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Ambitious T. League begins play at Ryogoku Kokugikan

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

With the lofty ambition of eventually becoming the world’s best table tennis circuit, the T. League kicked off competition at a lavishly decorated Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo on Wednesday night.

The organizers staged a glitzy opening show, featuring choreographed lighting and videos played on screens hung in the middle of the arena and a performance by an orchestra, about 30 miniutes before the historic inaugural match between T.T Saitama and Kinoshita Meister Tokyo.

Moments before the scheduled start time, league chairman Koji Matsushita loudly declared: “We will now start the T.League.”

In the inaugural and sole contest on the opening night, Kinoshita Meister Tokyo cruised to a 3-1 win over T.T Saitama before a crowd of 5,624.

“We are satisfied with how we did today,” Tokyo manager Qiu Jian-xin said after the match. “Hopefully, the league is going to help increase the number of table tennis fans.”

A pair of Olympic medalists, Jun Mizutani and Kenta Matsudaira, took the first game ( a doubles match) 2-0 (11-7, 13-11) to set the pace for Kinoshita Meister.

Kinoshita Meister extended the lead to 2-0 with a 3-1 singles victory (12-10, 11-6, 9-11, 11-6) by Yuya Oshima over Maharu Yoshimura in the second game.

After a 10-minute break, 15-year-old phenom Tomokazu Harimoto clinched the victory for Kinoshita Meister with a 3-0 (11-5, 11-7, 11-9) win over world No. 9 Wong Chun-ting of Hong Kong in the third game.

The teams played the fourth and final game even though Kinoshita Meister had already secured the victory.

Under the league’s rules, winning teams normally earn three points, but can pick up an extra point by winning 4-0 (an extra game is played to decide matches that are tied at 2-2, with the losing team also earning one point). The league standings are determined by points earned.

Jeoung Young-sik edged Mizutani 3-2 (8-11, 11-4, 11-6, 7-11, 13-11) in the fourth game.

Mizutani said competing in the first match made him a little nervous, but he managed to pull through with his partner Matsudaira.

“And we played well in the second and third games and I wanted to win the last one, but that’s me,” Mizutani said with a joke. “I would like to capitalize on this experience going forward.”

Mizutani continued: “During the opening show, I was so moved and I began to tear up. The league ended up getting off to a successful start. I believe it’s us players who are most excited and appreciative (about the formation of the league).”

Harimoto confidently said: “We would like to capture the championship by winning all our games this year. So I would like to do my best moving forward.”

The T.League consists of four men’s and women’s teams apiece. Each squad plays 21 games and the top two advance to the championship contest in March.

The women’s season will begin at the same venue at 7 p.m. on Thursday with a matchup between the Nippon Life Red Elf and Top Otome Pingpongs Nagoya.