At the Asia/ Oceania IC Rod Laver Junior Challenge held in Hong Kong last week, Japanese tennis team aced out players from Australia, Hong Kong, India and Pakistan to be crowned the Asian/ Oceanian champion, earning themselves a ticket to at the Worldwide Finals in California, the US next year.
The competition on July 23 to 25 was part of the IC Rod Laver series held on five continents, featuring players who are 16 or under to compete in a team made up of two boys and two girls. The winner of each zone tournament will advance to the grand finale to be held in California, the US in 2020.
Team Japan trounced their opponents in four straight sets, losing just one game to Hong Kong out of the total 24 games. But it was by no means an easy task for the Japanese, as they had a tough time coping with Hong Kong’s sweltering heat and humidity.
“It is really hot and humid in Hong Kong, but it is a beautiful city,” said 16-year-old Masaki Ishikawa, who played in the Boys’ singles and doubles.
The team’s strategy to withstand the high temperature was to take control of the rhythm of the match and slow the game down to prevent burning out quickly. They also made sure to stay hydrated and refreshed themselves with a nice shower after each match.
“We tried to play slower, we took our time between points to save our energy in the heat,” said Reiya Komagata, 16, who partnered with Masaki.
14-year-old Ayaka Hasegawa, who is the youngest member on the Japan team, said she was surprised by the variety of players she encountered on the court. She believes taking part in this tournament was a stepping stone to the worldwide finals, where she will go head to head against players who are much taller and stronger than her.
“There were many different types of players in this competition, it was a very interesting and exciting experience,” said Ayaka. “I know I’m much shorter than most foreign players, but I will find a different way to utilise my shots to counter that.”
Ayaka’s partner Moeka Miyata, 16, agrees that a well-thoughtout game plan will be the key to outplaying foreign players at the finals.
“I really want to win [the worldwide finals], and to do that I really need to use my brain to come up with good strategies,” she said.
It was the first time for Hong Kong to host an IC Rod Laver tournament. Hong Kong team, represented by Butter Cheung, Ophelia Tang, Johnny Lee and Oscar Wai, finished in third place with two wins and two defeats.