05 Dec 2016

Strength in depth, it is one of the keys to success and if it is major factor then in the foreseeable future could Japan’s female players witness the level of success gained in the 1960s?

No less than six of the eight players, who have accepted invitations to compete in the Under 21 Women’s Singles event at the Seamaster Qatar 2016 ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, are from the Land of the Rising Sun.

by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor

Furthermore that list does not include the names of Miu Hirano, the winner of the Seamaster 2016 Women’s World Cup, nor that of Mima Ito who was pivotal to Japan’s medal success at the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships and the ensuing Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Commencing in 1963, Japanese players won the Women’s Singles title at the World Championships on four consecutive occasions, the tournament, as now, being on a biennial basis.

Kimiyo Matsuzaki won in Prague, two years later in 1965 Naoko Fukatsu succeeded in Ljubljana, before Sachiko Morisawa won in Stockholm and Toshiko Kowada emerged victorious in Munich in 1969; since that date, Japan has never won the title.

Now if we fast forward to 2019, half a century on; is there a player on duty on Doha who could return Japan to its former glories. Could the fact that there is so much competition for places in the team be a factor that takes the level that vital step higher?

In 2016, in ITTF World Tour Under 21 Women’s Singles events, Japanese players won 11 of the 20 titles available; they provided the runner up in five more, with seven of finals being all-Japanese affairs.

Miyu Kato emerged the most success with three titles; Yui Hamamoto won twice whilst it was one each for Hina Hayata, Mima Ito, Sakura Mori, Hitomi Sato and Saki Shibata.

Yui Hamamoto, Hina Hayata, Miyu Kato, Sakura Mori and Saki Shibata all appear on the Doha list, as does Miyu Maeda, her best being a semi-final place in Qatar and China.

Weight of numbers suggests the odds are with the Japan, the two rivals being Hong Kong’s Doo Hoi Kem and Singapore’s Zeng Jian.

The best for Doo Hoi Kem was the runners up spot in China and Austria, for Zeng Jian, the record is similar to that of Miyu Kato. She won on three occasions; notably she beat Doo Hoi Kem in the final in China but more pertinently, in Doha, in the title deciding contest she overcame Hina Hayata, in Tokyo she accounted for Yui Hamamoto at the final hurdle.

Could she prove the player to spoil the Japanese party?

Furthermore, she has a tradition to uphold; since the event was first staged at a Grand Finals in Fuzhou in 2005, Singapore has won the title more times than any other national association.

Sun Beibei won in 2005, Feng Tianwei succeeded in 2007 in Beijing, before Yu Mengyu won the 2009 version in Macao and Lin Ye became the most successful of all; she won the 2013 title in Dubai and regained the crown last year in Lisbon.

Significantly they are one win ahead of their nearest challenger; Japan has won on four occasions. Yuka Ishikgaki won in 2008 in Macao and 2010 in Seoul; Kasumi Ishikawa prevailed in London in 2011 and retained the title one year later in Hangzhou.

In Doha will Singapore increase its lead, will Japan draw level or will Hong Kong win for the first time ever? Time will tell.

World Tour Grand Finals Hina Hayata Saki Shibata Doo Hoi Kem Miyu Kato Sakura Mori Zeng Jian Yui Hamamoto Miyu Maeda

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