Japan captures first world championship in mixed doubles in 48 years


Maharu Yoshimura and Kasumi Ishikawa won Japan’s first mixed-doubles gold in 48 years on Saturday at the World Table Tennis Championships, while Tomokazu Harimoto became the youngest player to reach quarterfinals.

Yoshimura and Ishikawa, the runners-up last year, overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat Taiwan’s Chen Chien-an and Cheng I-ching 8-11, 8-11, 11-8, 10-12, 11-4, 11-9, 11-5.

“Unbelievable, we’ve prepared to win the gold having lost in the final last time out. We didn’t give up until the last moment,” said Ishikawa, who smashed home the championship point.

The pair came from 3-1 down in semifinals, too, defeating China’s Fang Bo and Germany’s Petrissa Solja 11-13, 12-14, 11-5, 6-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-5.

The 13-year-old Harimoto advanced to the final eight after defeating Lubomir Pistej of Slovakia 4-1 in men’s singles.

Harimoto, who beat Rio bronze medalist Jun Mizutani in the second round, showed no fear in attacking his 33-year-old counterpart at every opportunity, producing some fierce strokes off both sides in a 12-10, 11-8, 11-9, 9-11, 11-9 triumph.

The teenager, whose parents are from China, also showed poise well beyond his age as he went both short and long while diligently returning back when he was pushed away from the net by Pistej.

“I’m really relieved as I was thinking I had to reach at least the last eight after beating Mr. Mizutani (in the second round),” Harimoto said. “I was nervous as I knew what was at stake.”

In the women’s singles, Asian champ Miu Hirano of Japan lost to defending champ and Rio gold medalist Ding Ning of China 4-1 in the semifinals to settle for bronze.

Hirano, who lost in the third round to Ding in her worlds debut two years ago, beat the Chinese player in the Asian championships quarterfinals in April en route to her shock title. Ding had done her homework since then, however, leaving Hirano with very little to exploit.

“She came well prepared for me, and my defeat is due to my lack of skill,” Hirano said. “I think the gap (with Ding) is narrowing, but I think there’s still long way to go.”

Thwarted by Ding’s short serves as well as quick and accurate returns, Hirano was the first to make mistakes as she failed to keep her shots on the table and quickly fell behind 3-0.

Her fast attacking style finally gained ground in the fourth game with more long serves, breaking Ding’s serves off both sides before clinching it with a crisp backhand, but Ding regained her rhythm in the fifth game to close it 11-4, 11-8, 11-5, 5-11, 11-5.

“I’m quite confident in my ability to rally, but I lost points before I got to that,” Hirano said. “But now she is seeing me as a rival.

“Because people kept talking about (my) getting a medal, to actually get a medal was great. I want to develop further,” Hirano added. “For the most part I am taking away positives from this and have few regrets.”

Ding, who pumped her fist to celebrate when she was only 10-5 up in the final game, was relieved to come away with the win.

“I lost count of the points,” Ding said. “She (Hirano) has been hot, but I came into this tournament well prepared.”

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