With attributes like ‘prodigy’ and ‘exceptional talent’, Tomokazu Harimoto, who turned 13 years old at the end of June, has been showered with superlatives in Japan and has attracted the highest expectations. Since his first year in primary school, he won several national titles and enjoys a similar media attention in Japan as the other senior stars of the Japanese table tennis world.
Tomokazu HARIMOTO – Origin and first successes
Tomokazu HARIMOTO was born on 27.6.2003. His hometown is Sendai in the Miyagi Prefecture. The attacking player is right-handed shake-hands grip player.
Despite his young age, Harimoto’s game not only stuns senior professionals – but most frequently causes their downfall! Among them seasoned professionals like Jens Lundquist and Tan Ruiwu plus other top youngsters as TTBL players Hugo Calderano or Anton Källberg.
In the Under 15 world rankings Harimoto currently is at #2 and #24 in the Under 18 category. Since his first year at primary school, Tomokazu managed to qualify for the Japanese championships – and dominated several age categories. Only Ai FUKUHARA, in the girls’ events has previously enjoyed similar success.
Tomokazu’s parents are table tennis players and Chinese nationals. His father, Yu, was a Chinese youth national player. In 1998, he went to Japan for the first time in order to work as a coach in the Sendai City Table Tennis Centre.
His mother, Ling, was such a great talent that she competed at the World Championships in 1995 as a member of the Chinese National Team.
Having parents with such background, it is hardly surprising that Tomokazu began playing table tennis as a two-year-old.
Aged three years and four months he took part in a tournament at prefecture level for the first time and finished fourth in the Under 8 competition. Aged six years, shortly before his enrolment in primary school, he gained Under 8 class prefecture selection and for the first time played in the Japanese Championships. He fought his way to the last 16.
A great first success; nowadays Tomokazu has eyes fixed on success, defeat affects him more than you might think.
“This experience gave me the decisive kick to dedicate myself completely to table tennis.”
The following year Harimoto won the Under 8 title at the Japanese Championships in the Under 8-class.
Results like these showed that a great talent is about to blossom.
In fact, he remained successful at national level in the subsequent two years – namely in the Under 10 category; during the third year of primary school, when nine years old, he became the youngest participant at the Junior Boys’ Singles event at the Japanese National Championships.
At the POLISH OPEN in October 2015 he became the youngest player ever, to progress to the first round of an ITTF World Tour Men’s Singles event.
In June 2016, 10 days before his 13 birthday, he added another record to the 2016 JAPAN OPEN. He defeated compatriot Kohei SAMBE, who will continue next year to play in Grenzau, in the final of the Under 21 Men’s Singles event. He is the youngest player ever to win such a title.
“I was able to play perfectly in front of a home crowd and I am happy and proud to have broken the age record as well”
“My ultimate dream is to be 2020 Olympic champion in Tokyo.”
Click here to watch highlights of the U21-final:
What is the source of this talent?
Tomokazu leads it back to his determined will to win, which has always mastered him.
“The desire to win grabs me not only when I play against peers, but even in matches against much older players.”
April this year, Tomokazu Harimoto left his hometown Sendai to change to the JOC “Elite Academy” in Tokyo. An institution that has been established by the Japanese Olympic Committee to help young top talents develop their potential in education and sport; thus being able to survive in international competition.
At first his mother Ling taught Tomokazu the first steps and the basics of table tennis.
“Just at the very beginning, when you start with table tennis, it is very important not to put learning technical aspects in the foreground, but primarily to arouse curiosity, desire and passion; so with Tomokazu. The desire for table tennis is especially for kids the main drive to continue on their own and to have the will to be better. However, important for further development, it is important to keep an eye on the correct playing style and technique early on.”
“Tomokazu loves tournaments – and hates losing. If there is something that distinguishes Tomokazu, it is that he keeps the highest level of concentration in any game against any opponent until the last ball. This is probably one of the main reasons that he can survive in a long tournament using his complete technical skills. My wish for the future is that he stays persistent and determined whilst practising the basics to develop his technique.”
Tomokazu HARIMOTO – Material
There are several items on which Tomokazu Harimoto pays special attention with regards to his material: First, “good speed and spin development”, secondly “good ball contact.”
“On the forehand it is crucial for me to impart rotation on the ball in order to be successful in topspin duels. On the backhand I need a slightly softer sponge in order to control and pull the counterattack.”
His blade is a special butterfly wood with Arylate Carbon and inner-fiber technology. Previously, he played with a ZLF-blade, one of the inner-fiber series. With entry into middle school, he stayed with a blade from inner-fiber technology, but this time with Arylate-Carbon.
“To remain dangerous enough in longer rallies and especially during counter-spinning, I needed a blade that had more speed and spin than the previous ones.”
He chose TENERGY 80 as rubber, being best for the balance of speed and rotation. Because for its pace development, he had played with a TENERGY 64 until now.
“With TENERGY 80 it is easier for me to play topspin not only quite fast, but also with more rotation. I also feel I have more control over the ball during topspin duels.” says Tomokazu.
On the backhand he plays with TENERGY 05 FX.
“The sponge is very soft and gives me very good ball control.”
Thanks to its extremely soft sponge, the ball eats itself deeply into the rubber; all rubber models of the TENERGY FX series allow very good ball control. Within the TENERGY FX series, the TENERGY 05 FX brings best the highest level of rotation on the ball. This is especially important for Harimoto during his current phase, in which he measures himself more and more with adult players.
“As soon as I feel that I become stronger as by body strength grows and also with constant training, I will certainly try even harder rubbers,” said Tomokazu.
“Outside of ball contacts and the milliseconds before, I relax the grip on my racket; otherwise my wrist and forearm will only become tense, this will have a negative effect on the game.
I hold the racket firmly just before impact so I can play powerfully. My grip itself always remains the same. I do not change even when changing between the forehand and backhand game. Only during topspin play I move strongly with the wrist.”
So there are also many details of tactics and techniques which distinguish himself in comparison with other senior players and which are worth consideration. But pointing them out now would be beyond our scope. We will pursue at a later date.
10 Questions for Tomokazu Harimoto
Q1 How would you describe your character?
Probably as unsociable and shy (laughs).
Q2 What do you see as, based on table tennis, your particular strengths?
Always wanting and to win. No matter against whom.
Q3 What was your best game so far?
That was at the POLISH OPEN 2015 against TAN Rui Wu from Croatia. Because I pulled myself together mentally again in the decisive game after TAN had recove from one-three.
Q4 Which player do you admire most?
FAN Zhendong (China).
Q5 Who is your closest friend?
Tonin Ryuzaki, I would say. He also studies at the JOC Elite Academy (and at the Teikyo University). Yet only because we often share a room (laughs).
Q6 In all the countries you have been, was there something very special?
Yes, in Sweden, because I found the cities very beautiful and I was in great shape.
07 Do you have hobbies?
Yes, reading Connan-Comics for example (laughs).
08 What are your goals for the near future?
A victory in the Under 18 competition during the next Japanese Championships.
Q9 What is your impression of Butterfly?
For me, Butterfly is the top brand among the table tennis manufacturers and has the worlds – and Japans – best players under contract.
Q10 What is table tennis for you?
Translation from Japanese by Frank Völler