Japan threatens Chinese table tennis dominance after impressive golds at World Tour Grand Finals in South Korea
- Fifteen-year-old Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan becomes the youngest ever men’s singles champion in Incheon
- China captures only one gold out of five events with 2020 Olympic hosts taking two
It may be too early to say China cannot continue their domination in table tennis at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as they used to, but the “national sport” is under genuine threat as results at the World Tour Grand Finals proved.
The all-powerful Chinese legion captured only one gold medal out of all the five events in contention over the weekend in Incheon, South Korea, with 2020 Games hosts Japan wrapping up two titles in the men’s singles and women’s doubles.
Even the official Xinhua News carried the headline “Chinese table tennis gives the year-end result as Japan poises the biggest threat in Tokyo Olympics”.
At 15, Tomokazu Harimoto became the youngest ever men’s singles champion after cruising to a 4-1 win over Lin Gaoyuan of China in the final, beating the previous youngest record held by three-time Olympic silver medallist Wang Hao of China.
But more to the pain of Chinese table tennis, the Japanese youngster was born of Chinese parents in Japan but Harimoto refused to represent China. His parents are Chinese table tennis coaches who work in Japan.
Harimoto did not hide his ambition after the victory, saying his biggest target would be winning a men’s singles gold medal in Tokyo from Chinese players, who have dominated the event with five wins over the last six Olympic Games.
China in fact has won most of the gold medals in table tennis since the sport was introduced as an Olympic programme at the 1988 Seoul Games, missing only four of them out of a total 32 over eight Games editions.
Despite his age, Harimoto, now the world’s number five, has beaten most of the current Chinese players, including 2016 Rio Games champion Ma Long.
He has never beaten world number two Xu Xin in their four meetings. Xin was eliminated by compatriot Lin in the second round in Incheon.
Japan’s second gold was achieved in the women’s doubles when Mima Ito and Hina Hayata thrashed Chen Xingtong and Sun Yingsha of China 3-0 in the final.
Ito, who suffered a surprising 4-3 defeat to Cheng I-Ching of Taiwan in the singles opening round, is also mounting serious challenges to Chinese players. The 18-year-old was the youngest women’s world tour champion when she clinched the German Open singles title in 2015.
At last month’s Swedish Open, Ito defeated all three top Chinese players, Zhu Yuling, Liu Shiwen and Ding Ning, the Rio Olympic singles champion, to clinch the women’s title.
China won the women’s singles in Incheon when Chen Meng successfully defended her title after beating compatriot Zhuojia 4-1 while Hong Kong and hosts South Korea were the champions in the mixed doubles and men’ s doubles respectively.