European Olympic Singles Qualification | 21 Apr 2021

Sam WALKER: I've got no pressure

Sam WALKER says he feels no pressure as he prepares for an unexpected attempt to secure qualification for the Tokyo Olympics. WALKER compete alongside Paul Drinkhall at the European qualifying tournament in Portugal, commenced today, with Liam PITCHFORD choosing to miss the competition as he will qualify for Tokyo by virtue of his world ranking.

Only one of the two GB men competing in Portugal would be able to compete in Tokyo – if DRINKHALL and WALKER both end up in a qualifying place, DRINKHALL would go to Japan as he is the higher-ranked player.

WALKER, who is only just back in training after suffering an ankle injury on his return to competition at the WTT Contender event in Doha in March, is relishing the opportunity he has suddenly been given.

"I wasn't thinking about the Olympics at all. For me, it was something that went when we didn't qualify as a team – I'd already faced the fact that I wasn't going to go and it hasn't been part of my goals and processes. Now I've got this chance that has really come from nowhere and I feel there's no pressure on me because it's an opportunity I didn't feel I was going to get," said WALKER

The injury and consequent lack of practice in the run-up to the tournament may not be ideal, but WALKER said that was another reason why he can go into the event with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

"I'm going into it more to play matches," Sam said. "I believe I've got the capabilities to qualify, but if I'm fit and able to play matches, that's really what I'm going for, because I haven't played a tournament for more than a year. Any qualification that comes out of that is a bonus and would be fantastic. I've got no pressure – I haven't done any training, I didn't expect to have this chance and I'm coming back from injury. It's a bonus for me and I'll try to go out and get some matches under my belt and see what happens. Anything can happen at tournaments like this and I know that on my best day I've got every chance to qualify."

Walker's injury was a cruel blow, coming on only the 12th point of his first match against Italy's Niagol STOYANOV – his opening tie at his first tournament in a year.

It looked as if the European qualifiers may have come too soon, but WALKER admitted that once PITCHFORD'S absence was confirmed, getting fit for the tournament has given him motivation.

"It was such a blow to be back at a tournament after a year out due to COVID and in the first match, 6-5 down, to get an injury like that which I wasn't going to recover quickly from," he said.

"The physio said it would be six to 12 weeks and I'm only into the sixth week of rehab now, so it was a tough decision to go to Portugal because I didn't know if I was going to be fit. We decided that I would be fit to play but probably not have much practice before.

"It's definitely lifted my spirits and given me something to work towards with the rehab – definitely some positive news after the injury."


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