Tokyo Olympics: Osaka, Matsuyama and the Japan gold medal hopefuls

By Sports Desk July 01, 2021

The delay to the Tokyo Olympics has been a source of frustration for countless athletes, but perhaps none more so than the Japanese stars so desperate to succeed in their home nation.

Uncertainty and confusion surrounding the Games has sadly reigned for the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And yet, here we are in the month the action is set to begin and the show looks certain to go on.

No international spectators will be in attendance, but limited numbers of domestic fans are due to be allowed to watch the action.

So, who are the biggest names representing Japan the locals will hope to inspire to glory? Stats Perform has taken a look…

NAOMI OSAKA

There is no other place to begin than with one of the biggest names in the whole of sport, let alone tennis right now. Naomi Osaka is a superstar with a huge global following, particularly in Japan and America. Only 23 and with four grand slams to her name, there is seemingly no limit to the level she can reach. Osaka is the defending US and Australian Open champion, but withdrew after the first round of the French Open and opted not to play at Wimbledon after revealing a long-endured battle with depression. The issue came to the fore when Osaka had announced she would not take part in media conferences in Paris to protect her mental health, starting a wider conversation over how athletes are treated. 

 

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA

So often a nearly man, 2021 has already been a breakthrough year for the gifted Hideki Matsuyama. There were seven top-10 finishes in major tournaments before finally the 29-year-old took top billing to win the Masters at Augusta back in April. In doing so he became the first Japanese man to win a major tournament (Hinako Shibuno and Chako Higuchi have both won majors in the women's game). Olympic gold is certainly not out of the question for one of the most gifted players in golf.

KIYUNA RYO

Karate is making its Olympics debut and so is one of its greatest ever competitors in the form of Kiyuna Ryo. In 2019, Ryo won every competition he entered - including a third Asian championship - while the pandemic denied him a shot at a record fourth straight WKF world championship in June 2020. It will take a huge effort to stop Ryo, who will be 31 by the time the Games begin, standing atop the podium.

UTA ABE

The younger sibling of two-time world champion Hifumi Abe – himself off to Tokyo 2020 – judoka Uta Abe represents a serious medal hope for Japan. A two-time world champion herself in the -52kg category, she will aim to become an Olympic champion on July 25 – the same day her brother will aim to wear gold in the men's -66kg category. There is no shortage of judo talent in Japan, with Shohei Ono aiming to defend the -73kg gold he won at Rio 2016.

KENTO MOMOTA 

The past 18 months have been challenging for everyone but especially for Kento Momota. In January 2020, the badminton star was involved in a road accident that claimed the life of his driver, while he required surgery on his eye socket. A combination of the injury, the global pandemic and a positive test for coronavirus kept Momota off the court for 14 months. But the two-time world champion – who won an astounding 11 titles as recently as 2019 – will be desperate to complete a fairytale ending with gold in Tokyo.

 

DAIYA SETO

One of Japan's greatest hopes in the pool, Daiya Seto already has an Olympic medal in the form of a bronze from Rio four years ago in the 400 metre individual medley. With four gold medals in long course world championships and as many at the Asian Games, there are plenty of high hopes for Seto.

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    Andy Murray has hit out at the suggestion that Wimbledon will not feel as important without ranking points.

    The All England Club's decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at the grand slam has resulted in the WTA and ATP stripping Wimbledon of any ranking points, which has led to the suggestion some players may skip the tournament.

    Naomi Osaka, the former WTA world number one and a three-time grand slam champion, suggested after her first-round exit at Roland Garros that she was considering missing Wimbledon as she feels the tournament may feel "like an exhibition".

    Other high-profile players, such as Denis Shapovalov, are also considering whether they take part, though Russian Andrey Rublev, who is one of the players who has been banned due to his nation's invasion of Ukraine, believes the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who have no concern over ranking points but are instead going for history, will feature.

    Former world number one Murray, who won Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016, has insisted that the grand slam will forever be a crucial part of the tennis calendar, however, comparing it to the FIFA World Cup and one of golf's majors – The Masters.

    Murray tweeted: "I follow golf very closely and have no idea how many ranking points the winner of The Masters gets.

    "Me and my friends love football and none of us know or care how many ranking points a team gets for winning the FIFA World Cup.

    "But I could tell you exactly who won the World Cup and the Masters. I'd hazard a guess that most people watching on centre court at Wimbledon in a few weeks' time wouldn't know or care about how many ranking points a player gets for winning a third-round match.

    "But I guarantee they will remember who wins. Wimbledon will never be an exhibition and will never feel like an exhibition. The end."

  • French Open: Swiatek will be fired up for Wimbledon without ranking points French Open: Swiatek will be fired up for Wimbledon without ranking points

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    The WTA and ATP last week announced that they had stripped Wimbledon of ranking points after the All England Club decided to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing.

    Wimbledon organisers took that stance in the wake of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which was aided by Belarus.

    Naomi Osaka gave a strong suggestion after crashing out of the French Open in the first round on Monday that she may not compete at SW19.

    World number one Swiatek will not be opting out of playing in the major in London, which starts on June 27.

    Pole Swiatek said after thrashing Lesia Tsurenko at Roland Garros: "I have never really had a situation to play without points, and I don't really know how I'm going to react. 

    "But I think that when I'm going to step out on court it's going to be normal for me, because I don't mind points. I already have so many points this season that it's really going to be fine for me. I'm okay with playing without points; I'm okay playing with points. 

    "But for me it's more the political side of things, because Poland is supporting Ukrainians, and the war is right next to my country, so it's harder on me from that perspective. 

    "I don't really mind about points. For me it's Wimbledon, for sure. It's one of the most important tournaments in the season, but there is war going on. I look at it more from that way than what's going to happen on rankings."

    Swiatek was reminded that she had played in the Olympics without points at stake and says she would never view Wimbledon as being "like an exhibition", as Osaka earlier stated in Paris.

    She added: "Truth be told, I didn't really think how I'm going to feel going to Wimbledon. The decision has been made few days ago, so I was really focused on Roland Garros. 

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    "I forgot about the Olympics, but you play for medals, so still it's really important. In Wimbledon, you still have that result that is going to be on Wikipedia next to your name.

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    Naomi Osaka has become the first high-profile player to suggest they might miss Wimbledon after the grand slam was stripped of ranking points.

    The WTA and ATP announced last week that they had stripped Wimbledon of ranking points after the All England Club decided to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at the season's third major.

    That decision came in the wake of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which was aided by Belarus.

    Osaka made her return to the French Open on Monday - the former world number one withdrew from last year's tournament at Roland Garros citing mental health issues amid intense media scrutiny and having been fined for skipping press duties.

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    But, with other events around Wimbledon offering ranking points, Osaka is considering skipping the tournament.

    "I'm not sure why, but I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it's more like an exhibition," she told a news conference.

    "I know this isn't true, right? But my brain just like feels that way. Whenever I think something is like an exhibition, I just can't go at it 100 per cent.

    "I didn't even make my decision yet, but I'm leaning more towards not playing given the current circumstances, but, you know, that might change.

    "I do want to rack up more experience on the grass, and I know that the Berlin tournament is giving out points, so that would be a really good opportunity for me.

    "Yeah, I think if I don't end up playing on grass this year, I really want to go hard on the hard-court swing, which is my favourite.

    "I'm going to have to have some meetings about it."

    One-time Australian Open semi-finalist Lucas Pouille became the first player to confirm he would boycott Wimbledon after the points penalty was announced.

    Reflecting on her defeat at Roland Garros, Osaka said an ongoing Achilles issue had hindered her performance, though she is happy with how she played compared to the last time she faced Anisimova, in this year's Australian Open.

    "I took a painkiller before my match, so I don't know. I still kind of felt it a little, which I'm going to see what happens when it wears off," Osaka said of her injury. 

    "I kind of prepared myself to feel it, so that wasn't really the wearing part. It was just annoying to me because the last time I played her our serves were really important. And coming into this tournament I didn't serve a lot, because we wanted to wait until the last minute to protect my Achilles.

    "So it is a bit disappointing, but I'm happy with how my attitude was, because the last match that we played in Australia I think I was getting a bit more upset with myself, so I think I progressed in that part."

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