by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Success but the player to secure the victory was the one member of the Japanese outfit not present in London.
Against the odds, in the fourth match of the contest, 15 year old Mima Ito beat Feng Tianwei to secure the title and thus clinched the precious bronze medal (11-9, 11-4, 11-6).
Ai Fukuhara Again First Out
In London, Yasukazu Murakami had sent out Ai Fukuhara for the opening exchange, she faced Feng Tianwei and duly won in four games (11-9, 11-6, 5-11, 11-9), the defeat was a major blow for Singaporean aspirations. Feng Tianwei was a banker for Singapore, at the time Ai Fukuhara had won only one of their ten previous meetings.
Furthermore since that date, Ai Fukuhara has won only two of their five encounters; the most recent being at the quarter-final stage of the Women’s Singles event. At the Olympic Games Ai Fukuhara has a penchant for playing Feng Tianwei; everywhere else it is very opposite!
Once again in Rio de Janeiro and once again under the direction of Yasukazu Murakami, Ai Fukuhara was sent out first; only this time Yu Mengyu, who had not played in London, was the adversary.
The draw boded well for Japan, Ai Fukuhara had beaten Yu Mengyu in six of their eight previous encounters in world ranking events but she had lost most recent; in 2013 she had experienced a six games defeat (11-6, 8-11, 11-8, 10-12, 11-7, 11-9) at the quarter-final stage of Women’s Singles event at the Asian Championships in Busan.
“Because we worked as a team we could win. I did not win the first match. Without my team it would not have happened. I am forever in debt to them. Every single moment was so important. All the matches in the tournament and matches in the past.” Ai Fukuhara
Spin the ball with as much rotation as possible to the backhand of Ai Fukuhara was clearly the advice of Chen Zhibin, the Singaporean Women’s National Team coach, the player who in his playing days had the most fluent, effortless forehand known to man.
Simply the ploy was to nullify the fast attacking strokes, especially from the backhand of Ai Fukuhara, the side of the racket on which she uses short pimples.
Eventually the tactic bore fruit, as Ai Fukuhara pressed harder and harder to force the pace, she made mistakes; in five games (4-11, 11-5, 11-3, 4-11, 11-5) it was advantage Singapore.
Recovery Causes Balance Shift
Success for Yu Mengyu and it appeared that further success for the South East Asian city state was in the offing.
Feng Tianwei established notable lead in the opening game against Kasumi Ishikawa, a player she had beaten in nine of the 13 previous duel, she led 10-7 only to lose the next five points.
The recovery gave Kasumi Ishikawa a major boost of confidence; she secured the next two games to clinch a straight games victory (12-10, 11-6, 11-7).
Swing and Sway the Rio Way
Matters level, a short break with the “Dance Cam” was item on the agenda and return to the late 1950s and 1960s as the songs made famous by Jerry Lee Lewis, Chubby Checker and Chris Montez rang around the auditorium.
How many of those in Riocentro Pavilion 3 were born when “Great Balls of Fire” or “Let’s Twist Again” and “Let’s Dance” topped the charts? The music had stood the test of time, the Latin Americans with rhythm in their bones responded. It was swing and sway the Rio way.
Rhythm was the order of the day, in the doubles, the pair with the beat was that of Ai Fukuhara and Mima Ito; they recovered from an opening game deficit before, on their third match point, to the cries of “Nippon, Nippon, Nippon” ringing loud and clear a four games success was recorded (9-11, 11-9, 11-1, 14-12).
“Ito and I have been playing doubles well together. We tried to refresh after Germany. It meant too much to have her play with me. It is very important to have her in the team.” Ai Fukuhara
Success for Japan, a major boost of confidence for Mima Ito; she went from strength to strength; contrary to expectations she beat Feng Tianwei.
“I am just happy to win the medal. Before I played Fukuhara and Ishikawa played well. It was because all of us that we got this medal, not just my performance. I am looking forward to getting home and showing my medal to my family and supporters.” Mima Ito
The youngest player on duty, 15 years and 300 days old, to the sound of “Ito, Ito, Ito” the precious medal was secured; as in London Japan rejoiced.