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Olympic Games: Tomokazu Harimoto, doubles ability a key element

Wednesday 26 May

Silver medallists now approaching five years ago in Rio de Janeiro, in the men’s team event at the forthcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, can Japan once again secure a place on the medal podium?

Play on the six day competition commences on Sunday 1st August.

Jun Mizutani and Koki Niwa remain from events in the east coast Brazilian city, the newcomer is Tomokazu Harimoto; the player who since we met in Riocentro 3, has delighted in creating new levels of being juvenility.

He became the youngest men’s singles winner on the ITTF World Tour when he succeeded in 2017 in the Czech Republic; he was 14 years and 61 days old.

Later in 2018, he became the youngest men’s singles winner at the Grand Finals, when he won in Incheon; he was 15 years and 172 days old.

Following his success in the Czech Republic, on the ITTF World Tour, he maintained his rate of one men’s singles title each year. In 2018 he prevailed in Japan, the following year in Bulgaria, before in 2020 succeeding in Hungary.

Titles to his credit but at the same level, crucially he has no such men’s doubles success; how crucial could that be in Tokyo?

In Rio de Janeiro, Jun Mizutani was always selected for the potentially two singles matches per fixture; always Koki Niwa partnered Maharu Yoshimura in the doubles.

Throughout Jun Mizutani remained unbeaten; looking into the crystal ball, does that not suggest the same formula will be pursued in Tokyo? Moreover, Jun Mizutani and Koki Niwa are left handed; tradition suggests they will not form the doubles combination.

Is the most likely option to start each fixture being that of Tomokazu Harimoto and Koki Niwa?

If that is to be the scenario and they are to give Japan the good start needed, some improvement may well be required. They have combined three times on the ITTF World Tour, all in 2019; they have won just one match!

In Busan in July, they beat the host nation’s An Jaehyun and Cho Daeseong (11-8, 12-10, 9-11, 8-11, 11-5), before losing to a second Korean partnership in the guise of Jeoung Youngsik and Lee Sangsu (11-4, 7-11, 11-8, 11-7).

One week later, it was a first round exit in Geelong when facing Germany’s Patrick Franziska and Ricardo Walther (5-11, 11-6, 11-6, 7-11, 11-9), before in November in Wels experiencing the same fate, when losing to the combination of Poland’s Jakub Dyjas and Belgium’s Cédric Nuytinck (11-6, 11-7, 11-7).

Not good news but perhaps there a bright light; partnering a fellow left hander, Yuki Kizukuri, the duo reached the men’s doubles final of the Seamaster 2017 China Open; they lost to colleague Jin Ueda and Mahara Yoshimura (12-10, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9).

At the time Tomokazu Harimoto was 13 years old, Yuti Kizukuro one year older; age is not the most significant fact, it is who they beat in the semi-final. They recovered from a two games to nil deficit to overcome China’s Fan Zhendong and Xu Xin (6-11, 5-11, 11-7, 11-9, 14-12).

A sensation, does another await in Tokyo?

Editor: Ian Marshall

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