by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
There was no question, China was a step ahead but is Japan coming ever closer?
En route to the final, China maintained an unblemished record, every fixture won by three matches to nil but equally Japan surrendered just one solitary game on their path to the gold medal contest. The one errant contest was at the quarter-final stage when Hina Hayata was beaten by Yu Mengyu (11-8, 11-5, 8-11, 13-11).
Furthermore, add that Mima Ito and Hina Hayata, alongside Miu Hirano are all only 17 years old. They were competing in their first ITTF Team World Cup. Only Kasumi Ishikawa, who two days prior to the concluding day of play, had previously competed in the competition; in 2011 and 2013 in Guangzhou, in harness with Ai Fukuhara and Sayaka Hirano it had been second place again.
In London it was runners up spot again; her reaction to the silver medal underlines the burning desire to change the colour to gold and why they are arguably moving closer to China and creating a greater gap with the rest of the world.
Speaking to Olalekan Okusan, the ITTF Africa Press Officer, Kasumi Ishikawa explained:
“We have been playing well from the start of this competition but this final match was not really impressive from us. Particularly myself, I think I played badly. I have to put this behind me and return home to prepare for the World Championship in Sweden.
I hope we can avenge the defeat against the Chinese team because we cannot continue playing second fiddle to the Chinese.
Today, this kind of match is very important for us and we hope we can continue to improve with every match. Also we must respect the Chinese players, they are very strong and we must acknowledge this as well.
We beat Chinese players in some major competitions in 2017; the reason is because the Japanese system is one of integrating young players into the senior team. It is working well and you can see that we have more young players in the team now. We need to continue this system to be able to be at our best against the Chinese with young players in the team.”