PETALING JAYA: Japan’s women’s singles star Akane Yamaguchi (pic) wants to rediscover her formidable form right in her own backyard.
Since winning the world title last year, Yamaguchi has been struggling after suffering unexpected defeats to lower ranked players but the world No. 1 is ready to turn her fortune around at the World Championships starting in Tokyo on Monday.
But she has her work cut out as the field is highly competitive.
Despite the absence of India’s world No. 7 and 2019 champion P. V. Sindhu, who was forced to pull out due to a stress fracture on her left ankle, the other players in the top 10 such as Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying (No. 2), South Korea’s An Se-young (No. 3) and China’s Chen Yufei (No. 4) look more than capable of derailing Yamaguchi’s dream of defending the title she won in Huelva, Spain.
Based on form, all three look better bets than the Japanese who has not gone past the quarter-final stage of any World Tour events this year since capturing the All-England title in March.
In her last two outings at the Malaysian Open and Masters last month, Yamaguchi suffered back-to-back shock losses to Indonesia’s world No. 24 Gregoria Mariska in the first round and last eight respectively.
The Japanese will have to be on her toes from the start as she is slated to meet Gregoria again in the second round after receiving a first-round bye.
The Indonesian, meanwhile, will have to overcome Scotland’s world No. 17 Kirsty Gilmour in her opener.
If Yamaguchi can get past her first hurdle, her next big test could be in the quarter-finals where she could face either China’s He Bingjiao (No. 9) or Spain’s three-time world champion Carolina Marin (No. 5).
Despite her downturn in form, the Japanese has been relaxed about the challenges ahead.
“I don’t want to set a specific target in the world meet but just want to focus fully and play well,” said Yamaguchi.