Tokyo Olympics 2021: Japanese stars Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi poised for glory 

Akane Yamaguchi (left) and Nozomi Okuhara
Akane Yamaguchi (left) and Nozomi Okuhara
Sohinee Basu

The Tokyo Olympics will see star Japanese shuttlers Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi vying for the iconic medals.

Japan has always produced world-class shuttlers who continue to call the shots on the court. With Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi safely tucked in the BWF Top 5, Japan is a natural favourite to win medals on home turf.

Both being former World No. 1's, Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi happen to be Japan's best shot at bagging the top honours at the Tokyo Olympics. Strangely enough, the yellow metal has eluded the Japanese when it comes to women's singles in badminton at the quadrennial games.

The advantage of home turf at the Tokyo Olympics

Japan's Akane Yamaguchi (left) and Nozomi Okuhara
Japan's Akane Yamaguchi (left) and Nozomi Okuhara

It goes without saying how advantageous it is to have the support of the home crowd while playing important matches. Participating in the Olympics, which is arguably the biggest sporting event in any athlete's career, is bound to be a difficult task for many athletes.

In such pressure situations, it is always helpful to have the home crowd cheering on. Moreover. a victory at this level is bound to feel sweeter when achieved on home soil. Heading into the Olympics, Nozomi Okuhara and Akane Yamaguchi can count on the Japanese supporters to power them on.

Nozomi Okuhara is eyeing a second Olympic medal

Nozomi Okuhara, 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medalist
Nozomi Okuhara, 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medalist

While Japan is yet to clinch the gold in singles competition, Nozomi Okuhara created history by becoming the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic medal in the singles category at the 2016 Rio Games.

Okuhara, then ranked No. 6 in the world, was successful against fellow Japanese shuttler Akane Yamaguchi. The two faced each other in the quarter-finals of the Rio Olympics, where the older player prevailed, 11–21, 21–17, 21–10.

However, Okuhara's progress was sharply checked by an extremely resilient and aggressive PV Sindhu in the semi-finals. Clashing against this familiar foe, Okuhara lost in straight games, 19–21, 10–21.

Finally, after 2012 London Olympics gold medalist Li Xuerui provided a walkover in the bronze medal match owing to an injury, Okuhara ended up creating history for Japan.

Okuhara's rise since 2016 has been meteoric, to say the least. The 26-year-old ace shuttler has been enjoying a brilliant run of form. She finished as the runner-up in 6 back-to-back tournaments before going on to win the 2020 Denmark Open.

Only recently, Okuhara made a strong start to her Olympic preparations by winning her second All England Open title. The World No. 3 defeated Thailand's Pornpawee Chochuwong in a rather one-sided final, 21–12, 21–16.

Can Akane Yamaguchi go beyond the quarter-finals at the Tokyo Olympics?

Akane Yamaguchi
Akane Yamaguchi

For 23-year-old Akane Yamaguchi, the Tokyo Olympics will be a great platform to showcase her immense improvement over the past few years. Being the first Japanese woman to become the World No. 1 in women's singles, Akane Yamaguchi has quite a few feathers in her cap.

Yamaguchi's outing at the 2016 Rio Olympics was cut short after losing to fellow Japanese player Nozomi Okuhara in the quarterfinals. However, the 2018 World Championships bronze medalist has always been a formidable opponent.

Yamaguchi tends to cash in on her quick reflexes, nimble footwork and her ability to cover the court fast and shoot back difficult shots towards the opponent's court.

Yamaguchi reached the quarterfinals of the All England Open earlier this year, where she played a thriller once more against PV Sindhu, the World No. 7.

Sindhu extended her head-to-head record against Yamaguchi to 11-7 by securing a memorable victory in three games, 21-16, 16-21,19-21.

With the Tokyo Olympics just around the corner and a jam-packed tournament schedule in May-June, all eyes will be on Yamaguchi as she tries to claim her maiden medal at the Olympics Games.

Edited by Ritwik Kumar


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