by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
One Step Short
Prior to the success in London, the nearest the Japanese women had come to securing a medal at an Olympic Games had been in Seoul in 1988, when Mika Hoshino and Kiyomi Ishida had experienced a bronze medal defeat at the hands Jasna Fazlic and Gordana Perkucin; in those days representing Yugoslavia.
The styles of Mika Hoshino and Kiyomi Ishida reflect how Japanese thinking has changed; both were pen-hold grip players.
One step short of a medal in 1988, it was the same in 2008 in Beijing. In the Women’s Team event, the trio comprising Sayaka Hirano, Ai Fukuhara and Haruna Fukuoka experienced a three-nil reverse at the hands of Korea’s Kim Kyungah, Dang Yeseo and Park Miyoung.
The doubles win in London and the floods of tears at the conclusion of the contest, is the scene we will all remember but let us not forget it was made possible thanks the efforts that had gone before.
Against expectations and m contrary to experience, in the two singles matches Ai Fukuhara had beaten Feng Tianwei; Kasumi Ishikawa had accounted for Li Jiawei.
Both are on duty in the Women’s Singles event in Rio de Janeiro; now can they secure the first Women’s Singles medal for Japan? In London, Kasumi Ishikawa came close; she was beaten in the bronze medal match in what was her Olympic Games debut.
ITTF World Tour
However, for both Kasumi Ishikawa, the no.4 seed and Ai Fukuhara, the no.6 seed, there are questions to be answered.
Both are most familiar faces on the ITTF World Tour; this year Kasumi Ishikawa has made eight appearances, it is one more for Ai Fukuhara. However, neither has a Women’s Singles title to their credit.
It is a performance worthy of securing such a prize that may well be needed if a podium finish is to be gained. The best for Kasumi Ishikawa is runners up spot in Germany; for Ai Fukuhara a semi-final exit in Slovenia.
In Rio de Janeiro, three players appear in the same quarter of the Women’s Singles draw, against whom Kasumi Ishikawa has experienced defeat on this year’s ITTF World Tour.
Korea’s Jeon Jihee, Singapore’s Yu Mengyu and Chinese Taipei’s Chen Szu-Yu are all potential adversaries. Kasumi Ishikawa was beaten by Jeon Jihee at the semi-final stage of the Women’s Singles event in Slovenia. Earlier in the year she experienced defeat at the hands Yu Mengyu in the same round in Poland and Chen Szu-Yu in the opening round in Qatar.
The scenario for Ai Fukuhara is slightly different; she is the same quarter of the draw as Feng Tianwei, the player against whom she experienced defeat earlier in the year in Slovenia.
Likewise, Germany’s Petrissa Solja is a potential adversary, the player against whom Ai Fukuhara has a debt to settle; at last year’s Women’s World Cup in Sendai, in their quarter-final duel, Petrissa Solja saved one match point in the third game, before progressing to win the next four.
However, before such a situation may occur both Petrissa Solja and Ai Fukuhara may face players whose styles they do not relish combatting.
Potentially, Ai Fukuhara could meet Poland’s Li Qian; a possible adversary for Petrissa Solja is Ri Myong Sun.
Testing times await in the search for a podium finish but if they were not testing times; then it would not be the Olympic Games.
Forget Previous Events
Equally, the Olympic Games has become so special that do previous results count the same as in other major tournaments.
Furthermore, both Kasumi Ishikawa and Ai Fukuhara have won vital matches at an Olympic Games; that must be a major boost.
Rekindle the London spirit and could Rio de Janeiro be another first for Japan, a Women’s Singles medal?