Why Mima Ito brings back memories of Chinese legend
by Ian Marshall, Editor
The style of play adopted has proved more than effective, in an age when outside Japan, at international level, her racket combination is virtually abandoned; does the fact that she is different, present a major reason for her success?
More pertinently, the style suits her to perfection. Smooth reversed rubber on the forehand, short pimples on the backhand, stay close to the table at all costs and attack like fury. Playing in such a manner, once in a rhythm there is none better than Mima Ito, a fact Ding Ning discovered in their semi-final clash in Qatar. Overall she won just 23 points, none in the third game!
Watching Mima Ito play, my mind reverts to China’s living legend Deng Yaping; same style, fast attacking play close to the table, lethal from the backhand using pimpled rubber slightly longer than that of Mima Ito but very much in the same mould.
The one major difference I would suggest is that Mima Ito has a wider range of services and returns of service; in the age of Deng Yaping, the banana was the fruit you ate between games, not a technique of returning the ball.
However, since the departure from the international stage of Deng Yaping; the style has fallen from grace. Other than now retired colleague Ai Fukuhara and in the present day 15 year old Miyuu Kihara, such a racket combination has not been promoted and certainly not to any great extent outside Japan.
An argument propounded is that with the advent of the bigger ball and now the plastic spherical object, the ball travels slower and thus trying to attack with great venom close to the table is not as effective as in the previous century.
I guess when one after each other, at the 2018 ITTF World Tour Swedish Open, she beat Liu Shiwen, Ding Ning and Zhu Yuling to arrest the women’s singles title, the celebrated Chinese trio may not concur with the theory!
The styles of Deng Yaping and Mima Ito are very similar but that is not the only comparisons we can draw.
Mima Ito is 1.50 metres tall, Deng Yaping 1.49 metres; they are not too dissimilar in stature.
Moreover, Mima Ito won her first ITTF World Tour women’s singles title in 2015 in Germany; she was 14 years old at the time. A few generations earlier, in 1988 during her first adventure outside China, Deng Yaping was of a similar age when she won at the Asia Cup in Manila.
One year later, just some seven weeks after her 16th birthday, Deng Yaping partnered Qiao Hong to success in the women’s doubles event at the 1989 World Championships; at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Mima Ito was just 15 years old when she played a pivotal role in the bronze medal secured by Japan in the women’s team event.
Success in teenage years they are very similar but in the two major titles in the sport has to offer, Mima Ito born in October 2000, cannot match Deng Yaping, born in February 1973.
At the 1991 World Championships in Chiba, Deng Yaping was only 18 years old and 60 days old when she secured the women’s title; the win coming after China had suffered a shock defeat against Unified Korea in the women’s team final. Best of five games, each game to 21 points, Deng Yaping beat Li Bun Hui from DPR Korea in 38 minutes (21-13, 21-18, 21-14). Yet another comparison with Mima Ito when you consider her win over Ding Ning in Qatar; simply when in the groove unstoppable.
One year later when she succeeded at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, she was 19 years and 181 days old; should play commence at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on the scheduled date of Saturday 25th July; Mima Ito will be 19 years and 279 days old.
Also there is one other achievement which may prove elusive and the whole of Japan hopes will prove elusive! After securing gold at the 1997 World Championships, only 24 years old Deng Yaping retired; surely a record Mima Ito will not match!