Friendly rivalry sees Sibley miss out on a record-breaking title

Kelly Sibley in singles action in Sheffield.Kelly Sibley in singles action in Sheffield.
Kelly Sibley in singles action in Sheffield.
Kelly Sibley was denied a record-equalling victory in the final of the women’s singles at the Senior English Table Tennis Championships in Sheffield.

The 25-year-old was chasing a fourth successive title and her fifth in total, but after cruising past both Yolanda King and Tin-Tin Ho, she went down to best friend and England number two Joanna Drinkhall in the final.

England number one Sibley had beaten Drinkhall in the previous three finals and also overcame her in the recent Bribar Bristol Grand Prix.

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But despite holding a 2-1 lead, the former Lillington Free Church player was unable to take control as the defensive Drinkhall wore her down in the following three games.

Sibley did have the consolation of teaming up with Drinkhall to claim the women’s doubles title, with the duo seeing off the spirited challenge of Ho and Maria Tsaptsinos in four.

However, Sibley, who was knocked out in the semi-finals of the mixed doubles alongside Liam Pitchford, admitted the singles had been her main focus.

“The Nationals are what you want to win but I thought Jo played really well,” said Sibley.

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“It’s always 50-50 between us as we know each other’s game inside out.

“I tried my best but Jo just played that little bit better.”

Sibley and Drinkhall’s sixth National doubles title augurs well ahead of a busy year, with the duo forming part of England’s team for the World Team Championships at the end of April and the Commonwealth Games in August.

Sibley rates her partnership with the 26-year-old as her best chance of a medal in Glasgow but knows that with strong representation for Singapore in particular, their hopes rest on a favourable draw.

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“We’ve got the German Open at the end of the month and the Spanish Open in April and it’s a case of getting our rankings up to improve our seedings at the Games.”

“All the tournaments are being seen as warm-ups for the Commonwealths.”

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