to believe I can win it and I do believe I can win it. I’ve shown before that I can get to the final, but it’s not easy.
“I’ve got to take each match as it comes and try to play the game I want to play and, if I get there, it’s a matter of this time trying to take my chances – and I’ve had chances before when I’ve been there.
“Three times I’ve finished second and hopefully if I get that chance again I can make it fourth time lucky.”
Walker is currently ranked No 92 in the world, having moved above Drinkhall, but is still some way behind Chesterfield athlete Pitchford, who is at No 17. He expects both men to once again be challenging.
“It’s a tough tournament to win,” said Walker. “Liam’s obviously playing really well at the moment, Paul is very dangerous and I’ve never beaten him and then there’s players like (England squad members) David McBeath and Tom Jarvis who can play well and be there or thereabouts.”
Walker is also looking forward to teaming up with coach Howard Knott, who guided him through his early days in table tennis at Redlands Primary School.
Walker said: “It’s the one time of the year I can team up with Howard and have him in my corner. He’s coached me since I was young and he still coaches the Redlands teams, so it’s got some sentimental value in terms of having him in my corner. I want to win it for him and with him.
“Equally, in Nottingham my family will be able to watch, so it’s big for me.”
The event is at the David Ross Sports Village at the University of Nottingham from 9am on Friday March 1, with the semi-final and finals scheduled for Sunday March 3. The Saturday also features para competitions, including 2016 Rio Paralympic champion Will Bayley and current world champion and Commonwealth gold medallist Ross Wilson.
Tickets are available from £4 – visit tabletennisengland.co.uk/tickets