Harimoto shocks Chinese paddlers in Japan Open

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Tomokazu Harimoto of Japan rerurns the ball during the men's singles final against Zhang Jike of China at the 2018 ITTF World tour Japan Open in Kitakyushu, Japan, on June 10, 2018. Tomokazu Harimoto claimed the title by defeating Zhang with 4-3. (Xinhua/Ma Ping)

Japanese teenager Tomokau Harimoto took the world by storm when he beat China's Olympic champion Zhang Jike on Sunday in an epic final at the Seamaster 2018 ITTF World Tour Lion Japan Open in Kitakyushu (9-11, 8-11, 11-9, 11-4, 10-12, 11-7, 13-11).

14-year-old Harimoto won their last encounter convincingly in straight games in the opening round of the 2018 China Open in Shenzhenin last week. But this time the task proved to be much tougher.

In a complete contrast to that meeting the opening two games in Kitakyushu were controlled by Zhang, who prevented Harimoto from finding his stride. Then out of nowhere the momentum completely shifted in the Japanese teenage star's favour as he went on to win game three by the narrowest of margins before displaying sheer dominance in game four to tie the scores up at two games apiece.

Both Zhang and Harimoto then experienced a tad of good fortune in the following two games: trailing 10-8 in the fifth, Zhang recovered back-to-back points including clipping the back edge of the table before going on to win in deuce while Harimoto also pulled off a back edge winner on game point to send the match into a decider.

Then came the most dramatic game of the final. Zhang recovered from 5-1 down to establish a championship point in his favour at 9-10 before the Japanese crowd saw their player successfully pull level at 10-10 only to squander a championship point of his own. Holding a 12-11 lead Harimoto was once again just one point away from the title and this time he took it with an ace, falling to the ground in celebration before sharing a respectful handshake with his opponent. 

Harimoto, who knocked out another top Chinese player, reigning champion of the tournament, Ma Long, now holds two ITTF World Tour Men's Singles trophies to his name and has become the first Japanese men's singles winner at the Japan Open since Masato Shiono in 2013.

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