06 Jan 2020

Olympic champions have been anointed; World champions have been crowned but the player in the past decade who made the greatest impact fitted none of those criteria.

Can anyone in any sport compare with the impact made by Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto? Moreover, what waits in store for the teenager in the next ten years?

by Ian Marshall, Editor

Tomokazu Harimoto has been a revelation, not just in the dynamic way he plays but in the way he conducts himself.

He shows his emotions, he expresses his feelings, he makes himself known; good for him and good for table tennis. Win or lose, it’s exciting to watch him play and if opponents find his vocals and gyrations intimidating, then they should not be involved in professional sport. I suggest they transfer their talents to playing dominoes in a north of England public house.

Always Tomokazu Harimoto is gracious, respectful and well mannered; he gives his best and you can ask for no more. There have been ups and downs but that is part of sport, the comic book character “Roy of the Rovers” who rises from the jungle to the highest pinnacle on ten sports without a blemish, does not exist.

A lull in Japanese fortunes

Born on Friday 27th June 2003, some two months after Austria’s Werner Schlager had sensationally won the men’s singles title at the Liebherr World Championships in Paris; it was an age when Japan needed a hero.

In the French capital city, not one player from the Land of the Rising Sun reached the last 16 of the men’s singles event.

At the time a young man from Japan was attracting the attention. Later in the year Jun Mizutani caught the eye at the first ever World Junior Championships staged in Santiago, Chile. Of course he was far too young to be considered for major events, he was a mere 14 years old.

Stand back; any thoughts that a player of such a tender age could not be thrown into the deep end and swim were quickly denounced by Tomokazu Harimoto!

Announced arrival

On Friday 20th February 2015 when only 11 years and 238 days old, Tomokazu Harimoto announced himself to the world.

After losing in the second round of the junior boys’ singles at the Safir International in Örebro to colleague Yuta Tanaka, he played in Elite men’s singles event, a most prestigious competition. Amongst the many distinguished names the title having been won on four occasions by the host nation’s Jan-Ove Waldner.

Contrary to all expectations, Tomokazu Harimoto reached the men’s singles final, in the title decider he was beaten by Xu Hui (11-8, 11-8, 8-11, 11-2) but it was the names he beat in the later rounds that attracted the attention.

Quite incredibly, without the need for a deciding fifth game, at the quarter-final stage he accounted for Egypt’s Omar Assar (11-7, 9-11, 11-4, 12-10), before reserving his final place courtesy of success in opposition to Sweden’s Jen’s Lundqvist (11-6, 10-12, 11-2, 11-9).

Youngest ever

The youngest finalist ever in tournament that dates back to 1972; that became the norm for Tomokazu Harimoto as he set totally unprecedented records of juvenility.

He became the youngest ever winner of:

  • an ITTF World Tour under 21 men’s singles title – June 2016 in Yokohama – 12 years, 355 days
  • the boys’ singles title at the World Junior Championships – December 2016 in Cape Town – 13 years, 163 days
  • an ITTF World Tour men’s singles title – August 2017, Czech Republic – 14 years, 61 days
  • the men’s singles title at the Japanese National Championships – 14 years, 207 days
  • the men’s singles title at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals – Incheon – 15 years, 172 days
ITTF World Tour

Incredible achievements and of course there are many more; notably the only Japanese player to have won more ITTF World Tour men’s singles titles than Tomokazu Harimoto is Jun Mizutani who with eight such titles as to three won by Tomokazu Harimoto is ahead of the field.

Also they are the only Japanese players to win the men’s singles title at the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals, Jun Mizutani in 2014 in Bangkok and now a decade ago in Seoul.

Very much they represent their country’s renaissance, in the first ten years of the ITTF World Tour no Japanese player won an ITTF World Tour men’s singles title; in 2006 in Belgrade Kaii Yoshida became the first.

Now as we look to the next decade, we look to a new era, a new dawn; most significantly Japan looks to Tomokazu Harimoto.

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