OSAKA INT’L – Change brings Chances

Japan’s Sho Sasaki (pictured) returned to the top of the podium in Osaka for the first time since the inaugural event in 2007.  Once again, he led a near sweep […]

Japan’s Sho Sasaki (pictured) returned to the top of the podium in Osaka for the first time since the inaugural event in 2007.  Once again, he led a near sweep of the golds by the home team.

Story and photos: Miyuki Komiya, Badzine Correspondent, Live in Osaka

April is a season of changes in Japan.  It sees the change from winter to spring with sakura trees blooming as if in celebration of the new things to come.  Japan’s badminton players, too, are on the way toward change, hopefully changing to a winning season.  They are sure that the turning point is near on their road to becoming top world players.

Men’s Singles: A Change in Shape

No Japanese shuttlers reached the semi-finals in this tournament last year in men’s singles but this year, the results were completely reversed as no non-Japanese players advanced past the 2nd round.

Junior players and back-up players were eager to be noticed by winning in front of the National Team coaching staff but the veterans were not about to be upstaged.  2 senior national team players, who were also the top and second seeds, faced off in the final.

The first game was an easy one for 2nd-seeded Sho Sasaki, who is changing his shape.  Sasaki got 6 consecutive points as a head start and kept the lead until the game end.  Yamada jump-started his own 2nd game effort with 5 consecutive points.  But Sasaki clearly knew what he had to do and played calmly, while Yamada just couldn’t find his rhythm in the final.  Finally, Sasaki caught and won Yamada as 21-14,21-17.

“I was playing at my opponent’s pace in the 1st game,” said top-seeded Kazushi Yamada (pictured).  “I felt that I needed to change tactics somehow in the 2nd game.  I didn’t feel as comfortable playing as I usually do because I have seldom played in finals.”

“I know that Yamada’s defense is great so I expected that this final would be a tough match for me,” said Sasaki in the post-match press conference.  “I just focused on playing with my own badminton style.  This thinking worked better in the final.

“This time, my condition is as usual but I feel different.  I really wanted to win again as I did in 2007.  You know, I am getting in body shape to move faster.  I’ve lost weight but my speed has really improved,” Sasaki added with a big smile.  “I am on the way to getting into the shape I want and I’m studying how to move fast.  Sometimes [Eriko] Hirose gives me some hints while we’re chatting.  I am sure that I am going to get better.”

Meanwhile, Yamada told Badzine, with a smile, “I have never beaten Sho before in training and I think that’s the reason why I didn’t have my tactics worked out clearly.  Before this final, I believed that I should have focussed on it, and then I could have done it in the final.  It was good experience beating Taufik in the Swiss Open this year.  It gave me confidence that I can win big matches.  Before that win, I just tried to play my best until I ran out of stamina but since then, I have been trying to focus more on tactics in each rally.  I lost today, but I am sure that this experience will also make me better.”

Eriko Hirose, incidentally, was forced to withdraw after the first round win and this left the door open for Wang Rong, now playing for Macau, to march through the Japanese ranks and finally beat Kaori Imabeppu in the longest and closest final of the day in Osaka.

Mixed Doubles: A Change in Mindset

Top-seeded Hirata/Maeda were forced to withdraw due to Maeda’s injury, leaving the mixed field wide open.  The opportunity came to 5th seeded Kenichi Hayakawa / Shizuka Matsuo (pictured).  They beat 2nd seeded Hirokatsu Hashimoto / Mizuki Fujii in the final with 21-14, 21-11.

This win is not only their first win but also their first tournament this year.  The National Team staff has been trying to find a good mixed pair.  Shizuka Matsuo reached final in 2008 and 2009 with Noriyasu Hirata.  But this year, she came back to the final with a new partner.

“We both wanted to win in doubles this year,” said Hayakawa.  “Actually, I really felt badly after my loss in men’s doubles in the 1st round.  It was a real shock.  But I decided to get over my disappointment and focus on mixed.  It brought us the title.”

Matsuo felt the same way: “I really wanted to win in mixed doubles because it was the third time I’d reached the final.  We needed to change our mindset.”

Matsuo’s tactics and skill enabled her to finish off the rallies, making it all look easy.  “In XD, I can focus only on net play so I can see the shuttles coming from my opponents better than I can in women’s doubles.  I was able to control the rallies, maintaining the pace we wanted.  I felt Hayakawa wasn’t tired as he was moving faster than usual.  Maybe he had more stamina because of his early loss in men’s doubles,” said Matsuo with a mischievous smile.

“We started playing together as a pair at the last training camp on March 31st, this year.  We trained together only for one week.  It is too short, but I felt we are suited to each other as partners.  I am not sure if we will participate in more tournaments in the future in this combination.  It depends on what the national team coaches decide,” added Matsuo.

Men’s Doubles:  If you want to change, but don’t…

To make up for their loss in the mixed doubles, both Mizuki Fujii and Hirokatsu Hashimoto managed to climb the podium in their respective doubles matches. Hirokatsu Hashimoto teamed up with Noriyasu Hirata to beat Yoshiteru Hirobe / Hiroyuki Endo (pictured) 16-21, 23-21, 21-17 in the men’s doubles final.

“I am happy to win this tournament.  We won the Japanese Nationals in December so we didn’t want to lose to another Japanese pair,” Hirata said.  “But actually, the world’s top players are too fast and consistent so I still make many mistakes in fast, flat rallies.  We need to learn and train more.”

“When we are on defense, we wanted to take our chances to go on the offensive,” said Hirobe and Endo.  “Actually, we are on the way to learning the skills but we were afraid to use what we are learning and to take the risks in a big tournament because we are not yet consistent.  If we had used them, the result might have been different.  So we need to get the skills and become consistent as soon as possible.  World top rankers already use them naturally to create their own chances.  We are sure they help us as we expected.”

Final Results:

XD: Kenichi Hayakawa / Shizuka Matsuo (JPN) bt Hirokatsu Hashimoto / Mizuki Fujii (JPN) 21-14, 21-11
MS: Sho Sasaki (JPN) bt Kazushi Yamada (JPN) 21-14, 21-17
WS: Wang Rong (MAC) beat Kaori Imabeppu (JPN) 20-22, 21-19, 21-17
MD: Hirokatsu Hashimoto / Noriyasu Hirata (JPN) beat Hiroyuki Endo / Yoshiteru Hirobe (JPN) 16-21, 23-21, 21-17
WD: Mizuki Fujii / Reika Kakiiwa (JPN) bt Ayaka Takahashi / Misaki Matsutomo (JPN) 21-19,21-16

For results from earlier rounds, CLICK HERE

Miyuki Komiya

About Miyuki Komiya

Miyuki Komiya is Badzine's correspondent in Japan. She joined the Badzine team in 2008 to provide coverage of the Japanese badminton scene. She has played badminton for more than 30 years and has been a witness to the modern history of Japanese badminton, both watching players become stronger on court and hearing the players comment on their increasing success over the years. Contact her at: miyuki @