All Japan Championships – Tago goes for 5, Fujii injured

Japanese players gathered for their most important national tournament this weekend in Tokyo.  In men’s singles, Kenichi Tago became the third man to win five successive national titles, seeing off […]

Japanese players gathered for their most important tournament this weekend in Tokyo.  In men’s singles, Kenichi Tago became the third man to win five successive titles, seeing off Sho Sasaki with his strong defense and fierce smashes.  Meanwhile, London 2012 Olympic silver medallists Mizuki Fujii / Reika Kakiiwa had trained hard to take their first national but lost out as Fujii was forced to retire injured.

By Kazuya Kato and Hitoshi Yoshiki, Badzine Correspondents live in Tokyo. Photos: Miyuki Komiya (live)

In the women’s doubles, the reigning Olympic silver medallists Mizuki Fujii / Reika Kakiiwa came up against the defending champions, Ayaka Takahashi / Misaki Matsutomo. Fujii/Kakiiwa took the first game 21-13 and led at the start of the second, hitting effectively into the bodies of their opponents with speedy attacks.

However in the last rally before the interval, tragedy occurred as Fujii rushed to the net and sprained her right knee as she fell on court. Despite being on course for a victory as they led 11-8, Fujii could not continue so the match finished prematurely.

Matsutomo spoke kindly of her opponents, who are nicknamed ‘FujiKaki’ in Japan: “Fujii and Kakiiwa enhanced the recognition of badminton with the silver medal in the Olympic Games and their strengths are their powerful attack and speedy rotation like the Chinese pairs. They are great senior players for us and it was a shame we couldn’t play the last game.”

Her partner Takahashi also expressed disappointment at the outcome, “It was a regretful ending, but we have to become the next talents leading badminton in Japan.” Talking about the match, she commented, “We were prevented from attacking in this game, which is usually my strong point. Our task is to improve our defense to cope with a severe attack so we have more chance to attack ourselves.”

The return of the 2007 All Japan champion

Imabeppu regained her women’s singles title in the All Japan Championship – which she last held in 2007 – by defeating Minatsu Mitani in the final.

Imapeppu took the first game easily but the second game was to be a much closer affair. Imabeppu led Mitani for much of the second game, but tensed up as she neared the finish line, letting Mitani catch up. However she did not break spirit and kept attacking, to win 21-9, 24-22.

Imabeppu expressed delight in her victory, “I’m so glad to win this match and this victory will boost my confidence. After winning the first game, I thought Mitani would let me win easily, so I tried to keep up the good performance in the second. However, I got tense, and allowed Mitani to catch up in the last game. I kept trying to play as best as I could, the essence of badminton whether winning or not. My strong point is my fast movement and attack, so I tried to keep attacking throughout the match.

“I was nervous because I am a member of the national team but haven’t had many results overseas before. I had even thought of stopping playing badminton before. Victory depends heavily on my mindset, so I hope this win will keep it positive to help win the next game. Panasonic decided to stop sponsoring my badminton team, so I’m looking for another to continue playing.”

Mitani said afterwards, “I didn’t move well enough in the first game. The pressure of being in the final was heavy and I couldn’t take initiative in the game to prevent Imabeppu from playing a strong attacking game.”

Machida, her coach, also commented on her movement, “Mitani didn’t move well in the first game so her opponent read the direction of her shots well to take the initiative. I thought Mitani played well to catch up in the second game though.”

New young talent emerges

Shoji Sato / Yumiko Nishiyama took on Takeshi Kamura / Koharu Yonemoto in the mixed final, which saw a very close first game. Though Sato/Nishiyama led initially with timely attacks, Kamura/Yonemoto caught up with some impressive low rallies to take the game. Kamura / Yonemoto kept up this play to take the second much more easily winning 21-19, 21-7 as Sato/Nishiyama yielded to the aggressive attack of their rivals.

This is the first title for Kamura/Yonemoto who have been in pair for 4 years. Kamura commented, “In this victory we kept attacking through the game, and I supported my partner in front of net well. The result in Yonex Open Japan 2012 definitely enhanced our confidence. We would like to familiarise Japan with badminton and the impressive results of Ikeda/Shiota. Mixed doubles is attractive in the combination of male and female playing styles.”

Yonemoto spoke of the pair, “I’m glad to get my first prize in AJC. We won because we kept our feelings positive despite being on the back foot. The result of mixed doubles depends on combination of the pair, so if we can keep playing well, we hope to win overseas.”

For Sato/Nishiyama, this tournament was an impressive run for the new pair, participating in only their second official tournament together.

Tago strikes 5th in a row

In the men’s singles, Kenichi Tago, ranked 5th in the world, played Sho Sasaki, who is ranked 7th. Tago’s cross-court smashes and net shots were very good, as he didn’t give his opponent any chances to hit strong smashes. Tago got his fifth consective titlej, winning 21-17, 21-15.

“Today’s winning is no more than a relief for me,” Tago said with a stern look in the interview. “Frankly speaking, I feel so sorry for supporters about my terrible performance at the Olympics and the Japan Open. I want to see this win as a positive sign for the Superseries Finals and going into next year, not only for compensation.”

Meanwhile in the men’s doubles, world number 5 pair Kenichi Hayakawa / Hiroyuki Endo won their first national prize 21-16, 21-14, preventing Noriyasu Hirata / Hirokatsu Hashimoto from defending for a third consecutive title.

“We were determined to enjoy the match and hit it all around even if the result wasn’t good,” Hashimoto told the press after the match. “We didn’t get the chance to represent Japan in the Olympics, so we were more eager to win the title.”

“In fact, some confidence with our world ranking is the key to the win,” Endo added. “It seems it’s over-evaluating compared to our performance. We were the pair which deserved it.”

Click here for complete results (in Japanese)


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