Japan Ranking Circuit – NTT sends 2 players, 3 pairs to the final

Japan’s second tier gathered in Saitama for the Ranking Circuit Competition, to put the national B team under pressure and impress the coaches. Story and photos by Miyuki Komiya, live […]

Japan’s second tier gathered in Saitama for the Ranking Circuit Competition, to put the B team under pressure and impress the coaches.

Story and photos by Miyuki Komiya, live in Saitama

The Japan Ranking Circuit Competition, the nation’s 2nd biggest domestic tournament, was held in Saitama from May 26 until May 30.  The event saw participation by the 32 best Japanese players apart from the Thomas and Uber Cup team members.  All national coaches came back from Bangkok to check up on the players who made the final.  The national players present played under pressure but it was good opportunity for non-national players to strut their stuff before the national team coaching staff.

May 26 was a special day for Japan in Thailand the women’s team was lifting the Uber Cup for the first time in decades.  However, on the same day, the Japan Ranking Circuit Competition started with the nation’s best other 32 in each category.  While Momota put on a great performance in the Thomas Cup, his corporate team NTT succeeded in sending two other players and three pairs to the final.

The first match was mixed doubles.  National B team pair Mitsuhashi/Shinoya played against Hoki/Nagahara.  Mitsuhashi/Shinoya were selected for the national B team by Jeremy Gan, who came from Malaysia as a mixed doubles coach this year but it was Takuro Hoki and Wakana Nagahara (pictured) who won the final in straight games 21-12, 21-17.

“I enjoyed this tournament without pressure,” said Wakana Nagahara, who will not be defending her Canada Open title later this month.  “I’m focusing on women’s doubles so I’m playing mixed doubles to play women’s doubles well.”

Takuro Hoki said, “I also focus on men’s doubles.  It’s hard for me to play in both mixed and men’s doubles in the world level.  We didn’t practice together before this tournament and I’m not sure if we will play together in the future.”

Jeremy said “Hoki and Nagahara had experiences to play mixed doubles with other partners in international tournaments.  They are mature and know how to play well in each part even if they didn’t practice together.  I know Mitsuhashi/Shinoya and other pairs, who were selected for the national team as mixed doubles players, belong to different companies and school.  They may not have enough time to practice together.  I will support their efforts to improve their performance to become better and better.”

The next match, women’s singles, was played between national B team player Minatsu Mitani (pictured) and former national team player Yui Hashimoto.  They both belong to the NTT team and are long-time team-mates.  Hashimoto defeated the national A team player Aya Ohori to reach the final while Mitani got there after a win over Osaka International Challenge winner Ayumi Mine at the semi-final stage.  Mitani built up a good lead from start until end of the match, putting on a great performance to win in straight games.

“I’m very glad to win this title because I hadn’t won any titles recently,” Mitani said after match.  “Once my strong points were physicality and speed but they are not enough to win now so I was practicing new skills and tested them in this tournament. The new skills worked well in my performances.  I am satisfied with my performance.  I didn’t play against national A team players this tournament but I feel great with this title.”

The third match was men’s singles.  Reigning All Japan Champion and national A team player Riichi Takeshita (pictured) played against Shota Omoto, who was an inter-college finalist in 2017 and beat former national team player Takuma Ueda in the semi-final.  Takeshita easily won the first game of the final 21-12 but Omoto got out to a strong 8-2 lead in the second game before Takeshita, refusing to give up, took 8 consective points to surge ahead 10-8.  The game was close until 15 points but Takeshita dictated the pace of the rallies and won 21-15.

Takeshita said, “I was the only player from the national A team in this category.  I didn’t want to lose any match against the national B team players or the others.  As you know, other A players performed great at the Thomas Cup so I also wanted to get a good result this time as All Japan Champion.  Actually, I can’t say my performances were good during this tournament but I had to win under pressure.  Anyway, I’m happy to get the title.”

The fourth match was women’s doubles.  Ayane Kurihara and Naru Shinoya (pictured), two players who are concentrating more on their mixed doubles exploits, played against Ozaki/Kawashima from NTT team.  For Ozaki/Kawashima, it was the first time to reach a final.  Shinoya/Kurihara reached two Grand Prix Gold finals together back in 2015, but they hadn’t paired up more than a year and so they didn’t have any pressure during the match.

Shinoya/Kurihara played offensively from back and front, and also received well.  They won in straight games 21-19, 21-15.

Shinoya said, “This is my first title after graduating school 7 years ago.  I’m focusing on playing mixed doubles.  My defense skills are improving because I receive men’s smashes in practice.”

Kurihara added, “I was able to relax and play well.  I have been focusing on the mixed category for a long time so I have trained for front part instead of back part.  But I managed to focus on my backcourt play each rally one by one.  I was in national A team and participated in the last Olympics but now I am in the national B team with a new partner.  I just want to come back to the national A team again so I don’t have any pressure in women’s doubles.”

Both women from the partnership will be contesting the Canada Open in a couple of weeks.  Shinoya was runner-up last year in women’s doubles.  For both players, this will be their first event of the year above International Challenge level.

The last match was men’s doubles.  The defending champion and the national B team pair Akira Koga / Taichi Saito (pictured) played against their team-mates Hoshino/Nishikawa.  Koga/Saito were able to keep the net player Hoshino in the backcourt.  Koga/Saito kept things at their pace and took 9 consecutive points in the first game and another 7 consecutive points in the second, defending their title in two straight.

“I didn’t think about defending the title,” Saito said.  “To tell the truth, my performance was not so good at the beginning of this tournament.  I played better and better, though, so I’m happy to get this title at last.”

Koga said, “I’m very glad to be able to defend the title.  I played under pressure because I’m in the national B team.  We know each other’s strong points.  Our tactics worked well in the final.  I have confidence to get a win from Japanese players recently but we haven’t win in international tournaments.  I want to win against the rest of the world too.”

Final results
XD: Takuro Hoki / Wakana Nagahara beat Kenya Mitsuhashi / Naru Shinoya  21-12, 21-17
WS:  Minatsu Mitani beat Yui Hashimoto  21-16, 21-14
MS:  Richi Takeshita beat Shota Omoto  21-12, 21-15
WD:  Ayane Kurihara / Naru Shinoya beat Rira Kawashima / Saori Ozaki  21-19, 21-15
MD:  Akira Koga / Taichi Saito beat Shohei Hoshino / Yujiro Nishikawa  21-12, 21-15

Click here for complete results (in Japanese)

 

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