Fukuhara captures national title

Kyodo

Table tennis icon Ai Fukuhara finally won a national singles title Saturday, defeating 2011 champion Kasumi Ishikawa four games to one in the final.

Fukuhara, making her 13th appearance at the national championships, won 11-7, 11-7, 11-7, 3-11, 11-5 in the matchup many people were hoping to see on the penultimate day of action at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

She clinched victory when 18-year-old Ishikawa’s backhand went long.

Fukuhara, currently ranked ninth in the world, made her tournament debut in 1999 at the age of 11. Her previous best finishes were in the semifinals — twice.

“I feel like this is a dream,” the 23-year-old said. “Winning a national title was a big hurdle for me. At the London Olympics, I want to show how much I’ve grown as a player.”

Fukuhara came into the final on a high after beating five-time champion Sayaka Hirano 11-9, 11-6, 11-7, 11-7 in her semifinal earlier in the day.