ALL JAPAN CHAMPS – Nagahara and Matsumoto take their first title

Two–time women’s doubles World Champions Nagahara and Matsumoto grabbed their first All Japan tournament title, while Watanabe picked up two and Momota repeated as national champion. Story and photos by […]

Twotime women’s doubles World Champions Nagahara and Matsumoto grabbed their first tournament title, while Watanabe picked up two and Momota repeated as champion.

Story and photos by Miyuki Komiya, live in Tokyo

The All Japan Championships were held in Komazawa Olympic Gymnasium in Tokyo from November 26th to December 1st.  This tournament is key to the selection of the national team members for next year.   The Olympic qualification has already begun so all national A team members have the right to participate in the Olympic qualification next year even if they aren’t selected for th national team this time.  However, former Olympic and World Championship medallists participated in this tournament to show Japanese fans their best performance and to prove who are the best players in Japan.

The first match on finals day was mixed doubles featuring the two-time defending champions Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino.  Their opponents were Yujiro Nishikawa and Saori Ozaki, who got the opportunity to be the finalist after Hoki/Nagahara retired at the quarter-final stage due to Hoki’s shoulder pain.

The first half of the first game was close because both pairs were under pressure but Watanabe/Higashino calmed down and got their own pace after the interval.  The defending champions stacked the points with their strong tactics from Watanabe’s drop shots.  Nishikawa/Ozaki couldn’t return these effectively and gave Watanabe chances to smash strongly.  Watanabe/Higashino saved the title without losing a single game throughout the tournament.

“I’m very happy to save the title,” Watanabe said afterward.  “In fact, I was under a lot of pressure because this is our 3rd consecutive title so I don’t think I was able to play with my best shots.  But the most important thing is to win in the match.  I’m glad to win anyway.

“Our national team coach gave me a lot of advice beforehand so I tried to use these suggestions when I was under pressure.  Also I could hear my father’s voice urging me saying, ‘Keep up your concentration!’  That gave me a lot of power, but also pressure.”

“I also had pressure too,” Higashino added.  “Yuta’s father’s voice also gave me a lot of power.  I was able to focus on playing in front of the net because I can trust in Yuta’s performance behind me.  He plays in two categories so I will train harder than him and try to support him more.”

The women’s doubles final was between World Championship finalists Mayu Matsumoto / Wakana Nagahara and Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota, currently the #3 and #2 pairs in the world, respectively.

Two-time World Champions Matsumoto/Nagahara won in straight games against Olympic gold medallists and world #4 Matsutomo/Takahashi in the semi-final.  Meanwhile, the defending champions Fukushima/Hirota beat recent Korea Masters winners Shida and Matsuyama in the other semi-final.

Fukushima/Hirota got the first game easily and kept going in the second game until 7-4. Matsumoto and Nagahara were under pressure because it was their first final in this event.  The World Champions focused on doing their best offensively and caught the defending champion.  After that, Fukushima/Hirota didn’t play stably and made many errors.  The defending champions couldn’t stop the attacks from the World Champion pair and Nagahara/Matsumoto got the second game 21-15 and then dominated the decider 21-8 to earn their first All Japan title.

In their on-court interview, a tearful Matsumoto said, “When I played in this tournament several times before, I felt the title was out of my reach.  Finally, I was able to grab this title.  I’m really happy now.”

Nagahara said in the press conference, “Our aim in this tournament was the title.  This is our first final so we were nervous at the beginning of the match and didn’t play well.  After we lost the first game easily, we didn’t want to lose without our best performance so we tried to focus on only doing our best.”

“In the first game, our opponents were too fast and it was a really bad performance for us, so we had to change our attitude in the second game.  Our team coach Sho Sasaki advised us just to play our best.  I’m happy to show him our good result because he has supported us for a long time,” Matsumoto added.

Hirota said, “After our opponents passed us in the second game, we couldn’t have confidence in our tactics.  Also their attack speed was increasing more and more so we made many errors.”

“We could play well in the first game because our opponents were nervous but they didn’t give up and tried to make their own pace.  Their mental drive to get the title was stronger than ours today,” Fukushima added.

The men’s singles final pitted world #1 Kento Momota against world #15 Kenta Nishimoto.  Nishimoto had beaten recent Korea Masters winner, world #10 Kanta Tsuneyama, in a nail-biter of a semi-final that he won 24-22 in the deciding game.

Momota is the same age as Nishimoto and they have been best friends and good rivals since they were juniors.  They know each other’s tactics very well but this time, Momota trained hard for this tournament and he displayed the speedier footwork and better stroke quality.

Actually, Nishimoto played well, with strong smashes, but Momota had great quality on his cross-court returns.  Also, Momota’s footwork from back to net was showing a noticeable speed increase after his recent training efforts.  This meant Momota’s smash and push combination allowed him to kill the shuttle many times and he beat Nishimoto in straight games to defend his title.

“My aim in this tournament was to keep the title,” Momota said afterward.  “I believe I trained hard for it.  When I was warming up on court today, I found my legs were shaking because I was so nervous but I wanted to show my best performance to the badminton fans in Japan because I rarely get the chance to play in front of them.  I believe I played my best so I hope the spectators enjoyed our match today.”

“Last year, my main tactics were to concentrate on defense but I found that strategy was not enough to win in world top level matches.  Now, I realize that my offensive tactics have improved successfully.  I also tried to make good quality on every shot.  I’m still far from the level I want to reach but I got some confidence because of this title.”

Nishimoto said, “I believe my performance today was not bad.  We know each other’s tactics so I just focused on returning the shuttle more than Momota did.  Actually Momota’s shot quality was quite good.  He moved fast and could contact the shuttle high.  He could play with a lot of deception each time, so I needed to stop every time before he hit shuttle.  Anyway, his performance was better than mine.”

Women’s singles featured 4th seed and world #19 Aya Ohori (pictured right), who reached the final again after she upset top seed and world #4 Akane Yamaguchi in the semi-final.  On the other side of the draw, the second seed and world #3 Nozomi Okuhara beat world #14 Sayaka Takahashi.

In the first game, Ohori made a good lead 6-1, but Nozomi Okuhara (pictured below) soon caught and got into the lead with 6 consecutive points.  The game was close until the end and Okuhara took it 24-22.

In the second game, Okuhara dictated the pace with great drop quality to both sidelines.  Ohori didn’t get any points until after her opponent had forced the interval by winning the first 11 rallies.  Okuhara enjoyed using her tactics, making use of her superior stamina soon finished off the one-sided second game.

Okuhara said, “I didn’t play well at the beginning of the match.  I was nervous because my opponent got out to a good lead.  But I knew that I needed to be patient and to try to do my best.  I believe I played with my best performance today.  This is my first title this year this gives me confidence.  I’ll try to get good results in the next tournament too.”

Ohori said, “I found how much better my opponent played.  I felt my body was rather heavy in the second game.  Then, Okuhara upped her tempo more and more.  I can learn many things from Okuhara’s performance.  I’ll get something from this loss and become stronger.”

The last final of the day was men’s doubles.  The defending champions and world #4 Takeshi Kamura / Keigo Sonoda (pictured below) faced world #6 Hiroyuki Endo / Yuta Watanabe.  The first game went at the pace dictated by Sonoda and Kamura.  The defending champions kept attacking hard and took the opener easily 21-11.

In the second game, they again got out to a promising 8-1 lead but Hiroyuki Endo / Yuta Watanabe (pictured bottom) didn’t give up.  They used their defense to try to make the pace suit their style.  This tactic worked well and Sonoda’s attacks lost some of their edge.  Watanabe/Endo got the second game 21-18 then ran away with the decider.  After the match, Sonoda didn’t appear in the prize ceremony because he needed to recover physically.

“This is the most important tournament for me so I’m very happy to get this title,” said Endo afterward.  “We didn’t give up even though the opponent got a big lead.  We tried to keep our style simply.  Watanabe was able to manage the tactics and keep mentally strong.  We can’t dictate the pace every time but the most important thing is to return a shuttle in any situation.”

“I’m very happy to win,” Watanabe added.  “Recently, I found how to manage the match to win.  I had previously always tried to use 100% power for moving and hitting  but now, I can control my footwork speed and the shuttle speed.  Also, I was able to stay strong mentally.”

Final results
MS:  Kento Momota beat Kenta Nishimoto  21-14, 21-12
MD:  Hiroyuki Endo / Yuta Watanabe beat Keigo Sonoda / Takeshi Kamura  11-21,21-18,21-8
WS:  Nozomi Okuhara beat Aya Ohori  22-20, 21-4
WD:  Wakana Nagahara / Mayu Matsumoto beat Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota 10-21, 21-15, 21-8
XD:  Yuta Watanabe / Arisa Higashino beat Yujiro Nishikawa / Saori Ozaki  21-13, 21-15

Click here for complete results (in Japanese)

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