REMEMBER THE NAME: TOMOKAZU HARIMOTO!
15 years and 172 days. Nobody at that age had ever won a major Table Tennis tournament before. Today that all changed, as sporting wonderkid Tomokazu HARIMOTO rewrote the history books.
The youngest ever Men’s Singles champion at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals with a breath-taking victory over China’s LIN Gaoyuan (11-4, 13-15, 11-9, 11-9, 11-9), Harimoto has sent shockwaves throughout the world of Table Tennis and the world of sport.
One suspects it will take many, many years for today’s record to ever be broken.
Moreover, the stunning result finally broke China’s stranglehold on the trophy that their players have held since Jun MIZUTANI (JPN) won in 2014. On the evidence of today’s outstanding achievement, however, Harimoto is a very real force to be reckoned with by China and the world over. This is a player who has all the potential to change the landscape of the sport for the foreseeable future.
FROM FAMILY SACRIFICES TO RECORD PRIZE MONEY
This is a lifechanging moment in the life of the teenager, Tomokazu, who will earn a mouthwatering sum of $100,000 off the back of today’s victory – the highest amount of prize money that Table Tennis has to offer. Not bad for a 15-year-old!
“I’ll be putting the money straight into a saving’s account!” admitted Harimoto with a grin on his face.
A sensible answer from a sensible young boy, who has not led the typical life of school, friends, parties, etc. that many of his contemporaries have, but that does not bother him one bit.
For Harimoto it is family that matters most. Jumping into his father’s arms at full-time, with his mother also present to watch his first ever match from the stands, it was plain to see what an enormous part his parents have played in this remarkable success story. “This is a family effort,” underlined Harimoto with both parents standing proudly by his side.
So, will Harimoto be the star on home soil at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics? Today’s victory inevitably makes him a leading candidate to win the tournament 18 months from now. In the more immediate term, he rises from 5thto 3rdin the World Ranking.
“I’m determined to keep improving next year,” was his reply to whether he would make it all the way to Number 1 in 2019.
Judging by his astronomical rise so far, do not be surprised to see Harimoto at the sport’s very summit anytime soon.
CHEN MENG DOES IT AGAIN!
For two years in a row, CHEN Meng is the Women’s Singles Champion at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals after the Chinese star defeated compatriot HE Zhuojia 4-1 in the final (9-11, 11-5, 11-8, 12-10, 11-7).
Despite the scoreline, the Chinese star was made to battle hard to retain the crown she first claimed in 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan, with HE edging a tight opening game.
That put the 20-year-old in line for what would have been a glorious debut appearance at the World Tour Grand Finals, however from that point onwards, CHEN’s added experience would ultimately shine through.
Far superior in the second game, the 6thseed overpowered her opponent with a series of fierce forehands to level the scores and build a solid platform in the match from which she never looked back.
With HE firmly on the backfoot, CHEN kept turning the screw in the following three games, and the sustained pressure ultimately paid off, as she crossed the line to ensure her name is etched on the 2018 title.
HOSTS CELEBRATE MEN’S DOUBLES GOLD
There was plenty of cause to celebrate for the Korean faithful on the final day in Incheon, as their boys JANG Woojin and LIM Jonghoon put in an exceptional performance to secure the Men’s Doubles title with a 3-2 victory (10-12, 13-11, 11-8, 10-12, 11-8).
That was at the expense of Hong Kong pair, HO Kwan Kit and WONG Chun Ting, the latter having played in Saturday’s Mixed Doubles defeat of the Unified Korea team, featuring JANG Woojin.
The fact their paths crossed once more with another trophy at stake raised the intensity around this contest further still, the home crowd understandably desperate to see their athletes rise from the previous day’s disappointment.
“Having lost yesterday’s match, I had to prepare more than ever for today’s contest,” admitted JANG. “I approached this final full of energy and enthusiasm.”
A hearty display is what was needed and that is precisely what they got, as JANG and LIM fought back from a losing position to get their hands on a trophy that meant so much.
TEENAGE JAPANESE PAIR WINS WOMEN’S DOUBLES
Sunday would ultimately be a special day for Japan’s teenage stars: straight after 15-year-old Harimoto won the Men’s Singles title, it was the turn of 18-year-olds, Mima ITO and Hina HAYATA to enjoy some of the spotlight.
The pair, who hold the record as the youngest ever champions at the World Tour Grand Finals – by virtue of their success back in 2014’s Women’s Doubles competition – always looked on course to repeat that triumph here in Incheon, winning in straight games against competitive Chinese opponents, CHEN Xingtong and SUN Yingsha (11-9, 13-11, 12-10).
The result provides ITO with more than a consolation after the Women’s Singles 4thseed was eliminated early in the Round 16 on Thursday, having been tipped as one of the tournament favourites. Like Harimoto, ITO – who maintains a highly impressive recent record against Chinese opponents – remains one of Japan’s big hopes to start winning the game’s big trophies in the build-up to Tokyo 2020.
UPCOMING STARS SHINE THROUGHOUT
While Harimoto rightly will steal the limelight, there were a number of striking performances from a new generation of Table Tennis stars in the making.
Hugo CALDERANO made headlines on Day 3, the 22-year-old Brazilian beating World no. 1 FAN Zhendong to reach the semi-finals, where he ultimately lost to Harimoto. Nonetheless, his display will have done the sport no harm in growing its following across Latin America and beyond.
At just 20 years of age, HE Zhuojia’s impressive showing to reach the Women’s Singles final sets her up for a promising 2019, while compatriot and fellow runner-up, 23-year-old LIN Gaoyuan, can also take plenty of confidence from the past four days in Korea.
SEASON’S GREETINGS FROM THE ITTF!
Another incredible tournament comes to a close to cap off 2018 in style. The ITTF would like to wish everyone very happy holidays over the coming weeks and, of course, looks forward to making even more special memories in 2019!
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