Sayaka Hirano was vital to Japan's silver medal at the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships
Photo By: Rémy Gros
Winner of the Junior Girls’ Singles title at the Spanish Junior and Cadet Open in 2002, the very first year of the ITTF Junior Circuit, Mikihouse has announced that Japan’s Sayaka Hirano intends to retire from competitive play.
Currently she is competing in the Tokyo Open which commenced on Wednesday 16th March and concludes on Sunday 20th March; the Japanese League tournament on Saturday 9th April will be her farewell.
“I will fight with my full strength in the remaining two tournaments”, said Sayaka Hirano, who will celebrate her 31st birthday on Thursday 24th March.
Medals in Santiago
A career high Women’s World Ranking of no.10 in August 2011, Sayaka Hirano hails from Tochigi Prefecture. She joined Mikihouse in 2003 on leaving Sendai Ikuei High school.
Later in that year she represented Japan in the first ever World Junior Championships in Santiago, Chile.
She secured a silver medal in the Girls’ Team event, bronze in the Girls’ Doubles in partnership with Ai Fukuhara, whilst also advancing to the Mixed Doubles quarter-final stage in harness with Minoru Muramori and the same round in the Girls’ Singles event where China’s Cao Zhen ended progress.
Events in the Chilean signalled the start of a career for the young lady, who always sat bolt upright in her seat when not playing, encouraging her colleagues.
Later, she won the Women’s Singles title at the Japanese National Championships on a quite incredible five occasions.
Debut in England
Domestic success, equally, she has enjoyed success on the ITTF World Tour; a debut in Chatham at the English Open in 2001 was very much the start of an international career that made her one of the most familiar faces on the international scene.
Overall, she won ITTF World Tour Women’s Singles titles on five occasions. The first such success came in Serbia in 2006 when beating Italy’s Wenling Tan Monfardini in the final; later she was to win in Germany in 2009, India one year later, in Spain in 2011 before more recently succeeding in Belarus in 2014.
Likewise, as she progressed, she enjoyed success in Under 21 ITTF World Tour Women’s Singles events; she reached a total of seven finals and lost only one. In 2003 she was beaten in Kobe by Germany’s Laura Stumper at the final hurdle.
A silver medal on home territory in Kobe, on all other occasions it was gold when she reached the title deciding contest. In 2002 she won in Denmark, the following year she retained her Danish title and also emerged victorious in Croatia and Brazil. One year later she won on Germany and again in Brazil.
Success in Women’s Singles and Under 21 Women’s Singles events on the ITTF World Tour; also she enjoyed Women’s Doubles triumphs.
Partnering Kasumi Ishikawa, she won in 2011 in Santiago and in 2014 in Ekaterinburg; whilst in 2007 in Austria she clinched gold in partnership with Ai Fukuhara. However, the greatest success was with Reiko Hiura with whom she claimed the top prize on three occasions. The pair won in Poland in 2006, in Japan in 2009 and in Egypt in 2010.
Outstanding success in individual events but it was as a member of a team that Sayaka Hirano excelled. She would fight for the cause; her level of play rose a few notches.
Memorably at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the semi-final stage of the Women’s Team event against Singapore, she partnered Kasumi Ishikawa to victory in the vital doubles contest against Li Jiawei and Wang Yuegu. The win secured Japan’s first ever medal in the table tennis events at an Olympic Games.
The scene; the tears of emotion are forever embedded in the memory.
Equally there are other occasions when Sayaka Hirano underlined her dedication to the cause.
At the 2009 Asian Championships in Lucknow, India; at the quarter-final stage of the Women’s Team event, on adjacent tables China faced Thailand, Japan opposed Korea.
China beat Thailand by three matches to nil; they finished the whole fixture, shook hands and departed the arena, before in the opening contest of the duel between Japan and Korea, Sayaka Hirano had saved match points in the fourth game before eventually overcoming Park Miyoung.
It was the only match in the engagement that Japan was to win!
Defeat but the contest underlined the fact just how hard Sayaka Hirano would fight for Japan; with a happier ending it was also witnessed at the ZEN-NOH 2014 World Team Championships in Tokyo.
At the semi-final stage against Hong Kong, with the overall score in the contest level at one match apiece, Sayaka Hirano faced Ng Wing Nam; she lost the first two games and in the third was down 3-9.
It was a hopeless situation, not in the opinion of Sayaka Hirano! She recovered, won the match and set Japan en route to a place in the final.
The result summed up Sayaka Hirano; her win from the depths of despair motivated the whole team.
She is a fine player, put her in a team and she has been one of the best, not only a great performer herself, a major influence on her compatriots.
Japan and the sport of table tennis can take great pride in the character, achievements and effort made by Sayaka Hirano; always extremely well mannered, she reflects the very best in sport.