Sayaka Sato: 'I want to participate in my second Olympic Games and that is keeping me going.'
PASIR GUDANG: Japan's Sayaka Sato is quietly hoping for her best birthday present – a place in the Uber Cup Finals squad – by doing well in the ongoing Malaysia Open Grand Prix Gold at the Pasir Gudang Municipal Stadium.
Sato, who turns 23 on Saturday, is playing in her first international tournament this year. She has been going through a rough patch since assuming the role as Japan's first singles en route to reaching the semi-finals of the Uber Cup Finals in Wuhan two years ago.
Her downfall from the top started when she pulled out with an ankle injury during the quarter-finals of the London Olympic Games in 2012.
Sato made a comeback last year but continued to struggle. From a top 10 placing in the world rankings, she is now at the 95th spot and currently languishing as the 11th player in her country.
The top 10 Japanese women players are Sayaka Takahashi (world No. 11), Minatsu Mitani (14), Eriko Hirose (13), Kaori Imabeppu (36), Yui Hashimoto (38), Akane Yamaguchi (51), Yuka Kusunose (67), Aya Ohori (78), Shizuka Uchida (83) and Kana Ito (87).
Sato, who is now free of injury, is driven to make a comeback in a bid to feature in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I am good now and want to make my way to the top again. Japan have not selected their players for the Uber Cup Finals and although, my ranking is low, I have not given up hope of making the cut … maybe a good showing here will help my cause,” said the 2006 Asian Junior runner-up.
“I want to participate in my second Olympic Games (in Rio) and that is keeping me going.”
When asked about the quantity and quality in Japan's women's singles, she smiled and said: “Japan's women's singles has improved because we enjoy quality sparring sessions. I train in the same club as Eriko and Imabeppu. Before a major event, we attend centralised training and the quality of training is even better when all the best from other clubs also attend.
“With or without me, Japan will have a strong team at this year's Uber Cup Finals,” she added.
Indeed, with two strong women's pairs in the top 10 standings – Misaki Matsutomo-Ayaka Takahashi (world No. 4) and Reika Kakiiwa-Miyuki Maeda (7), Japan are indeed looking strong for another top four finish at the Finals.
Meanwhile, at the Malaysia Open GP Gold, Sato made it to the second round after beating Tara Pilven of Australia 21-7, 21-8. She will next take on Malaysia's Tee Jing Yi, who defeated Indonesian Aprilla Ysuwandari 21-18, 21-14.