by Ian Marshall, Editor
Both extolling the noble art of backspin play, Japan’s Haruna Ojio and DPR Korea’s Kim Un Song, meet in the semi-finals. On the penultimate day of action each excelled expectations.
Required to compete in the qualification tournament, in the opening round, Kim Un Song caused a major upset; she accounted for Amy Wang of the United States, the no.2 seed (11-2, 11-3, 11-6, 10-12, 11-4). She followed with success against Italy’s Jamila Laurenti, the no.11 seed (11-9, 9-11, 4-11, 11-7, 6-11, 11-7, 15-13), prior to recording a quarter-final win in opposition to China’s Kuai Man, the no.14 seed (11-7, 11-9, 7-11, 10-12, 11-9, 11-5).
Perilously close to defeat against Jamila Laurenti; for Haruna Ojio, there were no such trials and tribulations. The no.13 seed, she surrendered just one game en route to the penultimate round; that being the very first in her very first match of the event, when facing Rachel Sung of the United States. She won in five games (9-11, 11-5, 11-5, 11-4, 11-8), before ousting Chinese Taipei’s Yu Hsui-Ting, the no.3 seed (11-4, 11-8, 11-6, 11-6).
Next on the list came China’s Shi Xunyao, the no.6 seed, the winner in 2016 in Cape Town and last year the runner up in Bendigo.
Approaching two months ago, in early September they had met at the same stage at the 2019 Asian Junior and Cadet Championships in Ulaanbaator; on that occasion Haruna Ojio, after losing the opening game, had totally mesmerised Shi Xunyao to secure the next four with ease (9-11, 11-6, 11-4, 11-5, 11-6). Haruna Ojio varied her returns, Shi Xunyao made mistakes and confidence drained from her body faster than water cascades down the Niagara Falls.
Time and again, when a Chinese player of notable international stature loses to an adversary from foreign shores, they return to the training centre, watch the video, practice and with the help of knowledgeable coaches put matters to rights.
In no uncertain terms, Haruna Ojio defied that theory; she didn’t afford Shi Xunyao a single game; a most comprehensive win (11-9, 11-5, 13-11, 12-10) was the outcome.
Also, there is a theory propounded by the wise and wonderful that a defensive player matures later than the attacker; the efforts of Kim Un Song may well support that theory, she is 18 years old. Equally in 2009 when Wu Yang beat Gu Yuting in the final in Cartagena de Indias (11-6, 12-14, 6-11, 11-5, 11-9, 11-5) she was 17 years old; three years older than Gu Yuting. In teenage years that is a big gap in maturity.
Once again Haruno Ojio defies logic and throws the maturity theory out of the window! She is only 14 years of age. Next year she is still eligible for cadet age group events and will be young enough to compete in the 2023 World Junior Championships!
A defensive player in the girls’ singles final at a World Junior Championships, it is only the second time ever; moreover in Korat there could be a first. In the opposite half of the draw, also from Japan, Miyu Nagasaki, the no.4 seed, faces China’s Wu Yangchen, the top seed.
Wu Yangchen is a pen-holder; to the best of my knowledge no player with such a grip has ever reached the semi-final stage of a girls’ singles event at a World Junior Championships!
The line-up is unique and one wonders how far these players can progress. No pen-holder or defender has ever won the women’s singles title at an Olympic Games; the most recent defender to succeed at a World Championships was China’s Tong Ling in 1981 in Novi Sad, the most recent pen-holder, Korea Republic’s Hyun Junghwa in 1993 in Gothenburg.
Now just to add spice to the occasion, Kim Un Song is the first player from DPR Korea to reach a girls’ singles semi-final at a World Junior Championships; only once has Japan reached the final, Kasumi Ishikawa in 2010 in Bratislava when losing the China’s Zhu Yuling.
Always the title has been won by China; Wu Yangchen defends national honour but could the outcome be the player who can defend the better, the one who can expedite the situation in their favour.