NARITA, CHIBA PREF. – Sensational junior high school student Tomokazu Harimoto is now setting his sights on playing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after becoming the youngest quarterfinalist ever at the recent world table tennis championships.
Amazed at the number of media people surrounding him, the 13-year-old said he had earned confidence after beating Jun Mizutani, the bronze medalist in men’s singles at the Rio Olympics last summer, en route to advancing to the men’s singles quarterfinals earlier this month in Dusseldorf, Germany.
“The win over Mizutani was the happiest moment in my life,” Harimoto said in a news conference at Narita Airport on Wednesday. “I almost reached a medal at the worlds. I think I improved a lot, especially in my mental aspect. I was able to keep going aggressively even against the world’s top rankers.
“Being in the final eight in the worlds gave me confidence. I (will) keep working,” Harimoto continued. “Currently I’m ranked seventh in Japan. You have to be in the top two to secure a berth for the Tokyo Games (where three players qualify for the men’s team). My goal is making the top two within this year.”
Harimoto also said there is a gap between Japan and China.
“Chinese players are good at gaining the momentum of the game. They know when to take a timeout, and how to play in the crucial moments of the game,” said Harimoto, the world junior champion. “I need more game experience to beat them.”
Women’s singles bronze medalist Miu Hirano agrees after losing to world No. 1 Ding Ning of China in the semifinal.
“After I won the Asian championship earlier this year, Chinese players began to fight me harder than before. They even prepared four practice players to mimic my play,” Hirano said. “They are strong. But I believe what I’m doing is in the right direction. I changed my playing style to be more aggressive and I believe this is right.”
Hirano’s medal was the first in 48 years for Japan in women’s singles.
“I’m happy to win a medal at the worlds. Hopefully I’ll be in a similar situation in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to aim at a medal,” Hirano said.
Kasumi Ishikawa, who teamed up with Maharu Yoshimura to bring the first mixed doubles championship in 48 years to Japan, hopes the mixed doubles become an Olympic event in the future.
“I would make the mixed doubles more valuable in table tennis,” Ishikawa said. “I’m happy to win the gold at mixed doubles because we aimed for it. But to me, I did not reach a medal in the women’s singles and doubles. After winning the mixed doubles, my next challenge is taking the golds in singles and doubles by beating China.”
Yoshimura also took bronze with Koki Niwa in the men’s doubles at the worlds. He also hopes he can play the mixed doubles in the 2020 Games, but said he needs toughness to earn the berth.
“Now we have new players coming and the level has become more competitive,” Yoshimura said. ” It’s very tough to win an Olympic berth in Japan. The mixed doubles at the Tokyo Games would be good, but my concern is qualifying for Japan’s team.”
In other action at the worlds, the pair of Masataka Moriono and Yuya Oshima took the men’s doubles silver, while Hina Hayata and Mima Ito earned the bronze in women’s doubles.
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