Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino – Surprising the World with Reaching the World No. 1 Ranking

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Long-time partners Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino represented Japan when they surpassed their number two ranking and reached the top spot within the Badminton World Federation. The mixed doubles pair achieved the feat on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, when they earned the highest points over a 52-week period that expanded 10 tournaments. But how did they finally get to this point in their careers?

Below, we discuss everything you need to know about one of the highest-ranking mixed doubles pairs, Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino.

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The Team at a Glance

One half of the amazing team is male member Yuta Watanabe, who was born on June 13, 1997, in Suginami, Japan. He is a member of the Nihon Unisys team and a representative of Japan’s National Team A. As one of the top players in the sport, he’s well-known for his rapid and explosive movements around the court and for his effective drop shots.

Standing at 1.67 m (5 ft 6 in), he’s not as tall as other players and has a shorter reach. He once confessed that he prefers playing doubles matches because he’s more comfortable having a partner on the court who can reach shots he can’t get to. Weighing in at just 56 kg (123 lb), Watanabe is fast on his feet and uses his racket of choice (Li-Ning Aeronaut 9000C, 2020 model) to deliver powerful shots.

He’s also known to wear Custom Yuta Watanabe shoes made for him in 2020, along with his favorite shuttlecocks, A+600, A+300, and A+100. His choice of string is the Li-Ning No. 1. Some of his major accomplishments on the court include the following:

  • Five-time champion in the Super 1000 Tournaments
  • First Japanese male to ever win an All England Open title
  • First in 2018 for mixed doubles (with Arisa Higashino),
  • His win in 2020 with Hiroyuki Endo for men’s doubles
  • Winning both mixed (again with Arisa Higashino) and men’s (again Hiroyuki Endo) doubles in 2021
  • Winning the bronze medal during the mixed doubles match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, defeating Tse Ying Suet and Tang Chun Man from Hong Kong, also with Arisa Higashino.

The other half of this dynamic duo is Arisa Higashino, born on the 1st of August 1996 in Iwamizawa City, Hokkaido, Japan. She is also a member of the Nihon Unisys team, where she built a reputation for being one of the fastest female players in the mixed doubles category. Higashino has also perfected the jump smash, a feat that very few women have achieved. While it’s fairly common for male players, only a select group of female players have managed to master it.

Much like her partner, Higashino doesn’t have a very long reach and stands at 1.60 m (5 ft 3 in). However, she is also light on her feet, weighing just 54 kg (119 lb), allowing her to quickly cover the court if needed. With her right hand, she uses her favorite Yonex Nanoflare 700 racket to execute precision jump shots that devastate her opponents when they least expect it.

Some of her biggest career highlights include the following:

  • Her first breakthrough in 2018 after defeating favorites Zheng Si Wei and Huang Ya Qiong for the All England Title
  • Winning her first Super 1000 tournament, also in 2018
  • Getting the bronze medal during the 2020 Summer Olympics for mixed doubles with Yuta Watanabe
  • Winning the 2021 All England Open for mixed doubles, again with Yuta Watanabe

Their Humble Beginnings

At just seven years old, Watanabe started getting into sports. Both his parents played baseball and badminton — and he would eventually try his luck with both sports. He began his badminton training in 2005 by joining the Kodaira Junior Club, located in Tokyo. His talent for the sport was evident after winning a national event back when he was just in elementary school. He decided to train and become serious about pursuing it. In retrospect, he remembers that he didn’t play that well during his elementary or junior high years, but was able to achieve the top spot in all of Japan by the time he reached his first year of high school. He remembered it being a special feeling, and how the position gave him the motivation to stay the best, which urged him to play professionally.

Both Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino attended Tomioka High School in the Fukushima Prefecture in the 2010s. As early as 2012, he forged a partnership with Arisa Higashino, who was one year older than him and was his senior at school. Regarding his partner, Watanabe has only good things to say and expressed how they’re good friends that can talk about anything. He said, “I don’t have anything I dislike about her. She’s perfect.”

In 2014, Watanabe was chosen for a spot in Japan’s National Junior Team to compete in the Asian Junior Championships, where he helped to win a bronze medal in mixed doubles. In the same event, he was also able to snag another bronze medal in the boys’ doubles with his partner, Kenya Mitsuhashi. He would next appear in Alor Setar, Malaysia, at the World Junior Championships, where he won more bronze medals with Arisa Higashino in mixed doubles, as well as the mixed team category.

Meanwhile, Higashino was also racking up bronze medals in 2013 and 2014 at the Asian Junior Championships. In June 2014, the pair made their debut at the Japan Open, where they competed in mixed doubles. However, their experience was short-lived and they failed to make it past the first round.

Even so, Watanabe didn’t slow down and would go on to win two titles during the 2014 Korea Junior Open for both the mixed doubles and the boys’ doubles with Chiharu Shida and Kenya Mitsuhashi respectively. He then moved forward to the 2015 season by snatching a win at the Dutch Junior Tournament boys’ doubles title match with Kenya Mitsuhashi, while finishing as a semifinalist with Chiharu Shida in the mixed doubles.

He would then go on to win the title for the mixed doubles event at the German Junior tournament. In July, he clinched bronze medals for both the mixed team events and the boys’ singles category. His next appearance was at the 2015 Russian Open, a BWF Grand Prix tournament, where he reached the finals for the first time in a senior international event.

But his winning streak wouldn’t end there — he would get two more titles at the Danish Junior Cup, after winning both the boys’ doubles and singles events. Finally, he would also win another bronze medal in the boys’ doubles category at the World Junior Championships held in Lima, Peru.

Their Professional Careers

During the span of his career, Watanabe has bagged plenty of bronze medals. He collected three while playing at the World Junior Championships, along with four more during the Asian Junior Championships. He was also selected for Japan’s mixed team to compete during the 2017 Sudirman Cup, which took place in Gold Coast, Australia, where he won the gold medal. This allowed him to qualify for the Asia Mixed Team Championships, also in 2017, where he traveled to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam — the team finished in the semi-finals and took home another bronze medal.

When 2018 arrived, both Watanabe and Higashino reached the finals for the All England Open as a team, beating all top three seeds and defeating the top-five seed team of Huang Ya Qiong and Zheng Si Wei from China, claiming their first world title. In July 2020, the pair would compete at the 2020 Summer Olympics, where they took home a bronze medal after winning their match against Hong Kong’s Tse Ying Suet and Tang Chun Man after two straight rounds. They would then go on to win the mixed doubles title again in the All England Open in March 2021.

Yuta Watanabe has a long list of achievements, which include:

  • Bronze medal at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo (Mixed doubles)
  • Various BWF World Championships mixed doubles medals in 2019 (bronze), 2021 (silver), and 2022 (silver)
  • Gold medal at the 2019 Asian Championships for men’s doubles in China, along with a bronze medal in mixed doubles in 2022, held in the Philippines
  • During the Badminton World Federation World Tour, he collected a total of 12 titles and 11 runners-up medals, which commenced in 2018. It consisted of many elite badminton tournaments held by the BWF and was divided into different levels, including the BWF Tour Super 100, Super 300, Super 500, Super 750, Super 1000, and the World Tour Finals

Arisa Higashino has also managed to snag a few medals for herself over her career, such as:

  • Bronze medal at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo (Mixed doubles)
  • Various BWF World Championships mixed doubles medals in 2019 (bronze), 2021 (silver), and 2022 (silver)
  • Bronze medal at the 2022 Asian Championships held in the Philippines
  • During the Badminton World Federation World Tour, she collected a total of 8 titles and 6 runners-up medals, which commenced in 2018. It consisted of many elite badminton tournaments held by the BWF and was divided into different levels, including the BWF Tour Super 100, Super 300, Super 500, Super 750, Super 1000, and the World Tour Finals

The Future of Badminton

While they aren’t the most well-known players in badminton, the pair have certainly made their mark and should be paid close attention to in the future. Watanabe, 25, and Higashino, 26, started their journey more than a decade ago and earned their first medal in 2014, after competing in Malaysia for the BWF World Junior Championships. Since then, they’ve had a long and fruitful partnership that will only inspire more youth, particularly in their native Japan, to keep pursuing their dreams, no matter how difficult the path.

Watanabe, in particular, had also proven that nothing is impossible, after winning both the mixed and men’s doubles with Arisa Higashino and Hiroyuki Endo in the All England Open in March 2021. Before this achievement, no one has been able to do so in more than 19 years. One year later, the dynamic team of Higashino and Watanabe would grab the highly coveted top spot among the Badminton World Federation’s rankings.

In November of last year, they were recognized as the world’s No. 1 seed and held the title in mixed doubles for a full week, showing the fruits of their labor, earning the most points after 10 tournaments and 52 grueling weeks of hard work. While they have since come down to No. 4, they are still very much a force to be reckoned with, and their rivals won’t soon forget their tenacity, strength, and prowess in court.

The team’s success isn’t just limited to the BWF — they also clinched their country’s first-ever Olympic medal when they won bronze at the Tokyo Games in 2020. They have also taken the world by storm, earning bronze medals from various countries, including Switzerland, Spain, England, Indonesia, France, Denmark, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. It seems that no matter where they go, the team of Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino will only continue to grow stronger and encourage more players to take up their rackets for generations to come.

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