Jun Mizutani confirmed his place among the greatest players in Japanese table tennis history on Sunday by winning his record-equaling eighth men’s singles title at the national championships in Tokyo.
Mizutani won four straight games after dropping the first to beat the physically imposing Kazuhiro Chan 4-1 (9-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-7, 11-6). The relatively unheralded Chan had earlier shocked world No. 21 Maharu Yoshimura 4-1 in their semifinal.
The win puts Mizutani equal with the legendary Kiyoshi Saito, who also won eight singles crowns in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“I was the least confident I have been in 10 years at these national championships. I had days of worry thinking I could not win it,” said Mizutani.
“I couldn’t get into gear and had some trying matches but I gradually picked up (my performance) and could bring my best to the final.”
With this singles victory and his win in the doubles on Saturday, it is the fifth time that Mizutani has won the men’s single-doubles national title combination, bettering his and Saito’s previous record of four.
“It’s been a while since I accomplished a double, so I’m happy I could finish the nationals undefeated,” said Mizutani.
“Four years ago I was denied my sixth straight (singles) national title, but I got revenge for that loss and I can head into the Olympics with momentum.”
In the women’s singles final, world No. 7 Kasumi Ishikawa won her third consecutive national singles championship and fourth overall, beating Miu Hirano.
Ishikawa got on top early, taking leads in, and then winning, the first two games with some wonderful defense. In the third, Hirano got off to a better start, but errors cost the 15-year-old dearly as Ishikawa overran her to claim the game and a 3-0 lead.
Hirano took the fourth game, and had a big lead in the fifth, but ultimately succumbed to the more experienced Ishikawa, 4-1 (11-7, 11-4, 11-8, 9-11, 11-9).
“I knew she (Hirano) came into the final playing really well and was tenacious, which unsettled me a little bit. But I just refocused on playing my game, and that allowed me to recover in the end,” said Ishikawa.
“I wanted to make a good start to the year and I feel I played with more maturity here than I did a year ago.”
The win at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium leaves Ishikawa daring to dream what may be nearly impossible at the Olympic Games later in the year.
“I’ll be aiming for the gold medal in Rio,” she said.
The blow of losing will be somewhat softened for Hirano, as she had earlier dominated fellow young gun and regular doubles partner Mima Ito in the semifinal. Hirano was ruthless in the 4-0 win, the first time she had beaten Ito so clinically at a big tournament.