GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - Japan strengthened its chances of a semifinal berth in women’s curling at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics with a gutsy 5-4 comeback win over Sweden on Monday night, rebounding from an 8-3 loss to Canada earlier in the day.
The accuracy problems that cost skip Satsuki Fujisawa and crew in the match against Canada were still on display at times, but the team made big shots when it counted to conjure up a victory and hand Sweden, unbeaten entering Monday’s matches, its second loss of the day.
Down 4-2 after eight ends, Japan was able to secure two points in the ninth before stealing the final end to complete the comeback at Gangneung Curling Centre.
With the match on a knife’s edge, Swedish skip Anna Hasselborg used the final shot of the final end to take out one of two Japanese stones positioned on the edge of the inner ring, but her shot came to rest centimeters further from the button than Japan’s remaining rock.
Fujisawa said the team turned around its fortunes after finally being able to get a read on the ice conditions in the closing ends.
“I honestly thought we were going to lose, but I think noticing changes in the ice right at the end helped us win,” Fujisawa said. “It was a really fine margin.”
Fujisawa said while the outcome ultimately rested on Sweden’s final shot, Japan was determined to do everything it could to stay in the match.
“I was able to put pressure on our opponents with my final shot,” she said. “We kept fighting right until the very end.”
Sweden squandered a chance to claim three points from the third end after Hasselborg put far too little weight behind the final stone and failed to take out the Japanese rock closest to the shot stone.
However, the Swedes seized the initiative by stealing the next end after Fujisawa was unable to secure a double takeout with the hammer — the last stone delivered in any end.
Japan gambled by intentionally blanking the seventh end, giving up a certain point in order to keep the hammer and pursue the two points it needed to regain the upper hand. The move did not pay off, however, as the Swedes stole the eighth end and tightened their grip on the match.
Deft placement from third Chinami Yoshida and Fujisawa in the ninth end gave Japan the opening for two points on a takeout with the hammer, with the skip putting it on the money and setting the stage for the thrilling final end.
The Japanese foursome had earlier looked out of sorts in the loss to Canada, with some of the blame placed on the stones which had undergone maintenance sanding before the match.
Yoshida said she and her teammates let their concerns about the stones impact their play against the Canadians.
“We overcompensated for the alteration to the stones,” Yoshida said. “We were thinking about so many different things, we couldn’t stay on top of it all.”
The late win moved Japan into equal-second in the tournament standings behind South Korea. On Tuesday, the team faces fourth-placed Great Britain and on Wednesday eighth-placed Switzerland, with the semifinals beginning on Friday.