Unisys sweeps Japan League titles

The last day of Badminton Nippon League was held at Sumida city gymnasium in Tokyo on Sunday – the climax of a three-month long league for company teams involving most of the top Japanese shuttlers. Unysis came on top in both the women's and men's team competitions.

The last day of Badminton Nippon League was held at Sumida city gymnasium in Tokyo on Sunday – the climax of a three-month long league for company teams involving most of the top Japanese shuttlers. Unysis came on top in both the women’s and men’s team competitions.

Story and photos by Miyuki Komiya, Badzine Correspondent live in Tokyo

There are many company teams and badminton clubs in Japan.  Many of them are for fitness and fun but the top league is different.  The companies gather talented players, many of them team members, and employ them after they graduate from school to carry the company banner in domestic events like this one.

The players do more than just badminton training.  Even the national team players among them also acquire the skills for their jobs a few hours a day so the coworkers in the company come to cheer on the players everywhere they play.

This adds a little motivation to the teams to win in front of their supporters, in their three-match ties that feature 2 doubles and 1 singles.

Men’s team: Suspense prevails

The men’s teams from both Tonami and Unisys had won all their matches until the last day.  Tonami has held the league title since 2011 with experienced players like Hashimoto/Hirata, Sho Sasaki and Sonoda/Kamura.  But Unisys too has many national members, as Hayakawa/Endo, Saeki/Taohata, Kazuno/Yamada, and Kaneko/Inoue (2012 World Junior Championship runners-up), as well as Takuma Ueda and Kazumasa Sakai, were up for the challenge on Sunday.

In the 1st match, Hashimoto/Hirata (Tonami) beat Unisys’s Hayakawa/Endo in straight games. The second match was between  Sho Sasaki (Tonami) and Kazumasa Sakai (Unysis). Sasaki had lost to Sakai the last 3 times, but Sakai had more pressure because his loss would mean his team’s loss.

Unisys coach Nakanishi had advised Sakai before the match: “Don’t think about winning or losing. Play your best, point by point.”

In the end, Sakai coped with the pressure and beat Sasaki 16-21, 21-12, 21-13. The outcome would then depend on the 2nd doubles between Tonami’s Kamura/Sonoda and Unisys’s scratch pair of Kazuno/Inoue. The less experienced pairing played aggressively from start and won the match in straight games to take the tie, putting an end to Tonami’s reign.

Syuichi Sakamoto, Olympian and current Unisys men’s coach, told Badzine “We are very happy. Hayakawa/Endo lost, but other players made up for them. Kazuno was able to score a second consecutive win over Sonoda/Kamura.  He had done so with another partner this year so we believed Kazuno would win against them. I’m proud of our team and staff.”

Singles winner Sakai said, “Actually I was under a lot of pressure before the match. I just did my best, following my coach’s advice. I tried not to think about the result. I just focused on  the rally and strategy. Anyway I am glad I could win for the team!”

“I was very nervous until my 1st service. I tried to rush the net and drop the shuttles as the opponent hit the clear because Kazuno’s smashes are very strong. This is my first Japan league, I’m very happy to participate as a player to get the title,”  said Takuto Inoue.

“I decided to play aggressively. My partner Inoue has tactics and can play aggressively. So I believed we could win,” team captain Kazuno added.

Unisys women back to No. 1

In the women’s event, the penultimate day saw a battle between Unisys and Renesas, who had both won all their previous matches until then.  The Unisys women’s team has such top national team players as Matsutomo/Takahashi and Sayaka Takahashi and they managed to win against all the other top teams, including Renesas, which has London Olympic finalist Fujii/Kakiiwa as well as Suetsuna/Maeda.  This victory made for a clean sweep for Unisys once the men’s success was added.

Team captain Kurihara said “Our team were the 4th in this league last year. We tried to do our best on court. All matches were very tough, but we focussed on playing as usual and to get one point at a time.”

Komiyama, a former national team player and current Unisys women’s team coach, said “When I was a player in Unysys, the women’s team started. The current team is much stronger, though. I’m very glad for their title.”

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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