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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Formula One Rookie Yuki Tsunoda Impresses With Ninth-Place Finish in Debut Race

The AlphaTauri driver passed Lance Stroll on the final lap to earn points at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Ed Odeven

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There are only 20 active drivers in Formula One, the world’s top auto racing circuit. Two drivers for each of F1’s 10 racing teams.

All of the men piloting a high-tech F1 car around the track have reached the pinnacle of their profession, including rookie Yuki Tsunoda.

Starting in 13th place at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, March 28, the 20-year-old Kanagawa Prefecture native completed the season-opening race in ninth place.

Tsunoda earned two points for his AlphaTauri Honda racing team. Pierre Gasly, Tsunoda’s teammate, finished 17th. Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton won the race.

The last F1 rookie to earn points in his debut was race Stoffel Vandoorne in 2016.

In order to finish where he did, Tsunoda had to recover from a shaky start, which saw him quickly slip from 13th to 16th. He concluded his solid debut by passing Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll on the final lap.

“It was a bit disappointing for the first lap, I was too cautious to not damage the car so I lost quite a lot of positions,” Tsunoda admitted during a post-race interview with British broadcaster Sky Sports.

He added: “I had to recover lots of positions from there, which takes a lot of time and tire. So, it is not a 100% performance, but I am really happy for the first points and [it is] really positive learning for the future.”

Tsunoda also made a headline-grabbing maneuver en route to his ninth-place finish, passing two-time world champion Fernando Alonso near the race’s midway point to improve his place in the standings.

Alonso is back in Formula One this season after competing in other racing circuits over the past three years.

For Tsunoda, it was a big thrill to race again and overtake Alonso, his father’s favorite F1 driver, in Bahrain.

“It was a bit emotional when I passed Fernando,” Tsunoda told reporters. “Last time I saw him, 12 or 13 years ago, when I was seven or eight years old!

“So, into Turn 1, I just trusted Fernando’s skills and just launched it ー you know, like a rookie. I felt a bit sorry about it, but I just launched it from pretty far away, so there were a few emotional things. Of course it’s not the same car but I was happy for that.”

Up next: The Italian Grand Prix on April 16-18.

RELATED STORY:
AUTO RACING | Yuki Tsunoda Fired Up About Formula One Debut Race


Baseball

Darvish, Maeda Get No-Decisions on Opening Day

San Diego Padres hurler Yu Darvish tossed 4 2/3 innings in his regular-season debut with the National League West team on Thursday, April 1. Minnesota Twins starter Kenta Maeda lasted 4 1/3 innings on the same day.

Darvish got a no-decision in the Padres’ 8-7 home victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Opening Day.

Maeda wasn’t the Twins’ pitcher of record in a 6-5, 10-inning road loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Neither Japanese starter had a brilliant pitching performance.

Darvish allowed eight hits, including two home runs in the fifth inning, and four runs. He walked one and struck out six. He threw 93 pitches (64 strikes).

“Even if you’re getting strikes, it doesn’t mean you have good command,” Darvish was quoted as saying by The San Diego Union-Tribune. “I wanted to sort of control the ball better. I felt my mechanics [were] a little bit off. All in all, my command was not at its best.”

Maeda yielded six hits and a run, while walking two and hitting a batter. He also fanned five batters.

Last season, Maeda was the American League Cy Young Award runner-up, and Darvish, then pitching for the Chicago Cubs, was second in the NL in voting for the same award.

Also on Opening Day, Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Yoshitomo Tsutsugo was 0-for-3 with a walk in a 1-0 road win over the Miami Marlins.

Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, who went 15-for-31 in spring training games, was hitless in four at-bats against the visiting Chicago White Sox. But Ohtani scored the go-ahead run after reaching base on a fielder’s choice in the eighth in a 4-3 Angels triumph.

A day later, Ohtani smacked his first homer of the season, a two-run shot in the ninth in a 12-8 loss to Chicago. Watch video of the play here.

Tokaidai Sagami Wins Spring Koshien Title

Kanagae Prefecture’s Tokaidai Sagami High School captured the National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament title with a 3-2 walk-off win over Oita Prefecture’s Meiho High School on Thursday, April 1.

Catcher Okawa Kojima slugged a sayonara home run in the ninth inning to lead Tokaidai Sagami to the dramatic victory. It was the school’s first Spring Koshien crown in 10 years and third overall.


As a coronavirus precautionary measure, entrance was limited to a maximum of 10,000 spectators per game.

Thirty-two high schools participated in the event, which was held at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, starting on March 19.

Bad Start for BayStars

The Yokohama DeNA BayStars were winless after seven games for the first time in franchise history through Friday, April 2. First-year manager Daisuke Miura’s club fell to 0-5-2, with a 2-0 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome extending their futility to open the 2021 NPB season.

Originally known as the Taiyo Whales, the franchise joined NPB in 1950.

Soccer

Japan Overwhelms Mongolia With 14-Goal Barrage

Eight Samurai Blue players scored at least one goal in Japan’s 14-0 thrashing of Mongolia in a 2022 World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, March 30 at Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba Prefecture.

Yuya Osako led the offensive attack with a hat trick, while teammates Sho Inagaki, Junya Ito and Kyogo Furuhashi added two goals apiece. Also scoring for Japan were Takumi Minamino, Daichi Kamada, Hidemasa Morita and Takuma Asano. Mongolia’s Khash-Erdene Tuya had an own goal.

Minamino gave Japan a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute.

Japan took a 5-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.

For Samurai Blue boss Hajime Moriyasu, it was the first opportunity to see his team in an Asian qualifying Group F match since November 2019.

“Rather than focusing on their opponents, our players concentrated on what they wanted to achieve for themselves,” Moriysasu told reporters after the match. “I was able to try some different formations and expand our options.”

On March 25, Japan defeated South Korea 3-0 in an international friendly at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.

Kawasaki Frontale’s Miki Yamane, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada and VfB Stuttgart’s Wataru Endo each scored a goal.

Basketball

Sako Among FIBA’s Delayed 2020 Hall of Fame Class

During the JBL era, Kenichi Sako was a premier playmaker and floor leader for the Isuzu Motors Giga Cats (1993-2002) and Aisin SeaHorses (2002-11).

Sako, often called “Mr. Basketball” in Japan’s hoop circles, thrived for both clubs, winning nine JBL titles and 12 Emperor’s Cups before hanging up his shoes.

Now, the 50-year-old Yokohama native is being recognized internationally for his exceptional pro career and sustained excellence across three decades. Sako is one of 12 members of the FIBA Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 inductees, it was announced on Tuesday, March 30.

Due to the global pandemic, basketball’s world governing body delayed the announcement for a year. The dozen members will be honored during a virtual ceremony on June 18. The Class of 2021 will also be enshrined on the same day.

Sako is the first Japanese player to be selected for the FIBA Hall of Fame. Yoshimi Ueda, a member of the Japanese Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. He was enshrined as a contributor. Ueda received the FIBA Order of Merit in 1994, two years before he passed away.

For Sako, who currently serves as a Japan men’s national team assistant coach, the announcement was a big surprise.

“I was informed by FIBA that I was selected for the Hall of Fame and I was in shock,” he said in a statement. “At the same time, I feel so honored and am happy for that. This has not been achieved on my own. It could not have been done so without the support of all those [many people] who have been associated with me including my coaches, teammates and those who cheered [for] me.”

Other Class of 2020 Hall of Fame luminaries include current Brooklyn Nets coach and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash (Canada), Serbian coach Svetislav Pesic and Ukrainian big man Alexander Volkov, who wrapped up his successful career with the Atlanta Hawks in 1992.

The full list of 2020 inductees is posted here.  


Hachimura Ties Career High With 30 Points Vs. Hornets

Rui Hachimura has hit his stride on offense for the Washington Wizards. The former Gonzaga University star has delivered 11 consecutive double-digit scoring performances, including a 30-point effort against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday, March 30.

Hachimura shot 12-for-25 in the game and matched his career-best scoring game (December 1, 2019, against the Los Angeles Clippers), but the Wizards fell 114-104. 

Washington opened April with a 120-91 road loss against the Detroit Pistons on April 1. Hachimura had 10 points on 5-for-12 shooting.

The Wizards (17-30) have won only three of their last 11 games. They sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference through April 1. The Boston Celtics (23-25) occupy the eighth and final East playoff spot through the same day.

Louisville Women Fall to Stanford in Elite Eight

Stanford University ended sophomore guard Norika Konno and the University of Louisville’s title hopes in an NCAA Women’s Tournament’s Elite Eight clash on Tuesday, March 30, winning 78-63 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

The No. 1-seeded Cardinal (29-2), a Pac-12 Conference powerhouse club, extended their winning streak to 18.

“It just — it’s a tough way to go out,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said. “There’s no question about it because our goal was to get to a Final Four, and unfortunately for us, we just fell one ball game short. Actually, one half short.”

Konno scored five points, including a 3-pointer, in seven minutes. The Sendai native, who missed 14 games as a freshman due to a knee injury, appeared in 30 games in her second college season, averaging 3.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 12.1 minutes. She tied her career-high scoring output with 11 points against Bellarmine University on January 2.

Konno finished with five points, three rebounds and six steals in an NCAA Tournament first-round victory over Marist.

The second-seeded Cardinals (26-4) climbed to No. 1 in The Associated Press poll in mid-January for the first time in program history.

COVID-19 Wreaks Havoc on B. League Schedule

With several players on a number of teams testing positive for COVID-19 in recent days, the B. League schedule was impacted in a big way. The B. League postponed five of 10 first-division games on March 31, four on Saturday, April 3 and three more on Sunday, April 4.

In other league news, the Ryukyu Golden Kings practiced at brand-new Okinawa Arena for the first time on April 2. See veteran guard Ryuichi Kishimoto drain a 3-pointer at the spacious new facility here. (The team’s first game at the arena will be held on a TBA day. The April 10-11 series against the SeaHorses was also postponed.)

Tennis

Osaka’s Win Streak Ends in Miami Open Quarterfinals

Greece’s Maria Sakkari eliminated Naomi Osaka 6-0, 6-4 in the Miami Open quarterfinals on Wednesday, March 31, ending the world No. 2’s 23-match win streak.

For Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, her encounter with the 23rd-seeded Sakkari was a struggle. 

“I feel like even if you’re not playing great you should still find ways to win,” Osaka was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. “I’m trying to find ways to do that.”

Service woes, in particular, proved problematic for the reigning U.S. Open and Australian Open women’s singles champ, who had been unbeaten since February 2020. Exhibit A: She made only 41% of her first serves.

“Today’s service problems kind of came out of nowhere,” Osaka said later, according to The Associated Press. “My first serve wasn’t going in at all today.”

Judo

1992 Olympic Champion Koga Passes Away 

Toshihiko Koga, who made his Olympic debut at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games and went on to collect medals in each of the next two Olympiads, died of cancer on Wednesday, March 31 in Kawasaki. He was 53.

Koga endured a left leg injury en route to the gold medal in the men’s 71-kg division at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He moved up to the 78-kg class at the 1996 Atlanta Games and earned the silver medal.

A former Japan women’s national team coach, Koga had one of his kidneys removed in March 2020, according to published reports.

Japan men’s national team coach Kosei Inoue paid tribute to Koga.

“In addition to an amazing feel for judo, Mr. Koga had superb insight, along with his speed and power,” Inoue said in a statement. “Off the mat, he always had a smile on his face and would cheerfully chat with me. His death came too soon, and he will be missed by the judo world.”

Four-time Olympian Karina Bryant of Great Britain considered Koga a great role model and reflected on his passing in an article posted on the International Judo Federation website. 

“It’s just such a massive loss. He was an inspiration for so many men and women, with his judo, so explosive and dynamic,” Bryant commented. “When I was younger he was the main man, everyone wanted to do judo like him. Then after his fighting career he helped pass on his knowledge and was awesome all over again. It’s just such a shame; he had so much more to offer.”

Tokyo Olympics

Osaka Politicians Oppose Holding Local Leg of Torch Relay

As the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay moves closer to its scheduled through Osaka on April 14, the two highest-profile politicians in the Kansai prefecture have already voiced opposition to this activity.

A spike in COVID-19 cases in Osaka is the source of their contrary position.

“When I watch the torch relay elsewhere in Japan, people tend to gather and those places get crowded,” Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui told reporters on Thursday, April 1, according to The Associated Press. “It’s very unfortunate but I think we should call it off.”

In the same AP report, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura confirmed his agreement with Matsui.

“I think the torch relay through the middle of Osaka should be canceled,” Yoshimura declared.

Osaka Prefecture is currently under a new semi-state of emergency, and more than 600 new COVID-19 cases were reported for the fourth consecutive day in the prefecture on Saturday, April 3.

Quotes of the Week

“I will accept the promotion with great humility.”

Sekiwake Terunofuji on his promotion this week to ozeki after winning the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament on March 28.

“We will have thorough discussions with local officials about how the relay should be held so we can make an announcement quickly.”

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto, speaking at a news conference, on how Olympic organizers are handling the Osaka leg of the torch relay.

Editor’s note: Interested in submitting a news item for possible inclusion in the Japan Sports Notebook? Send an email with relevant information to e.odeven@japan-forward.com, or JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page  or Facebook page and look for future editions of Japan Sports Notebook on our website.

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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