Published: 06:00, 17 September 2019
He may be the reigning Paralympic champion, but table tennis star Will Bayley believes he has found the form of his life.
The 31-year-old from Tunbridge Wells got his European Championships bid under way with a 3-1 victory over Russia's Vladimir Anikanov in Helsingborg, Sweden on Monday, but the clock is ticking with just a year to go until the Tokyo Games.
Bayley struck gold three years ago in Rio in what was his second consecutive men’s class seven final, having been forced to settle for silver in London four years earlier.
His victory over home favourite Israel Pereira Stroh meant Bayley had achieved titles on the Paralympic, World and European stages, and he admits he took his time to recover from such an enormous achievement.
After the dust settled on Rio 2016, Bayley initially struggled to replicate the form that had seen him emerge as the sport’s leading figure, with bronze at the 2017 European Championships and a quarter-final exit at last year’s World Championships.
But 2019 has been a different story.
Bayley is so far unbeaten this season and has claimed gold at the Japan, Slovenia and Lignano Opens.
Next on his list are the Euros – and Bayley is eager to reclaim the crown he last won in 2011.
“It’s been way too long since I won at the Europeans and I’m massively motivated,” he said.
“This is my time. I’ve had an amazing season – I don’t think I’ve ever won three tournaments in a row and I’d love to go out there and win a major on the back of that.
“That would mean I’d be unbeaten all season so it would be the best campaign I’d have had by miles.
“After the Paralympics, I suddenly realised I’d won everything there was to win and I think it took me a long time to recover from those thoughts.
“I didn’t have a good few years – I was training just as much but maybe my love slightly disappeared from the game.
“But I’ve just taken the pressure off myself now, I’m starting to enjoy the game much more again and I’m more determined than ever to win another major tournament."
Based on recent results, you certainly wouldn’t put that feat beyond Bayley. Having charged back up the ITTF world rankings to regain number one spot, he is among the favourites for glory in Helsingborg, and Tokyo beyond that.
With the countdown to the Paralympics having already begun, Bayley insists he is focused on capitalising on his current form as he bids to ultimately add to his gold medal tally at the top level.
He said: “I’ve been starting to think about Tokyo throughout this season. Winning the Paralympics was a dream come true and I’d love to do it again.
“I’ve really focused on nailing the tournaments this year because the momentum is key to make sure I’m fully ready for the Games next summer."
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