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Table tennis: Ito completes triple crown at national championships

Mima Ito competes at Japan's national championships in Osaka on Jan. 20, 2019. (Kyodo)

OSAKA (Kyodo) -- Mima Ito became the first female table tennis player to win three titles for two consecutive years at Japan's national championships after beating Miyu Kihara 4-1 in the women's singles final on Sunday.

Rio de Janeiro Olympic medalist Jun Mizutani won his 10th title in the men's singles following his 4-2 victory over Yuya Oshima in the final.

Ito posted a 13-11, 11-9, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5 win over Kihara for her third championship, following her wins in women's and mixed doubles at Maruzen Intec Arena Osaka. She cut Kihara's hopes of becoming the youngest national singles champion at 14 years and five months.

"I'm mostly relieved. Of course I'm happy, but I'm also relieved," Ito said afterward in her on-court interview. "I didn't think I would be able to defend my three titles so I'm surprised and happy."

Most of the match went in Ito's favor, until the fourth game when Kihara fought back from 9-3 down and claimed eight straight points. Ito quickly bounced back in the fifth game and sealed her victory by only allowing her opponent to score five times.

"I haven't competed against (Kihara) so much, but I knew she would fight aggressively because she has beaten many strong players. I wanted to play as a challenger," Ito said.

Kihara staged one of the largest upsets of the tournament when she defeated world No. 9 Miu Hirano in the fifth round.

"It was frustrating, but at the same time a really enriching experience," Kihara said. "The biggest difference between us was in how we used our heads."

Ito won the mixed doubles crown on Thursday with partner Masataka Morizono, and the women's doubles with Hina Hayata on Saturday.

In the men's singles, Mizutani came from behind to defeat Oshima 11-13, 11-6, 11-7, 11-6, 9-11, 11-5 for his first singles title in two years.

Oshima advanced to the finals for the first time by beating defending champion Tomokazu Harimoto 4-3 in the semifinals.

"I've been competing at this tough national championships every year and I can't believe I've won it for the 10th time," Mizutani said. "Winning this year's title has been my goal since losing to Harimoto last year (in the final)."

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