Everybody Wants to Beat Japan, Says Okuhara

Friday, April 26, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTONPHOTO

Okuhara has been in good form.

Japan may be favourites going into the TOTAL BWF Sudirman Cup 2019, but the team’s in-form women’s singles player Nozomi Okuhara has no illusions about what awaits them in Nanning.

The fact that Japan have so many world-class players is what will inspire opponents, Okuhara said.

“Of course everyone wants to beat the Japanese team, so it’s going to be very difficult,” she said in Singapore, where she finished runner-up.

Okuhara has had a fine run over the past year. She was runner-up at her home Japan Open, won the Korea Open, and was in three straight finals – China, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. This year too she has been consistent, reaching semifinals in Germany, England and Malaysia before losing to Tai Tzu Ying in the title clash at Singapore.

“The team competition is different from the individual competition,” said Okuhara. “It isn’t about individual strength. The Japan team is now very strong, my teammates are some of the top players in their events. We are the No.1 seeds but it is still going to be very difficult, because in every category – singles, doubles, mixed doubles – the other countries will also have their top players.”

The Sudirman Cup is a prominent title missing from Japan’s growing title collection. The men won the Thomas Cup in 2014, while the women recaptured the Uber Cup in 2018 after a 37-year gap.

Okuhara and compatriot Akane Yamaguchi will lead Japan’s women’s singles challenge.

And Okuhara herself, with a World Championships gold, Olympic bronze, and Uber Cup title, now has the opportunity of making history for Japan in the World Mixed Team Championships event.

“Personally, I hope all of my teammates too will win their respective matches,” said Okuhara. “It will be difficult for all of us, but of course I hope we can do it. It is very important, very big for us. I want to win it, but I can’t say it was really a goal when I was growing up.”

For Japan head coach Park Joo Bong, who has groomed this generation of players, the Sudirman Cup will represent a ‘final frontier’ of sorts, for his charges have won gold medals in every other Major Event – the Olympics, World Championships, Thomas Cup and Uber Cup.

Like Okuhara, Park too was cautious about the team’s chances despite being the top seeds.

“Yes, we want to be try to be the champions, but it’s not going to be easy, because China will be on home ground. China are too strong in mixed doubles, they have two strong pairs. Indonesia are also very good, but China are the strongest.

“The Sudirman Cup is a big target for the team. Over the last year we’ve had good results. Nippon Badminton Association also believes it’s a new challenge. We have a good chance to win.”