by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Manager
Last year Yuta Tanaka reached the semi-final stage of the Under 21 Men’s Singles event at the 2017 ITTF Challenge Belgium Open but it was very much towards the end of the year, when we saw evidence that winning such an event was well within his grasp.
At the 2017 World Junior Championships in Riva del Garda, his outstanding attitude stood out.
In the Boys’ Team event, at the quarter-final stage again France he was the backbone of success in the three-two win. He beat both Irvin Bertrand and Jules Rolland.
However, it was in the semi-final clash against Korea Republic when he shone; in the vital fifth and deciding match of the fixture, losing two games to one against Baek Hogyun and down 6-9, he appeared down and out. It was at that stage his character shone through. He recovered to secure a most remarkable win (12-14, 14-12, 9-11, 11-9, 11-5) and a place in the final for Japan.
Also, there is another aspect to the character of Yuta Tanaka to be admired. He is a young man who shows great respect; he resigns misfortune to history and looks ahead. In that celebrated match, Baek Hogyun secured the third game with an adjudged edge ball; many onlookers thought the ball hit the side of the table. Yuta Tanaka looked stunned but never queried the decision, others of less character would have raised the roof; he acknowledged the difficult decision the umpire had to make. The win in Bangkok is well deserved.
The no.5 seed, in the final he beat Korea’s Cho Daeseong, the no.2 seed (11-7, 6-11, 11-6, 3-11, 11-7), having at the quarter-final stage ended the hopes of the host nation by overcoming Yanapong Panagitgun, the no.12 seed (11-6, 11-7, 11-8). One round later he accounted for Choi Inhyeok, also from Korea (11-8, 12-10, 11-4) to reserve his place in the final.
“I couldn’t use my strength one hundred per cent because of a small injury in my arm, so I was very happy with the result of the match. Throughout the match I tried to find my opponent’s weaknesses and exploit it. I always believed that I could win.” Yuta Tanaka
Meanwhile in the latter stages, Cho Daeseong proved the master of recovery. He accounted for India’s Manav Vikash Thakkar, the no.8 seed, in the round of the last eight (20-22, 8-11, 12-10, 12-10, 11-5), prior to overcoming colleague Hwang Minha (9-11, 9-11, 11-6, 15-13, 12-10).
Success for Yuta Tanaka who thus maintains the tradition of Japanese excellence in Thailand; last year Yuma Tsuboi won the Under 21 Men’s Singles title.
Notably Yuta Tanaka is the first Under 21 Men’s Singles winner this year from Japan at an open international tournament.