Japanese women have potential to dethrone China
Young and talented women's team could soon threaten Chinese dominance
Table tennis is a sport where two players smack a white plastic ball at each other on a table with a net and, in the end, China always win, to borrow Gary Lineker's quote.
China, not surprisingly, dominate table tennis, which is the national sport of the country.
Their men and women are perennial winners at all levels of the sport and, at the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Shah Alam, Malaysia, on Sunday, they whitewashed Japan in both the men's and women's finals, to leave many wondering if China's stranglehold can ever be broken.
There does seem to be a glimmer of hope that the Japanese, especially the women's team, can end the total dominance of the Chinese paddlers in the not too distant future.
Ai Fukuhara and Co. are the world's No. 2 women's team behind China.
Fukuhara, 27, the world No. 4, is approaching the peak of her career.
But it is likely that younger paddlers Kasumi Ishikawa, 23, 15-year-old Mima Ito and Miu Hirano, 16, will lead the Japanese women's charge for gold medals at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Both Ishikawa and Mima featured extensively at the recent world team championships, while Miu was not in the team, but played an exhibition match on Sunday.
Speaking to The New Paper, Miu, the world No. 21, said: "I didn't make the team for the upcoming Rio Olympics, but I'm working towards the 2020 Olympics.
"I want to win the gold in both the singles and the team events there."
Miu teamed up with Mima to win the women's doubles title at the German Open in 2014.
They became the youngest doubles winners on the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) World Tour with that feat.
Last year, Mima posted upsets over Singapore's three-time Olympic medallist Feng Tianwei and Germany's Petrissa Solja in the semis and final, respectively, to win the women's singles title at the German Open.
Slightly further down the rankings are promising youngsters like Hitomi Sato (age 19, world ranking 33), Natsumi Nakahata (20, 35), and Honoka Hashimoto (18, 46), all products of a healthy developmental system and competitive domestic championships.
Mental strength may be the biggest stumbling block for the Japanese at the moment, in their quest to beat the Chinese.
Ishikawa was 2-0 up against Olympic champion Li Xiaoxia in the second match of the best-of-five final on Sunday and was on the verge of levelling terms for Japan when she collapsed, as Li went on to win 3-2.
But Japan's advances in the sport have put China on alert.
Chinese head coach Liu Guoliang said: "We can all see Japan have improved. It's simply because they have put in more resources into developing the sport with a view to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
China's women's coach Kong Linghui added: "They are among our best opponents in the past 10 years, similar to the 2010 Singapore team.
"Mima Ito is only 15 and will be a big threat to us in the coming years."