Mizutani wins one title, eyes another



Jun Mizutani took one step towards a national table tennis championships singles-doubles sweep on Saturday when he and partner Masaki Yoshida won the men’s doubles title at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Mizutani and Yoshida got the win against Naoaki Matsui and Ryohei Kanoya despite starting the final little slowly. The pair fell behind after a close first game, but from that point onwards were able to grab control of the match to eventually win in four (8-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-7).

“This is the first time I paired with him (Yoshida) and we didn’t have much training time together, but we prepared ourselves well,” said Mizutani. “It gives me a lot of confidence to win again, with a different partner.”

Yoshida added, “We’ve been thinking solely about winning (this title) and it’s pleasing (to do so).

“I was tightening up in the first half of the final, but Jun’s effort and advice helped me shrug that off.”

In the women’s doubles final Yu Amano and Misaki Nakajima were untroubled by Miki Tsuchida and Minami Doi, winning in three-straight games (11-8, 11-6, 11-8).

Amano said that playing on such a big stage was difficult, but she and her partner worked together to overcome the pressure.

“We took each game as it came, thinking each was the last. Mentally, I crumble easily, but Misaki was there to support me,” said Amano. “We have focused on playing our style and facing up to (each one of our) opponents.”

Nakajima echoed her partner’s thoughts saying, “I always feel under pressure but our coach told me to stay calm, so I was trying to be patient, to my heart.”

Earlier on Saturday, World No. 14 and former tournament champion Koki Niwa was a shock loser in the men’s singles quarterfinals, robbing the tournament of an expected final tilt against Japanese No. 1 Mizutani.

Despite holding a 2-1 lead after three games, Niwa went down 4-2 to Kazuhiro Chan, a player who was ranked outside the world top-100 at the end of 2015.

“It’s always a tough game against him, and I couldn’t figure out how to attack him,” said Niwa after the match. “He didn’t come out attacking, while not stepping back either, and he returned when I thought I had a winner.”

“He doesn’t make many mistakes so it was about how to force him into them, but I didn’t have the shots to win points. I really struggle against those players who chop the ball, or defensive players like today, so I’d like to strengthen my power and hone my consistency.”

Mizutani, who is the reigning champion and has won the singles title at this event in six of the past eight years, won a difficult quarterfinal against Asuka Sakai 4-1 (12-10, 18-16, 11-4, 7-11, 11-6).

Mizutani will face Hiromitsu Kasahara in Sunday’s semifinal, before the winner moves on to play in the final later in the day. After beating Niwa, Chan now has to face world No. 21 Maharu Yoshimura at the semifinal stage.

In the women’s singles quarterfinals, world No. 7 and reigning Japanese champion Kasumi Ishikawa was able to overpower the defensive chopping style of Hitomi Sato 4-1 (11-5, 11-5, 11-13, 11-5, 11-4) to book her place in the semifinals. There Ishikawa will meet the giant-killing world No. 119 Ryoka Kato, who beat Ai Fukuhara earlier in the week, and Hina Hayata in Saturday’s quarterfinal.

The other semifinal will see a battle between a pair of well-credentialed 15-year-olds when world No. 18 Miu Hirano takes on her regular doubles partner Mima Ito, who is ranked six places higher on the ITTF singles world standings.