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Friday, Jan. 18, 2008

PING PONG

Ai-chan fights it out in Tokyo


The latest world rankings in women's table tennis, announced Jan. 5 by the International Table Tennis Federation, placed local hero Ai Fukuhara, aka Ai-chan, at No. 10 for the third straight month. That's enough for her to automatically qualify for the Beijing Olympics, where she'll be up against some stiff competition — particularly from the host country, which boasts the five highest-ranked players in the world.

Sounds like Ai-chan could use our moral support! And we have a chance to show it this week, as the 19-year-old dynamo competes in the Table Tennis National Championships at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Shibuya. Being a top-ranked player, Fukuhara has byes through the early rounds of the competition and makes her debut on the afternoon of Friday, Jan.18, probably at about 3:45 p.m., in the fourth round. Presuming she high-toss serves her way through that match, she will be in action again over the weekend.

Ai-chan is among the 250 players competing for the women's singles title; 248 competitors are going for it in the men's — among them 19-year-old Yo Kan, Japan's highest-ranking male player in the world at No. 17.

China's dominance of the women's world rankings is echoed in the men's too. It has seven players in the top 20, and would have had eight, had Kan not migrated from that country to Japan just two years ago. We can help make this rising young star feel at home when he plays his first match of the competition at 3 p.m. on Friday — also a fourth-round bout.

Saturday sees the fifth rounds and beyond in both the singles competitions, along with the finals in both doubles competitions. The semifinals and finals for the singles competitions are scheduled for Sunday.

Tickets for a day of matches on Saturday or Sunday are available at Ticket Pia for ¥1,800 or at the door for ¥2,000. (Weekday tickets, through Friday, are 50 percent cheaper.) For more information call (03) 5389-2965 or visit www.jtta.or.jp.



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