More Sports

T.League primed to kick off inaugural season

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

One day before the T.League officially kicks off its inaugural season with a men’s match between the Kinoshita Meister Tokyo and T.T Saitama, chairman Koji Matsushita, players and coaches showed their excitement and jitters to be a part of Japan’s first professional table tennis circuit.

Matsushita, one of the T.League founders and a former top pro player himself, expressed nothing but pleasure that the nation is beginning a new era for the sport.

“I’ve already checked the arena out and it excited me even more,” he said with a smile at a news conference at Ryogoku Kokugikan, the venue for the opening-day contest, on Tuesday. “I’m genuinely looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”

The T.League opener is set to start at 7 p.m.

Matsushita said the reason why the league selected Ryogoku, which usually serves as the sacred sumo venue, is because he wants to eventually develop the game into one that is embraced across the nation like sumo.

“We don’t know how many years it takes to achieve that, but hopefully, the T.League will give dreams and hopes to the children and contribute to the society while it also provides energy to Japan,” Matsushita stated.

The league consists of four men’s and women’s teams apiece and they have many elite players who are listed in the world rankings.

Veteran Jun Mizutani and phenom Tomokazu Harimoto, both of who are national team players, compete for Kinoshita Meister and are among the biggest attractions for the season-opening event. The league is loaded with other renowned Japanese players like Kasumi Ishikawa of the Kinoshita Abyell Kanagawa, and Miu Hirano of the Nippon Life Red Elf. Top foreign players include ex-European champion Elizabeta Samara of Romania, Asian Games bronze medalist Lee Sang-su of South Korea and world No. 7 Wong Chung-ting of Hong Kong.

Matsushita said that the league has 15 male and 12 female players who are within the top 50 in the latest world rankings, which gives legitimacy to the league.

“Looking around the rosters of the league, almost all the national team players are in it, and it also has so many top players from outside of the country,” said the 29-year-old Mizutani, who won a bronze medal in the men’s singles and silver in the men’s team competition at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. “I’d like to emphasize how incredible it is. I’ve been playing in Russia but with the formation of the T.League, I signed (with Kinoshita Meister) without hesitation.

“Being top players in Japan mean they are top players in the world now. And each game will be thrilling with those players competing in one league.”

There will be a total of 86 games in the inaugural season. Each match consists of one doubles and three singles games. If teams are tied after four sets, they will play an extra “victory match” to determine the winner.

At the game venues, the 51-year-old Matsushita said that fans can expect to be entertained with additional attractions such as music, lighting and videos.

Ryogoku is scheduled to host the women’s opening game between the Red Elf and Top Otome Ping Pings Nagoya on Thursday night.