||The player to gain the admiration of the crowd on the first morning of competition on Thursday 22nd September 2005 at the Volkswagen Open Japan in Yokohama was the host nation’s Kenta MATSUDAIRA.|
He faced Croatia’s Roko TOSIC in his opening group match in the qualification stage, eventually he lost but he caused his more experienced adversary a host of problems, the match went the full seven games distance with Roko TOSIC the winner 11-9, 11-9, 5-11, 5-11, 11-5, 9-11, 11-5.
|Throughout the match the Japanese teenager made the Croatian work hard for his points; rarely if ever was Kenta MATSUDAIRA forced away from the table; he stayed close showing outstanding control from the backhand and fast topspins from the forehand. It was Roko TOSIC who retreated from the table, often top spinning several metres back from the court and unable to unleash his powerful strokes as the Japanese boy made his elder adversary scamper around the court.
In the first two games Roko TOSIC had to work hard to succeed but won the crucial points, his experience prevailing. He had not experienced a great many problems returning the MATSUDAIRA service; the service on several occasions drifted too long and TOSIC was able to attack immediately, gain an advantage and win the point.
However, for the remainder of the contest TOSIC made errors returning service. The service which caused the most problems was the one executed in the style of China’s DING Ning the previous week in Shenzhen at the Volkswagen Open China. The racket moving in an anticlockwise direction from the wrist with the knees bending before impact, the ball is struck on the backhand side of the racket and MATSUDAIRA, like DING Ning, varied the service, sometimes backspin, sometimes topspin.
MATSUDAIRA had a stroke of fortune, winning the sixth game with an un-returnable edged ball but he’d fought hard and was gaining the admiration of the crowd who applauded his splendid efforts. The scores in the decisive seventh game reached 4-all; however, from that point onwards TOSIC, a sportsman in the true sense of the word, took control. He played aggressively, the young man from Japan, realising that he had a chance to record a notable win, made errors; he rushed and to his credit, Roko TOSIC remained composed and only allowed MATSUDAIRA one more point before securing victory.
“I had to concentrate, sometimes I just lost focus”, said TOSIC. “He won the third game, I had problems with his service and I had to work very hard, at 9.30am in the morning he’s not the player you want to meet, a young local player who has nothing to lose!”
Born 11th April 1991 in Ishikawa Prefecture, Kenta MATSUDAIRA is a right handed attacking player, reversed rubber on both sides of the racket. He attends Aomori Junior High School in the north of Japan with several other promising young players. Dormitory accommodation is available at the school and training each day for MATSUDAIRA is from 4.00pm to 8.00pm, then dinner and on three days a week he returns to the training hall to practise for a further hour.
He clearly enjoys his table tennis, playing against Roko TOSIC he motivated himself and you could see the desire in his attitude but what about his schoolwork? “I’m keen to study, but I don’t think I’m doing that well at the moment,” he admitted. A balance between study and sporting excellence is difficult to find and that’s a problem Kenta MATSUDAIRA must try to solve in the forthcoming years. However, I suspect his avowed intention is to be a professional table tennis player and watching him play in Yokohama, it’s a goal that’s not that far distant.
MATSUDAIRA has been a regular competitor on the ITTF World Junior Circuit but playing on the ITTF Pro Tour is a new experience. “He didn’t make so many errors as when I play juniors”, said Kenta MATSUDAIRA. “I was pleased how I was able to win points on my service but when it was close I became nervous.” The latter comment was very accurate, at the crucial stages the Japanese teenager made unforced errors whilst TOSIC played efficiently and in an experienced fashion.
Nevertheless, MATSUDAIRA is in Yokohama to learn and he has no doubt learned from the experience. “In junior tournaments I’m not so nervous”, he added. “Today, it was my first match and it was like a final!”
The response from those watching was that of a final, MATSUDAIRA acquitted himself well, he gained the respect of Roko TOSIC and he gained the admiration of those who watched him play.
Japanese coach, Yoshito MIYAZAKI could leave the arena well pleased with his young player’s efforts.
Kenta MATSUDAIRA serving; in the photograph you can see the black side of the racket but he will hit the ball with the red side. He uses Butterfly Bryce on the forehand and Sriver EL on the backhand (Photo Monthly Table Tennis World)