ALL JAPAN CHAMPS – All defending champions beaten

Misaki Matsutomo won as the favourite but not as the defending champion as Japanese shuttlers closed out their 2015 domestic season with the all-important All-Japan Championships. Story and photos by […]

Misaki Matsutomo won as the favourite but not as the defending champion as Japanese shuttlers closed out their 2015 domestic season with the all-important All-Japan Championships.

Story and photos by Miyuki Komiya (live)

At the beginning of the winter, Japanese players become nervous because of the season of the team member selection for the coming year.  For the team players, they want the titles which signify who is best player/pair in Japan.  For the young hopefuls, it is the chance to show their level in front of team coaches.  Last year, several of the favourites stumbled on their way to the top but this year, it was the defending champions who were unable to prove themselves in consecutive years.

World #1s back on top, for the 4th time

The first match on finals day was women’s doubles between world #1 Ayaka Takahashi / Misaki Matsutomo (pictured) and World Championship semi-finalists Naoko Fukuman / Kurumi Yonao (pictured below).  Takahashi and Matsutomo kept their pace from start till the end and won in straight games.

“We are defending champions but we didn’t focus on that,” Fukuman said after the match. “We just focused on playing our very best and we did that.”

“We appreciate playing with so much support from our company and fans.  We knew it is not usual after our bad situation.  Thank you for all support,” added Yonao with tears.

Matsutomo said “Last year, we only reached the quarter-finals so I’m happy to get this title.  Thank you everyone for cheering us on.

“We decided before the match that we would just focus on playing our way.  The Superseries Finals is coming up and we believed we could play very well today as preparation for it.”

Sonoda and Kamura take their first title

Some fresh faces appeared atop the podium in men’s doubles.  Keigo Sonoda / Takeshi Kamura (pictured)reached the final with win against defending champions Hayakawa/Endo in semi-final.  Up-and-coming talents Yugo Kobayashi / Takuro Hoki (pictured) also reached the final, beating 2nd-seeded Kazuno/Yamada.

All of the finalists are training in the same company Tonami.  Sonoda/Kamura won against younger team-mates in three games, after narrowly losing the first.

“We are satisfied with our performances from first round till the final,” said Sonoda after the match.

“I thought I would feel very nervous in the final but I was able to relax and concentrate.  I didn’t wanted to lose to our younger team-mates,” Kamura added.

20-year-old Kobayashi said: “Our target in this tournament was to reach the final 4.  We are very glad to reach the final by beating veteran pair Yamada/Kazuno.

“Actually, I tried to keep my motivation up when we got  one game.  I believed we had a chance but they played better than us.”

“Until the final, we didn’t have any national A team opponents so I was thinking that we needed to beat those other pairs.  Our results are getting better this year but we tried to keep that challenging spirit in all of our matches,” Hoki added.

Okuhara 2nd title feels like a first

Nozomi Okuhara (pictured), Japan’s top women’s singles player in the world rankings, faced former Olympian Sayaka Sato.  Okuhara got this title 4 years ago when former Olympian Eriko Hirose had to withdraw so Okuhara felt it was her first final in this tournament.

Sato beat defending champion Akane Yamaguchi in the semi-final and her tactics were good again on Sunday but Okuhara’s movement and shots were great.  The world #9 defeated Sato in straight games.

“I felt relaxed after the win instead of glad,” Okuhara said.  “Sato played very well today.

“I thought I might not be able to win the second game but I tried to keep my concentration to return all shots as well as I could.  I wanted to prove that I’m the best player in Japan so I really wanted to win and get this title.”

Momota: Finally I got the title

The men’s singles final featured the same match-up as last year, world #5 (pictured) facing veteran Sho Sasaki.  Defending champion Sho made good start, getting an early 8-3 lead with 5 consecutive points.  Momota then improved his own focus and got 8 consecutive points.  After that, Momota dictated the pace of the games with offensive shots and he managed to come away with his first title in this tournament, winning 21-17,21-9.

“I’m glad to finally get this title,” said Momota afterward.  “Winning this title means that a player is #1 in Japan.  I had the confidence to win this year but I was bit nervous at the beginning of the first game.”

Park’s expectation is correct

The last match of the final was most exciting match.  Defending mixed doubles champions Misaki Matsutomo and Kenichi Hayakawa (pictured top) were very relaxed, whereas challengers Ayane Kurihara / Kenta Kazuno (pictured below) looked nervous.

Kurihara/Kazuno was paired for the Sudirman Cup up on the recommendation by Park Joo Bong and the 5-time All England mixed champion head coach taught them how to play mixed doubles.

In the final on Sunday, they never gave up, even when Matsutomo/Hayakawa held match point in both the 2nd and 3rd games.  Kurihara/ Kazuno managed to turn the tables in both games and won 16-21, 25-23, 22-20.

“I was not a mixed doubles player and I didn’t have confidence to play as a net player,” Kurihara said.  “In the semi-final, I was satisfied with my performance.  In the final, I knew the opponents’ tactics are strong.  I tried to keep my motivation up to play my best.  I have learned to never give up if I want to have good results.  I will try my best in the rest of the Olympic race.”

Kazuno added, “We are very happy to win.  Head Coach Park taught us how to play.  Our performance is not enough to play against the world’s top players but we realized our play style is improving and becoming better and better.

“I didn’t have the confidence to reach the final this big tournament.  I have trained with Hayakawa since we were children.  I was very happy to play in the final with a childhood friend.  Maybe we will have chance to play in Superseries as mixed doubles players.  I will try my best with Kurihara.”

Final results
MS: Kento Momota beat Sho Sasaki  21-17, 21-9
WS: Nozomi Okuhara beat Sayaka Sato 21-12, 22-20
MD: Keigo Sonoda/Takeshi Kamura beat Takuro Hoki/Yugo Kobayashi  19-21, 21-15, 21-8
WD: Ayaka Matsutomo/Misaki Matsutomo beat Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao 21-12, 21-13
XD: Ayane KURIHARA/Kenta Kazuno beat Kenichi Hayakawa/Misaki Matsutomo 16-21, 25-23, 22-20

More details here (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 @