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The latest world rankings in women’s table tennis, announced Jan. 5 by the International Table Tennis Federation, placed local hero Ai Fukuhara, aka Ai-chan, at No. 10 for the third straight month. That’s enough for her to automatically qualify for the Beijing Olympics, where she’ll be up against some stiff competition — particularly from the host country, which boasts the five highest-ranked players in the world.

Sounds like Ai-chan could use our moral support! And we have a chance to show it this week, as the 19-year-old dynamo competes in the Table Tennis National Championships at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Shibuya. Being a top-ranked player, Fukuhara has byes through the early rounds of the competition and makes her debut on the afternoon of Friday, Jan.18, probably at about 3:45 p.m., in the fourth round. Presuming she high-toss serves her way through that match, she will be in action again over the weekend.

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