First of all, congratulations on achieving your current highest World Ranking of #55 in 2 years. Can you discuss 2 of the main factors you put this down to?
Thanks! I have made a few changes to my approach in the last couple of years, the main one was adding a new coach, this helped me with all different parts of my game including technical, mental, physical and the main part for me was making sure every minute I spent on the table added value to my game. Another change was with the Olympics approaching I knew I needed my ranking to be higher to have a chance of qualifying, so I had to make a better plan to play international tournaments, I feel when the ranking system changed I didn’t plan well enough around my league, training and family to fit in the right kind or amount of events.
Your highest World Ranking was #32 in September 2016. What attributes does a player need to reach these heights and beyond?
There are many things that contribute to being a good table tennis player or anything in life for that matter, I think dedication, self-belief and the willingness to learn are some of the most important things to be successful. Also remembering why you do what you do is very important, I think for most people if not everyone the reason you start table tennis is for FUN, make sure no matter how hard the training is you make it as fun as possible.
You are only 30 years old but have been at the top of the game for a long time, how have you have managed this?
I feel the coaching I had from a young age and the input I had from my Chinese coach Liu Jaiyi helped me to break into the senior game at a young age, I first represented the England men’s team at the age of 15, since then I have travelled the world and represented England or team GB in most major events! As I mentioned earlier, dedication, self-belief and willingness to learn has helped me to get to where I am and helped me to keep improving, I believe I will keep improving until the day I finish playing!
Can you describe your feelings when you helped England win the Bronze medal at the ITTF Team World Cup in London in 2018?
This was special, I feel winning a Bronze medal at the World Championships in 2016 was a massive achievement, then following that up with another world bronze was really amazing! The fact that it was on home soil added to that and I feel we really put ourselves up there as one of the best teams in the world!
Who were your inspirations when you were younger and why?
Table Tennis wise I always looked at Wang Liqin (CHN) I feel he took the game to a new level and how he moved around the table and controlled the game was really amazing. Outside of table tennis, I have always followed Roger Federer, the way he handles himself on and off the court is amazing and I feel he is a real role model for all sports people.
Can you discuss any mental tools you use to handle pressure?
Self-belief is the best tool you can have when under pressure, this can be helped with high pressure training and experience. If you practice and believe in what you are practicing then when it comes to the match and the pressure moments then you will feel more in control.
Image from Pauls Instagram
Do you do anything differently on the big points in matches, eg, 9/9, 9/10 etc?
There might be a tactic or something you can fall back on, however I feel that you shouldn’t look to make too many changes during the close times as it is just as much a risk for you as it could work against your opponent.
Can you describe the 2 drills that you practice the most?
One exercise I did a lot when I was young was forehand (fh) 2 points, so one fh from the forehand corner and then one fh from in the middle of the backhand side, this can be switched and start in the backhand corner and then in the middle of the fh side, this helps with consistency in the footwork and the technique. An exercise I do to help me with my timing is 1 backhand, 1 fh from the middle, 1 backhand then 1 fh from the fh side, known as backhand, middle, backhand, wide. I feel this is a good exercise to get footwork, timing and the control of your body during the point.
If you could choose one player to watch, who would it be and why?
Current players I would watch Ma Long, the quality and consistency he plays with is scary and really special to watch, he makes everything look easy, the body control during and in between shots help him achieve that.
Finally, if you could give 2 pieces of advice to any young aspiring players, what would they be?
Work hard! This cannot be replaced with anything, if you are talented and think that alone will get you to the top then you are kidding yourself. Make the hard work fun, this does not mean mess around all the time but within the hard work you can put a fun interesting twist on things so it makes things challenging for you, also this can bring some pressure in and make it more similar to a match situation!