Commencing in 1996 in Kitakushu, the inaugural year of the ITTF World Tour, the event has always appeared in the calendar of the International Table Tennis Federation.
In what is now 23 completed editions of the tournament, prior to the success of Mima Ito last year, also in Kitakushu, the only Japanese player ever to have won the women’s singles title is Ai Fukuhara when she prevailed in 2013 in Yokohama.
One fact not in favour of Mima Ito, Japanese players do not have the best record on home soil.
Also, the only players to have retained the title are players who truly merit the award of being regarded as legends. Mima Ito is a fine player but perhaps has a step or two to climb before she can merit such an accolade. The only players to succeed in consecutive years are Olympic and World champions, China’s Wang Nan, always in Kobe, won in three consecutive years starting in 1999; also in Kobe, her colleague, Zhang Yining succeed in 2004, then the following year in Yokohama.
It is a second fact not in favour of Mima Ito.
Now in Sapporo she is the no.7 seed in an entry which is the strongest ever witnessed in the history of the tournament; the Chinese quintet of Ding Ning, Chen Meng, Wang Manyu, Liu Shiwen and Zhu Yuling head the order followed by colleague Kasumi Ishikawa.
Notably, of that selection the only player in a world ranking event that Mima Ito has not beaten is Chen Meng; significantly on the most recent occasions she has played the other Chinese members of the group she has won!
Recently at the Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour China Open she beat Ding Ning, last year in the final in Japan she accounted for Wang Manyu; also in 2018 in Sweden she accounted for Liu Shiwen and Zhu Yuling at the Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open.
Now of the three facts, is that the one in favour of Mima Ito?
Just one problem, China’s Sun Yingsha, who ended her progress at the recent Liebherr 2019 World Championships and Wang Yidi at the even more recent Seamaster 2019 ITTF World Tour Hong Kong Open, both appear in the qualification tournament.
A severe test lies ahead but if any player has the ability to stave off the prodigious challenge from China, it is Mima Ito; that fact she has proved in the past year.