by Simon Daish
With just a year to go until the Olympic Games arrive on Japanese soil for Tokyo 2020 all eyes were on the host nation’s young stars to see how they would cope with the pressure of competing in front of an expectant home crowd.
The answer was one of disappointment for Japanese fans as Tomokazu Harimoto and Mima Ito, both seeded for the respective women’s and men’s singles events, failed to overcome Chinese qualifiers.
Facing Sun Wen in round one of the men’s singles draw, a match Tomokazu Harimoto was anticipated to progress from, but the no.4 seed suffered defeat by a crushing 4-0 score-line (11-8, 11-5, 11-7, 11-8).
An elated and somewhat surprised winner on the day, Sun Wen was overwhelming delighted to have toppled one of the sport’s biggest names:
“I am happy to have won against him. He is on of the top players in the world, I am really happy for the win. I was mentally prepared for the match and played my best against him. Perhaps the pressure of playing at home got to him but I realise I had more time and space than expected against him. I am thankful for the trust my coaches put in me and hopefully I did not disappoint.” Sun Wen
As for Mima Ito the margin of defeat was smaller but it was a moment of great disappointment nonetheless for the no.7 seed as she lost out 4-2 in a difficult encounter with Gu Yuting (7-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-9, 12-14, 12-10).
Rewind a year to the moment Tomokazu Harimoto and Mima Ito were crowned 2018 Japan Open champions in breathtaking style and there was a real sense that Japan’s gold medal aspirations for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games had received a major boost.
However, one year on and it is a big setback in Sapporo. It appears that the gap to China still remains to be bridged and there’s not much time to play with – Back to the drawing board for Team Japan.