Top 4 at Saudi Smash 202: How is Japan’s Ace Hina Hayata Viewed in China? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Top 4 at Saudi Smash 202: How is Japan’s Ace Hina Hayata Viewed in China?

Nicknamed "Ringo-chan," Hina Hayata is very popular following Ai Fukuhara and Yoshizumi Ishikawa. On the other hand, she is a southpaw with attacking power, so be on the lookout for her.

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On the first day of the tournament, Hayata faces off against a Hong Kong player. During the finals, Hayata is seen seriously taking notes in the stands, which has become a hot topic on Chinese social media with people commenting, “Such a hard worker!”

“Since losing in the team event at the World Table Tennis Championships in February, I have been eagerly preparing for a rematch with her. Hayata certainly has the ability to compete on equal footing with Chinese players.”


On May 10, at the Saudi Smash 2024 women’s singles semifinals held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Tokyo Olympic gold medalist and world No. 4 Chen Meng (30) defeated world No. 5 Hina Hayata (23) with a straight 4-0 win. After the match, Chen praised Hayata during a media interview.

“Hayata was not as aggressive as usual. Her condition probably wasn’t that good. On the other hand, Chen, after defeating Hayata, continued her excellent form by defeating world No. 1 Sun Yingsha (23) in the finals. Although Hayata couldn’t beat Chen, she still achieved the best result among Japanese players by reaching the singles semifinals. This is certainly commendable,” said a sports newspaper reporter.

Receiving encouragement from a top Chinese player, who should be her rival, is a testament to Hayata’s recognized skill. Chinese journalists also hold Hayata in high regard.

“Hayata’s skill has been steadily improving every time we see her. Even in the mixed doubles with Tomokazu Harimoto (20) in this tournament, she was the one dominating the game. Former Chinese national team player Yan An (31), who provided commentary for the semifinals between Hayata and Chen, also noted, ‘Hayata is the toughest opponent for Chinese women’s table tennis. She has no clear weaknesses. Only when she gets overly aggressive in her attacks does she show a slight opening.'”

Table tennis columnist Jota Ito analyzes Hayata’s potential to win a singles medal and a team gold medal at the Paris Olympics.

“Among the top female players from Japan and China, Hayata is the only left-hander. The Chinese players are somewhat unaccustomed to this, so with her skills, she has a good chance of winning a singles medal. Additionally, in the team event, pairing with a right-handed player in doubles would be advantageous as their playing positions wouldn’t overlap. Although it’s not easy, a team gold is not out of reach.”

Hayata’s high regard in China isn’t limited to her table tennis skills.

She is already the third most popular player among local table tennis fans, following Ai Fukuhara (35) and Kasumi Ishikawa (31). Her nickname is “Apple-chan” because the muscles in her cheeks puff up when she smiles, known as apple muscles in Chinese.

“Mima Ito (23) is intensely serious during matches, almost to the point of arrogance, but Hayata smiles a lot. She’s loved as the cute girl with a beautiful smile. At the WTT Champions Frankfurt tournament last fall, Hayata initiated a practice session with Sun Yingsha. After returning to Japan, she revealed in an interview with the Japanese media that she became quite friendly with Sun. This cross-national interaction between top players delighted table tennis fans, and they responded with comments like ‘What a wonderful story!’ and ‘For the first time, I want to support a Japanese player,’ further boosting Hayata’s popularity,” said the aforementioned Chinese journalist.

If she becomes a medalist in Paris, her popularity in China will likely reach gold-medal levels.

From the May 31, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

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