Koharu Itagaki and Josephina Neumann: Two 13-year-olds enchant table tennis Germany

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Status: 03/30/2023 1:44 p.m

At the German championships, Koharu Itagaki and Josephina Neumann played their way up to the doubles final. Now they want to build on their successes.

The ball is on the ground, the point is played, the sold-out hall in Nuremberg is raging. Josephina Neumann turns and nonchalantly high-fives partner Koharu Itagaki as if it was a point like any other.

The scenery described comes from the final of the women’s doubles at the German Championships in 2023 and is repeated over the day and a half of the tournament. The two 13-year-old athletes surprisingly made it to the final, beating defending champions Chantal Mantz and Yuan Wan, among others, on the way there. In the end, the final is clearly lost – and yet the duo Itagaki/Neumann had already enchanted the whole of table tennis Germany at that point.

Neumann’s continuous development

The success of Josephina Neumann shouldn’t really surprise anyone anymore. Born in Frankfurt, she is a very complete player with a secure forehand and backhand and has clearly improved tactically in the past few weeks and months, not least thanks to her appearances in the table tennis Bundesliga for TTC Berlin eastside. Nervousness no longer seems to be a problem for the young star, because Neumann seemed calm and concentrated even when he was a long way behind in the fifth set against Mantz/Wan.

Her collection of titles is just as impressive, including podium places at youth tournaments throughout Europe and she won the U13 competition of the WTT Youth Contenders in Berlin in 2022, an international tournament series for young players. Her opponent in the final back then: Koharu Itagaki.

Itagaki’s Rapid Rise

The 13-year-old was not as much in focus as her doubles partner and yet she is considered one of the great hopes in German women’s table tennis. Their development over the past few years is as impressive as it is unprecedented. The Itagaki family came to Germany from Japan in 2016 on the advice of the Japanese main sponsor of the Bundesliga club Bad Koengishofen – her father Koji Itagaki is now the coach of the southern Germans.

Koharu settled in quickly and attracted attention for the first time by winning a Germany-wide youth tournament in 2018. Further successes in national competitions quickly followed, in which she was able to confidently defeat some significantly older competitors. And 2023 is also going very well for Itagaki so far. She won two U15 youth contenders and, in addition to reaching the final in doubles at the German championships, also made it into the main draw of the singles competition.

Game intelligence as a great strength

“Koharu plays tactically intelligently and has a very good setback for her age”, explains the national trainer for girls U15/U18 Jie Schöpp in an interview with Sportschau, when asked about Itagaki’s strengths. “Tin principle, she still has to work on everything. She’s only 13 years old, so there’s still a lot to learn.” Itagaki, who is still training in Bad Koenigshofen but gaining experience at SV Schott Jena in the second Bundesliga, has a very aggressive and fast playing system. Standing close to the table, she tries to put her opponents under pressure as effectively as possible. Her material should help her: Itagaki plays a so-called short pimple, which enables her to build up a lot of speed in the game.

Such material, i.e. a different surface than the classic smooth one, can help to celebrate quick success, especially in the youth field, since many players have no experience against such unorthodox playing systems. “It may well be that this is currently helping her,” so Schopp, “but we also have some players with short pimples at the top of the world.

Strong competition at the tournament in Berlin

At the upcoming WTT Youth Contender in Berlin (March 31 – April 2, 2023), Josephina Neumann will be the top seed in the U13 competition and will try to defend her title there. She is also at the start together with Koharu Itagaki in the U15 competition.

In addition to the U15 tournament, Itagaki also plays the U17 tournament. But “The international competition is very strong this year. There are many players against whom Josi (Josephina Neumann, Anm. d. Red.) and Koharu have never played. In addition, the pressure after the performances at the German championships has increased and the two have higher demands on themselves due to their position in the world rankings”, Schöpp puts the brakes on expectations.

In the end, such tournaments are also there to learn and develop – the most important thing on your possible way to the top of the world.