With their first title in over two years last month at the Badminton Asia Championships, Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota – ‘Fukuhiro’ to their fans – had finally found their title-winning form. The relief was evident, as was the return of confidence in time for the start of Olympic qualifying.
And with Japan having never won the Sudirman Cup, Fukushima and Hirota were hopeful their rediscovered rhythm would stand the team in good stead as they mount another challenge for the crown that has eluded them.
“We know Japan have never won the Sudirman Cup,” said Hirota. “We just want to do our best when we get on court. Before coming here we had a camp as a team and we are focused on doing well. We gained a lot of confidence from our win in Dubai and we hope we can keep going.”
Their last title before winning in Dubai was back in October 2020 at the Denmark Open. The pair were among the favourites at Tokyo 2020, but an injury to Hirota dashed their chances. They returned at the end of the year, but it was a while before they made another final – the Indonesia Open in June 2022.
This year their consistency shot up, and they made the title rounds of the Indonesia Masters and the Swiss Open, before crossing the last barrier in Dubai.
“We are very happy to win the Badminton Asia Championships; it meant a great deal to us,” said Fukushima. “We last won a title nearly three years ago; we lost a few finals. We want to keep our rhythm, keep on playing at a high level.”
How concerned were they that other pairs had overtaken them in the rankings in the period after Hirota’s injury?
“We just kept our focus on getting better,” said Fukushima. “We were just keen on avoiding further injury. A lot of pairs are getting stronger, but we weren’t worried about them and instead kept the focus on us getting better.
“The win in Dubai has made a difference. We hope we can keep going.”