The Yomiuri ShimbunYOKOHAMA — Fourteen-year-old table tennis player Tomokazu Harimoto stunned world No. 1 Fan Zhendong on Friday in the men’s singles at the Lion 31st ITTF-ATTU Asian Cup Yokohama.
Harimoto, ranked No. 13 in the world, won all three first-stage matches at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium, including a 3-1 victory over the Chinese player, to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinal.
Koki Niwa also advanced to the last eight with a 2-1 record.
After finishing off the world No. 1 player with his killer backhand, Harimoto looked upward in apparent disbelief. He had been yelling throughout the match after earning a point, but he made no noise for the final point. “I didn’t know what to say,” he admitted after the match.
Harimoto later revealed he was not in top form on the day. After defeating Kazakhstan’s Kirill Gerassimenko 3-1 in the first match, Harimoto said, “I have to play at least 10 times better to beat [Fan].”
He also made up his mind about his approach. “I’m supposed to lose. So I have to play to my strengths and just go for it,” he said.
Facing Fan, Harimoto was aggressive from the beginning with his signature backhand straight shots. In the middle of the fourth game, Fan made adjustments to his serve, but Harimoto fearlessly moved forward to counter the serves with the Chiquita return. He never played passively the whole way and went on to win the match.
According to the International Table Tennis Federation, this is the first time Harimoto defeated a Chinese player at a senior singles tournament.
“It is a boost to my confidence — it made me believe I can win the gold medal at the  Tokyo Olympics,” Harimoto said.
Hirano has bitter pro debut
In women’s singles, Kasumi Ishikawa made it to the quarterfinals after winning all three matches. Meanwhile, Miu Hirano ended up third in her group at 1-2. She was to compete in a playoff for a place in the quarterfinals.
Hirano was left with a bitter taste in her mouth after a disappointing result in her first tournament as a professional. She lost 3-2 to world No. 17 Doo Hoi Kem of Hong Kong.
Hirano also lost to Doo at the previous Asian Cup, so she concentrated on returning serves — her downfall in the previous matchup. However, her efforts were still not enough to overcome Doo.
“It was a match in which my opponent was able to perform better. A small gap ended up being a huge difference,” she said.