27 Aug 2020

Three years ago, Sunday 27th August 2017, the sport of table tennis witnessed a ground shaking experience as Japan’s Tomokazu Harimoto made history at the 2017 ITTF World Tour Czech Open, becoming the youngest ever men’s singles champion in the process, aged just 14 years and 61 days at the time.

Celebrating the historic occasion, join us as we look back at how the teenage star rewrote the record books:

by Simon Daish

Turning promise into success

Entering the scene in 2014 with his senior debut coming at the 2014 ITTF World Tour event in Warsaw, Poland, Tomokazu Harimoto made great strides over the following two years with results to back it up.

Crowned under 21 men’s singles champion at the 2016 ITTF World Tour LAOX Japan Open, Harimoto’s next big milestone performance came in early 2017 as he progressed to a senior final for the first time in his career with his runner up finish at the 2017 ITTF World Tour India Open.

Garnering real momentum, Harimoto produced another impressive display in Chengdu, China in June 2017. There was something special about this young teenager from Japan – that became very apparent two months on from his China Open exploits as Harimoto broke new grounds in the sport with his mesmerising feat at the 2017 ITTF World Tour Czech Open!

Living on the edge

A campaign which will be reflected upon for years to come as a breakout moment for Harimoto, however, we shouldn’t forget there were numerous eggshells to negotiate along the way.

The pressure was on right from round one as Harimoto survived a huge scare, squeezing past Kazakhstan’s Kirill Gerassimenko 4-3 (11-8, 1-11, 13-11, 12-14, 11-8, 4-11, 11-7). Maharu Yoshimura, a familiar name to young Harimoto, awaited in round two – another win for the latter player but it was by no means straightforward (11-8, 11-3, 5-11, 11-8, 7-11, 11-8).

Harimoto survived a number of close contests on his path to the final (Photo: Jan Brychta)

Harimoto’s journey wasn’t about to become any easier, needing the full match distance against Kristian Karlsson (11-9, 7-11, 11-4, 9-11, 12-10, 9-11, 11-6) and then Hugo Calderano (6-11, 12-10, 4-11, 11-4, 11-9, 9-11, 16-14). Through to the final, just one hurdle remained and with it his greatest challenge yet.

Writing his name in the history books

The man standing between 14-year-old Harimoto and the summit of the medals podium was none other than Timo Boll. A true legend of the sport with 19 ITTF World Tour men’s singles titles to his name, former World no.1 Boll was chasing his second gold of the year having emerged as 2017 Korea Open champion in April. The German star was the favourite in Olomouc, but the day would belong to his Japanese counterpart!

Off to a quick start but trailing 1-2 before long, Harimoto showed maturity beyond his years to stage a mighty comeback. A fearless display, the teenager Harimoto found his rhythm, taking the next three games in a row to seal a historic 4-2 victory over Boll (11-3, 4-11, 8-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-9).

The result meant Harimoto smashed the previous record for youngest men’s singles champion set by China’s Yu Ziyang who was 16 years and 30 days old when he won gold at the 2014 Japan Open!

An unforgettable day and a sense of payback for Harimoto, who suffered defeat to German opposition in his first men’s singles final, losing out to Dimitrij Ovtcharov at the 2017 ITTF World Tour India Open.

“Age doesn’t matter, you must play and fight against everyone! It was my second World Tour final, first time I lost my chance, this time I won; now at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games I want to win men’s singles and men’s team gold but I know I must practise hard and fight to gain the glory.” Tomokazu Harimoto

Another Japanese teenager enjoyed their time in the spotlight earlier in the day with Mima Ito claiming the women’s singles title in Olomouc, her fourth such victory on the senior stage.

Mima Ito and Tomokazu Harimoto proved unstoppable in the respective women’s and men’s singles events (Photo: Jan Brychta)
Olomouc the catalyst to stardom?

Success in Olomouc and Harimoto’s year concluded on a positive note, reaching the quarter-finals stage on his ITTF World Tour Grand Finals debut in Doha.

Three years later Harimoto now boasts four ITTF World Tour men’s singles titles in addition to lifting the ITTF World Tour Grand Finals trophy in 2018. It seems appropriate to say his victorious outing at the 2017 Czech Open certainly played its part in shaping the Tomokazu Harimoto we all know today!

World Tour Features Timo Boll Tomokazu Harimoto