Andrew Baggaley admitted that his conqueror Lubomir Pistej deserved to beat him after he was knocked out of the Ping Pong World Championships in the last 16.
The Milton Keynes player had won the competition in the last two years and expectation only increased for him to make it three on the bounce after three-time champion Maxim Shmyrev had crashed out earlier in the round.
But Baggaley lost the first set 15-14 in cruel fashion have levelled it at 14-14 to force a sudden death point and despite taking the second set, he couldn’t win the third against the fifth seed.
And following his shock early exit, a disappointed Baggaley was left to rue that pivotal first set, while admitting Pistej had been the better player.
“It was a tough loss, he deserved the win. I had a great chance to win. I was the favourite in the match and I’ve had a better record over him in the tournament. I lost the first set which I think was crucial. At this tournament I haven’t really been able to bomb the ball with any security. If I had of taken that first set, which I’m normally really strong at 14-14, it could’ve been a different story.
“I was winning the matches and telling myself I was playing good, and I was pretty solid. I just had this feeling when the balls were half-high I couldn’t crush the ball like I have done the past two years. On the practice table I was doing it more so but on the match table I didn’t have that security.
“My backhand wasn’t as stable as it has been. It seemed to be flying off my bat a bit more. I played a solid game generally because I’m a solid, compact player.”
An altered format saw the run-in for the top seeds increase in difficulty with an open draw after the group stage.
And Baggaley admits that playing Pistej a game or two earlier than he might’ve done in other years lowered his chances of making it three championships in a row.
“Obviously that [the altered draw] made it harder for the top players. They wanted that for whatever reasons but it definitely did help the underdogs. That’s how the draw worked this time.
“It’s a bit odd but it’s the same for everyone. It’s definitely harder for the top players but if, in turn, that helps more TV events – I’m not sure there will be but if there is – then I’m happy with that.”
Despite the setback of a premature exit however, the 33-year-old admits he can take some solace in the fact he has won the Championships before.
“It is very tough now. It’d have been extremely tough if I’d have made two finals and never won but I have. I always have that consolation in the back of my mind. You can’t win them all. In sports like table tennis and ping pong you can’t win everything. There’s so many good players around, I knew he was a dangerous player with nothing to lose and he hit the ball better than me.”