PV Sindhu stunned at Swiss Open by 17-year-old rising star: Meet Tomoka Miyazaki, former world junior champ set for a bright future | Badminton News

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By Mahtab Ahmad

The moment their first-round matches were completed at the Swiss Open in Basel, there was a sense of anticipation around PV Sindhu’s round-of-16 fixture.

A clash of generations was on the cards. Tomoka Miyazaki, the 17-year-old from Osaka in Japan, has been on the rise in the last couple of years. Against a former World Champion in Sindhu, the teenager faced one of her biggest tests at the senior level yet.

And boy did the 5ft 5in stand tall and ace it.

Sindhu, who has been on a comeback trail herself during this European swing, loves playing in Basel. St Jakobshalle Arena is where she famously won her World Championships gold in 2019 and she reached the Swiss Open finals back-to-back in 2021 and 2022, winning the title the second time around. But late on Thursday night, she’d be at the receiving end of a statement win for a rising star. Miyazaki stormed back from a game down to beat the double-Olympic medallist 16-21, 21-19, 21-16 in a match that lasted 79 minutes.

Even when she won the first game, it seemed like Sindhu was constantly having to push back at Miyazaki’s relentless rallying style that we have come to expect from Japanese shuttlers. Perhaps the start was a bit nervy from the youngster as she took time to come to pace with Sindhu’s all-out attacking power, but she gained a foothold as the match went on. The second and third games witnessed a remarkable improvement from Miyazaki as she ran Sindhu ragged constantly, not just with her defensive hard-work during rallies but even with clever use of the wrists at the net, and fast hands on smashes.

“She is so solid already. Her explosive court coverage seems very similar to a young Akane or Okuhara when they burst on the world tour,” Shlok Ramchandran, former Indian doubles shuttler, who was at the 2023 Spokane Junior World Championships with the USA Junior team and observed Miyazaki, told The Indian Express. “She has fast legs, and a much more aggressive presence on court compared even to Akane. Physicality might seem like an issue, but it will build over time, she is just 17.”

Festive offer

Indeed, it is in those Japanese star’s footsteps that she is following. Miyazaki’s star has been on the rise since she won the title at the Junior World Championships in 2022 when she was in the first grade of high school. She joined Nozomi Okuhara (2012), Akane Yamaguchi (2013, 2014) and Riko Gunji (2019) as junior world champions.

Different in their own ways, both Okuhara and Yamaguchi are known for their unrelenting court coverage, something that Miyazaki has picked up too. Despite her shorter limbs (she is half a foot shorter than Sindhu), Miyazaki is able to cover long distances diagonally on the court with a low center of gravity and lengthy strides. While she appears to lack the shoulder and catapult back strength of a Yamaguchi, her racket-speed for smashes is exemplary for someone so young and her attacking game is more reminiscent of Okuhara.

Her two outings at the World Juniors in 2022 and 2023 saw her win the title first time but miss out on the podium next year. While she held her nerves in the final to win the gold, she missed out on a second medal despite having three match points. Indonesia’s Chiara Marvella Handoyo had remarked back then that she found Miyazaki nervous in the end-game, something she seems to have worked on, as she showed excellent composure to thwart Sindhu’s attempts at a comeback.

In a short period on the senior circuit, Miyazaki has reached the finals of two Super 300 events – Korea Masters last year and Orleans Masters last week. She broke into the top 30 of the world with a title in Orleans. She pushed Olympic champion Chen Yufei 21-23 in a game while she also took a game off Ratchanok Intanon, among her notable achievements.

She is clearly not a finished product yet, and needs to build up strength to last on the tour, but there are makings of a star for the future. And as part of Japan’s elite squad from this year, she is on the right track.

“I’ve started training with the best Japanese players like Akane Yamaguchi,” said Miyazaki after her Orleans triumph. “I was initially a little frustrated by the gap but learning from them is priceless. I have the confidence I can be among the top shuttlers in the future.”

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