by Simon Daish
A repeat of the 2017 and 2018 finals, on both of those occasions China stormed to a commanding 3-0 victory but this time around the margins were much tighter as challengers Japan gave the 14 times champions a bruising scrap.
Spectators in Korat witnessed a frantic start to the contest with both teams determined to make an early statement. In the opening fixture of the evening it was Japan that struck first through Yukiya Uda, securing a four games victory over Xiang Peng (11-8, 11-6, 5-11, 11-7). However, a mighty comeback effort from Xu Yingbin, who fought back from 0-2 down to beat Shunsuke Togami 3-2 (6-11, 8-11, 11-9, 11-8, 11-7), saw China level the scores at 1-1.
Remaining positive in their approach Japan regained the lead with Kakeru Sone proving too strong for Liu Yebo (11-7, 14-12, 9-11, 11-8), but China responded yet again as Xu Yingbin survived another stern test, this time courtesy of Yukiya Uda (8-11, 11-5, 11-9, 7-11, 13-11) to take the match down to a decider.
Japan had taken the lead twice but on both occasions China recovered and with just one more contest to be played the pressure was on for both teams. Representing Japan was Shunsuke Togami while Xiang Peng provided the opposition from China – both players had lost their opening encounters but this time one of them would send their country through to the final.
In an engagement that saw both competitors separated by the smallest of margins the early plaudits went to Xiang Peng, claiming the opening two games to move to within touching distance of victory. Then, all of a sudden, momentum began to shift in the opposite direction as Shunsuke Togami won back-to-back games to take the match right down to the wire.
Stepping up to the occasion Xiang edged the decider to complete the tightest of victories with all seven games being decided by two point margins (13-11, 13-11, 9-11, 9-11, 11-9).
Elation for defending champions China, on the other side of the table a cruel defeat for Japan. However, regardless of the result the future looks very bright for Japanese table tennis with all four members of the team present in Korat carrying bags of potential.
Runner up at the 2018 World Junior Championships, Yukiya Uda, 18, is beginning to establish himself as a regular fixture on the ITTF World Tour and at ITTF Challenge Series events. Winning his first under 21 title at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Croatia Open in May, Uda also impressed at the recent 2019 ITTF Challenge Belarus Open, finishing as men’s singles runner-up.
Another player who has enjoyed a fruitful career on the international stage, Shunsuke Togami has won three under 21 gold medals with his most recent success coming at the 2019 ITTF Challenge Plus Portuguese Open. Togami has also reached the second step of the men’s singles podium at the Belarus Open collecting silver in 2018, one year prior to Uda.
Two years younger than Uda and Togami, 16 year old Kakeru Sone is another young athlete with great potential while the fourth member of the team, Hiroto Shinozuka, 15, is Japan’s highest ranked player at under 18 level coming in at position no.17 in November. Expect all four players to offer up an exciting challenge in the race for junior boys’ singles glory as the week progresses.
Japan’s bid for a third junior boys’ team gold on the World Junior Championships’ stage may have fallen short in Korat but the future of Japanese table tennis looks to be in safe hands. Yukiya Uda, Shunsuke Togami, Kakeru Sone and Hiroto Shinozuka are surely destined for greatness!?
Remember there was no Tomokazu Harimoto on duty for Japan, his focus is on the forthcoming Men’s World Cup and ITTF World Tour Grand Finals; was this not China’s strongest trio on duty?
Disappointment in the short term, in the long term could it be unbridled joy on the senior stage?