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The Very First Para Table Tennis Japan Open: Tomono and Kakita Win Gold in Singles

The ITTF PTT Japan Open 2019 was held at the Minatoku Sports Center in Minato City, Tokyo, from August 1-3. Approximately 180 players from 23 countries (associations) gathered to battle it out on the table tennis courts.

This was the first time that an official ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) international tournament had been held in Japan. Because the tournament also offered points towards qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Japanese players showed up in droves, with a total of 46 (12 men and 34 women) coming to compete. They won a total of 25 medals in the Singles and Team events, across Classes 1-5 (Wheelchair), Classes 6-10 (Standing), and Class 11 (Intellectual Impairment). They won two gold medals in the Singles category, but were unable to win any gold medals for the Team category, instead winning one silver medal.

Tomono (Class 8) and Kakita (Class 10) Rise to the Top

Tomono, whose strength is in her rally, aims to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympic Games from her current No. 13 world ranking

Breakthroughs performances in the Singles category featured the captain of the Japan team, as well as a current university student.

First was 19-year old Yuri Tomono (Class 8), who beat Josephine Medina of the Philippines 3-1 in the finals. In her previous tournament, the Asian Para Table Tennis Championships, she had been unable to win a medal. “I got too desperate, got tunnel vision. This time I went in wanting to enjoy myself, and was able to win gold.”

Kakita, who plays in the penholder style, said, “Not a lot of players use this style, so it must be hard for foreign players to deal with”

35-year old Nariaki Kakita (Class 10) also won the gold in his Singles event, for the first time in seven years. In the finals match, he beat Bunpot Sillapakong of Thailand—who he had lost to in the preliminaries—3-1. In an emotional post-match interview, he said, “I’m ranked 24th in the world right now and the Tokyo Paralympic Games still seem out of reach, but in this tournament I was able to win against a player ranked 10th.” He seemed optimistic, however. “The real battle starts now.”

Star Players and Their Current Status in the Race to Tokyo

Iwabuchi had narrowly missed qualifying for Tokyo in the Asian Para Table Tennis Championships immediately before this tournament, unable to win “just one more point” against his opponent

For Koyo Iwabuchi (Class 9), ranked No. 4 in the world, the tournament was his first opportunity to experience a highly-publicized competitive atmosphere in his home country. “Now I’ve got a good image of what that’s like,” he said, looking back on the tournament.

Iwabuchi won his way through the entire preliminaries, but was bested in the semi-finals by Lin Ma, who does not have a right arm, and who had switched countries from China to Australia. With all of the strong shots coming in from the left side of the court, Iwabuchi was forced to play a defensive game. It also seemed at times as if the clamor of the media and the audience made him lose some of his concentration. “The game was going poorly and I couldn’t snap out of it. My goal is to be able to play the same game no matter what, always.” His game, as it was, left him with issues to work through before the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

Yukimi Chada (Class 3) seemed fairly satisfied with her performance in the tournament as well, telling us, “Maybe it was good I was able to win bronze, what with all the pressure from this being a home-field tournament.”

Yukimi Chada, who left the tournament with two wins and two losses, said, “I did achieve my bare minimum goal”

Kanami Furukawa (Class 11), who came in third at the World Para Table Tennis Championships last year, fell to Elena Prokofeva (Russia), ranked No. 1 in the world, in the semi-finals. She seemed optimistic, however, telling us, “My experience here has given me a lot of confidence going towards Tokyo next year.”

Star Kanami Furukawa of Class 11 won a bronze medal

One player that captured the audience with her blonde hair and butterfly hair decorations was 71-year old Kimie Bessho (Class 5). Though she took the first game in the finals match, she was eventually defeated by Young A Jung of Korea, 1-3. The rubber on the paddles was not what she was used to, and she had been unable to unleash her lobs (when you put a spin on the ball, floating it up and landing it right in front of the opponent’s net), a particular strength of hers.

“When I’m not physically doing very well, I can play a trickier game, getting the ball to go where my opponent doesn’t want it. But [this being a home-field tournament] I had too much energy, and I was focused too much on winning,” she said, a little ironically.

Bessho, who is working on strengthening her receiving, said, “When I get home I want to get back to trying new things”

Koya Kato (Class 11) said, “I’m happy to have been able to win bronze in the first international tournament held in Tokyo”

text by TEAM A
photo by X-1

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