Japan a clear and present danger (pic)

No pushovers: Japan’s Hirokatsu Hashimoto (right) and Noriyasu Hirata are among the world’s top 15 men’s doubles pairs.

PETALING JAYA: The Land of the Rising Sun will be a glaring threat at the Thomas-Uber Cup Finals in Wuhan from May 20-27.

Yesterday, Japan, the most improved team in world badminton under the charge of coach Park Joo-bong, went down 3-0 to China in the final of the Thomas Cup Asian Zone qualifiers. But their strong showing throughout the competition has lifted their profile as an emergent force.

En route to the final, Japan had beaten Malaysia 3-2 in the semi-finals, although the latter fielded an understrength side.No pushovers: Japan’s Hirokatsu Hashimoto (right) and Noriyasu Hirata are among the world’s top 15 men’s doubles pairs.

It was Japan’s second big win in a team event in the modern era of the game. They had defeated a much stronger Malaysian side at the 2010 Thomas Cup Finals in Kuala Lumpur in a group tie.

With their steady progress and strong showing, Japan have placed themselves as the strongest team to challenge defending champions China at the Finals this year. Japan have proved that they are better than Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea on overall depth and balance.

National coach Tan Kim Her conceded that Japan would enter the Finals as one of the top contenders.

Their singles players – Sho Sasaki, Kenichi Tago, Kazushi Yamada – have shown marked improvement and are a threat to those in the top 10 while their doubles pairs of Hirokatsu Hashimoto-Noriyasu Hirata, Shoji Sato-Naoki Kawamae, Kenichi Hayakawa-Hiroyuki Endo are all ranked in the top 15 in the world. They will be a lethal force once they overcome their inconsistency.

“Japan have grown into a strong and established team. They have more depth because of the steady progress of their singles players to complement their doubles,” said Kim Her.

“We all know that the men’s doubles is all about speed and power. Japan’s pairs play in more than 15 tournaments a year as well as their own domestic league. It shows that they are mentally and physically very strong.

“They take badminton seriously and are very professional in their approach. Our players can pick up few pointers from them in being more independent.”

The Japanese women fared much better when they battled for more than four hours to beat top seeds China 3-2 in the final of the Uber Cup on Saturday. The emergence of Minatsu Mitani, who clinched the third and winning point against China, augurs well for Japan.

Malaysia, who had earlier lost all hope of qualifying for the Finals, ended their campaign in the group playoff without a single victory when they lost 3-2 to Singapore yesterday.


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