by Kabir Nagpal

There were impressive performances at what was Paraguay’s debut at an ITTF Challenge Series tournament.

Japan’s athletes emerged the most successful as Masataka Morizono and Hina Hayata collected a combined total of three gold medals, in addition to under 21 women singles champion Maki Shiomi recording women’s doubles success with Honoka Hashimoto.

Morizono at the double

Masataka Morizono was the standout performer for Japan, registering gold in the men’s singles and men’s doubles events. In partnership with Slovakia’s Lubomir Pistej, it was a strong show that allowed the pair to register a comprehensive win against Romania’s Cristian Pletea and Hunor Szocs.

Top seeds Morizono and Pistej beat the no.7 seeds 3-1 (11-7, 11-4, 3-11, 11-3) at the final hurdle, notably the first time they had appeared as a partnership at an open international tournament.

Two titles for Masataka Morizono on the concluding day of play (Photo: Paloma Mutti)

Following that, Morizono, seeded fourth, beat Austria’s Robert Gardos, the third seed 4-0 (11-6, 12-10, 11-2, 11-9) to win his first ever men’s singles on either the ITTF World Tour or at an ITTF Challenge Series tournament. It was the third time that Robert Gardos has been the runner up at an ITTF Challenge Series tournament – having been the silver medallist in Nigeria a month prior and also in 2018 in Spain.

At the semi-final stage Morizono beat Argentina’s Horacio Cifuentes, the no.11 seed (11-9, 11-6, 11-7, 11-7), while Gardos ended the progress of Brazilian qualifier, Vitor Ishiy (11-8, 11-6, 11-5, 11-4).

Hina makes hay

The sun was out in Asuncion, Hina made hay as the third seed accounted for compatriot Honoka Hashmoto, second seed, to secure the women’s singles title 4-2 (5-11, 11-5, 11-9, 9-11, 11-5, 11-6); a final that could have swung either way.

Travelling to the other side of the world with the avowed aim of winning the women’s singles title, she completed her goal in style and with an assurance that was way beyond her years.

In the penultimate round, Hina Hayata beat Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz, the top seed (11-5, 11-3, 6-11, 11-3, 11-5); Honoka Hashimoto ousted Slovaka’s Barbora Balazova, the no.4 seed (11-9, 11-9, 11-8, 12-10).

The result meant she extended both her most impressive record and also that of Japan at ITTF Challenge Series tournaments. It was her fourth Challenge Series gold in 2019, which meant that she had matched the record of five career wins and four in the same year held by Saki Shibata – a year she will certainly remember fondly.

Moreover, it was a point in the calendar year when exactly 30 ITTF Challenge Series tournaments had been played, Japan had won the women’s singles title on no less than 19 occasions.

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