Japan decides the best of the rest

With the big guns off to China for the Thomas Cup, 18-year-old Yuta Watanabe was impressing the coaches with two titles at the Ranking Circuit event in Saitama. Story and […]

With the big guns off to China for the Thomas Cup, 18-year-old Yuta Watanabe was impressing the coaches with two titles at the Ranking Circuit event in Saitama.

Story and photos by Miyuki Komiya, live in Saitama, Japan

The 2nd biggest domestic tournament in Japan was held in Saitama from May 21st to May 25th.  As it started during the Thomas and Uber Cups, the biggest names were not playing.  But by finals day, all of the team coaches had returned from China and they came to watch the tournament and to check out the B team players, while also searching for new talent.  The 32 best Japanese players in each category participated in the event, including former A team players.

Consecutive wins for mixed pair

Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino came together as a pair last year and had already been finalists at the Russian Open before being named to the national B team last January. They took the mixed title for the second straight year with a win in straight games.

“We came to play here to get the consecutive title,” Higashino said after the match.  “We are the only national team mixed doubles pair in this tournament.  Today, the national team Head Coach Mr. Park came to watch so I was under pressure a bit.

“Our aim is to get a title in big international tournaments like the Superseries.  To get the title in Japan is necessary for us to work toward this goal.”

“I didn’t have any pressure even though the national team head coach was watching,” said Watanabe.  “We don’t have the fixed coach in our company, but many senior players and coaches advised us.  We couldn’t play using all the advice from them so we had to choose and try to implement some of the suggestions as our performance became better.”

Not one, but two titles for Yuta Watanabe

After taking the mixed doubles title in Wednesday’s first match on court, Yuta Watanabe showed up again in the last match, with Kenya Mitsuhashi (pictured top) to take on top-seeded national B team players Takuto Inoue / Yuki Kaneko in the men’s doubles final.  At last year’s World Junior Championships, the younger boys were one rung short of the runner-up finish that Inoue/Kaneko achieved in 2012.

Watanabe/Mitsuhashi kept their pace from beginning of the match to the end with their stamina.  It was their offensive play that got them the title.

“We played well in the 1st game as we were moving a lot,” said Kenya Mitsuhashi (pictured above) after the match.  “Our opponents were great in second game but I was able to keep my feeling strong and didn’t stop running.  That was the reason why we won.”

Watanabe added: “We were supporting each other on court, so we were able to play well with non-stop motion.  We have played in some international tournaments.  We feel we don’t have any potential compared with international top players.  We can’t make our bodies strong soon.  But we will catch the top players someday.”

University student takes the men’s singles title

Current national B team player Yu Igarashi (pictured) played against former national B team player Yosei Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi had won both of their two previous encounters but on Wednesday, he and Igarashi split the first two games.

The deciding game looked to be going at Yamaguchi’s pace at the beginning and he got good 17-11 lead.  Igarashi tried to change his pace and tactics and this worked out great for him as he kept moving on court and took the lead with a run of 8 straight points.  Finally Yu got his first title in his all of his tournament experience.

“I’m really happy,” said Yu Igarashi after the match.  “I have reached finals in some tournaments but I always ended up in second place.  I also hadn’t been able to beat him before.  These bad experiences sometimes made me feel weak.  But many people were behind me when I was close to losing.  Their support made me mentally strong so I never gave up till the end.

“To be honest, my performance was not the best, but I was still able to win the final so I am satisfied with my performance today.  I became a national team member this year.  I have had only one experience to participate in an international senior tournament so I am looking forward to playing in international tournaments and leagues.”

First title is Mine’s

The women’s singles final promised to become the first title for either Ayumi Mine or Mako Urushizaki.  Neither has much of a reputation internationally but Ayumi Mine (pictured) got a win from talented Chinese player Sun Yu at the last Japan Open and Mako Urushizaki has beaten Japan’s own up-and-coming star Aya Ohori on two consecutive occasions in the last year.

At the beginning of the second game, Mako made a good start, helped in part by Mine’s errors.  But Mine calmed down and began to dictate the pace of the rallies.  In the end, it was Ayumi Mine who got her first title and she was able to give her good news to her company home Kumamoto, where many people are suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck more than a month ago.

“All matches were tough for me because I had too much pressure,” said Ayumi Mine after the match.  “I thought strongly that I had to get the title this year.

“In April, my company home Kumamoto had a big earthquake so we couldn’t train there for a long time.  Before this tournament, our team was back in Kumamoto and we started training there again but it wasn’t normal, like before.  Our team did some volunteer work for suffering people there many times and then, we had training.

“The training sessions have become short compared with before the Earthquake, but we really appreciate being able to train there and we realized many local people were cheering for us to play badminton even though they were dealing with ruined homes.  This strengthened my will to get the title but with such strong emotions, it was difficult to play as normal in this tournament.  Anyway, I’m happy to get my first title.”

“She never gave up running,” said Urushizaki.  “My strong point is my stamina, too, so it is as the same as Mine’s strong point so I will have to train even harder still.

“Mako’s performance was far from normal,” added Urushizaki’s coach.  “She can play better in normal training, but couldn’t do it in the final.  She is not on the national team so she needs more experience playing overseas.  She can play in international tournaments from this year so we are looking forward her performance after she gets more experience in international tournaments.

Victory for women’s pair of 1 month

Yonex is a popular brand in Japan and the Yonex company sponsors many players both inside and outside Japan.  But they also have their own badminton team. Ayako Sakuramoto and Yukiko Takahata (pictured) are members of the Yonex team who paired up just one month ago after Takahata joined Yonex upon graduatom from the high school.  Hirota and Ono are also new pair who started playing together this year and these talented young players reached their first final in a senior tournament.

Sakuramoto/Takahata got the first game easily but Hirota/Ono didn’t give up and caught them at 19-19 in the second.  Still, the last 2 rallys went to Sakuramoto/Takahata with their great offensive play and the Yonex pair finally took their 1st senior title.

“Our head coach said that all players have a chance to win,” said Sakuramoto, “so I believed it and I found I could train hard.  We are not on the national team.  There are some current and former national team players here and current national team pairs are the same age as me so I didn’t want to lose to them.  We paired up one month ago and we didn’t play well before this tournament so we didn’t have any pressure.  We focused on producing our best play and on being able to keep attacking all the time.”

“I joined the Yonex team last month,” said Takahata.  “Sakuramoto told me that she wanted to win.  At first, I didn’t tell her my ideas or opinions but I changed my mind and started to share with her my ideas because I didn’t think we could win without good communication.

“Sometimes I felt weak and didn’t have the confidence to win but we didn’t have any pressure and our performances have gotten better and better.  Anyway, I’m very happy to win this title.”

XD:  Yuta Watanabe / Arisa Higashino beat Tomoya Takashina / Rie Eto  25-23, 21-12
MS:  Yu Igarashi beat Yosei Yamaguchi  21-19, 17-21, 21-18
WS:  Ayumi Mine beat Mako Urushizaki  21-17, 21-17
WD:  Ayako Sakuramoto / Yukiko Takahata beat Ayaka Hirota / Naho Ono  21-13, 21-19
MD:  Yuta Watanabe / Kenya Mitsuhashi beat Takuto Inoue / Yuki Kaneko  21-13, 21-19

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 @ badzine.net