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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Yuki Tsunoda Heading in the Right Direction

In his third season as a Formula One driver, Yuki Tsunoda says he's aiming for better results but sees AlphaTauri's progress, citing the past three races.

In a Formula One season dominated by record-breaking Red Bull driver Max Verstappen (17 victories in 20 races to date), AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda has had his best overall results of late.

Tsunoda, who's in his third season as an F1 driver, is coming off a ninth-place finish at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix on November 5.

Two races before that, the 23-year-old was eighth in the United States Grand Prix on October 22 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, finishing 74.385 seconds off Verstappen's winning time.

In between, Tsunoda was 12th in the Mexico City Grand Prix on October 29.

The Kanagawa Prefecture native has also had a trio of 10th-place finishes this season: the Australian Grand Prix (April 2), the Azerbaijan GP (April 30), and the Belgian GP (July 30).

Tsunoda currently sits in 14th place (among 22 competitors) in the driver standings. Two races remain in the 2023 season. Round 22, the Las Vegas Grand Prix, is set for November 16-18, followed by the season finale at Abu Dhabi on November 24-26.

In 2022, Tsunoda finished in 17th place.

As an F1 rookie in 2021, he was 14th.

Yuki Tsunoda
Yuki Tsunoda (KYODO)

Yuki Tsunoda Reflects on Sao Paulo Grand Prix

After the race in Sao Paulo, Tsunoda said he had mixed feelings about his performance.

"I'm happy for scoring points, but I definitely could've done more," Tsunoda said, according to this story, posted on formula1.com.

He continued: "I made a mistake in Turn 10, which caused me to lose one position, so I'm really sorry to the team."

Tsunoda then said, "I think more was possible, especially as we were managing some reliability issues that we'll look into."

As for the overall picture, Tsunoda continued his post-race analysis by noting teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who finished 17th, struggled due to an early crash. But the Japanese driver believes AlphaTauri is progressing in a positive manner.

"It's such a shame about Daniel because he was also really fast. I think we both could've scored points today," Tsunoda told F1's official website. "Looking at the positives, starting 16th and ending up ninth shows the strong pace of the car and that we've definitely made a big step in the last races since we introduced the upgrades in Austin."

Yuki Tsunoda
Yuki Tsunoda participates in the Qatar Grand Prix on October 8 near Doha. (GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

Tsunoda Seeks Strong Finish to the F1 Season

With 21 points entering the penultimate race of 2023, AlphaTauri trails Williams by seven points in the constructor standings. The two teams are eighth and seventh, respectively, among F1's 10 teams.

Tsunoda aims to help AlphaTauri climb past Williams in the standings.

"We're in a good rhythm now, scoring points in three [consecutive] weeks, and it's important to keep that momentum for the last two races of the season," Tsunoda said, according to FormulaOne.com.

Tsunoda added, "We'll keep extracting performance from the car and aim to continue scoring points, to close the gap to Williams."

Upgrades to Tsunoda's car included an overhauled "suspension and chassis geometry to increase downforce," motorsport.com reported.

Tsunoda is pleased with the upgrades. Speaking to motorsport.com, he said, "Inside the car, I feel quite similar. Obviously, I feel better, I feel more balanced. "The results say everything. We definitely made a big step, especially with the upgrades we had in Austin.

"Before Austin, we didn't score enough points often. Now, we're scoring three races in a row. That shows everything."

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Naomi Osaka in a September 2022 file photo. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Tennis

Osaka to Launch Comeback at Brisbane International

Former world No 1 Naomi Osaka is scheduled to begin her comeback at the Brisbane International, which starts on December 31.

According to Australian tournament officials, Osaka is among the entrants listed for the tune-up event for the Australian Open. She's also scheduled to participate in the Australian Open, which gets underway on January 14.

Osaka, 26, gave birth to daughter Shai in July. 

She has been sidelined since September 2022.

"I am really excited about getting back out on court and competing," Osaka said, according to a news report on the WTA website. 

Osaka added, "I always love starting my season in Brisbane and can't wait to return. The Brisbane International is such a great tournament and will set me up for a brilliant comeback this summer."

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Yuki Matsui attends a news conference on November 8. (KYODO)

Baseball

Veteran Reliever Matsui Eyes Move to MLB

After 10 seasons with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, left-handed reliever Yuki Matsui will pursue a move to the major leagues as a free agent.

Matsui, 28, announced his intentions to join an MLB team for the 2024 season on Wednesday, November 8.

"I think this is the best timing, considering things such as my age," Matsui said, according to Kyodo News.

He added, "I've made this decision, wanting to try a higher level."

Matsui has 236 career saves and a 2.40 ERA in 501 games for the Sendai-based team. He had a career-high 39 saves in 2023.

Shota Imanaga in a June 2022 file photo. (KYODO)

BayStars' Imanaga to be Posted

Like Matsui, Yokohama DeNA BayStars left-hander Shota Imanaga wants to pitch in the majors in 2024.

Imanaga has spent his entire eight-year career with the BayStars, compiling a win-loss record of 64-50 and a 3.18 ERA. He went 7-4 with a 2.80 ERA and a Central League-best 174 strikeouts in 2023.

Imanaga won a career-best 13 games in 2019.

To achieve his goal of pitching for an MLB team next year, Imanaga, who threw a no-hitter on June 7, 2022, against the Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters, will need to be posted. Therefore, the BayStars must authorize Imanga's request to be posted.

The BayStars said on Saturday, November 11 that they support his goal.

"If someone has a dream he wants to realize, and we think he has the ability to achieve it, we want to support that," team executive Tatsuhiro Hagiwara was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.

NPB players are required to have nine seasons of experience to become international free agents. But they can be posted for MLB clubs during the offseason if they have not yet played nine NPB seasons.

A passage from MLB.com's explanation of the posting system states, "All 30 MLB clubs have 45 days to negotiate with a player after he is posted. If no agreement is reached in that timeframe, the player returns to his NPB club for the coming season. He cannot be posted again until the following offseason."

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Celtic's Daizen Maeda in action with Atletico Madrid's Koke in a Champions League Group E match on October25 in Glasgow. (Russell Cheyne/REUTERS)

Soccer

Celtic FC's Maeda Sidelined With a Knee Injury

Forward Daizen Maeda sustained a knee injury in the first half of Celtic FC's 6-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in a UEFA Champions League match on Tuesday, November 7. He also received a red card on the play for his high tackle of Atletico Madrid's Mario Hermoso.

Maeda, 26, is expected to be unavailable to play for six weeks due to a strained medial ligament, Celtic manager Brandon Rogers, who's in his first season at the helm, announced on Friday.

"It's a big shame for us because he's been brilliant for me since I came here," Rogers told a news conference on Friday, two days before the Scottish Premiership side's showdown with Aberdeen at Celtic Park. 

Rogers added, "It's a big loss because his attitude and mentality going into every game is superb. He initiates the pressure for us at the top end, but I always say, it's an opportunity for someone else to come in and take that opportunity to play."

Masaya Yamada skates in the men's 1,500-meter event in a World Cup meet on November 11 in Obihiro, Hokkaido Prefecture. (KYODO)

Speed Skating

Yamada Shines in Season-Opening Meet

Masaya Yamada collected victories in the men's 1,000- and 1,500-meter races on Friday and Saturday, November 10 and 11, respectively, at the ISU World Cup speed skating circuit's season-opening meet in Obihiro, Hokkaido Prefecture.

In winning the 1,500, Yamada clocked 1 minute, 45.47 seconds at Meiji Hokkaido-Tokachi Oval, edging American Jordan Stolz by 0.02 seconds. 

Yamada, 27, earned his first career World Cup win in the 1,500, completing the race in 1:08.35.

Also for Japan, Miho Takagi triumphed in the women's 1,500 in 1:54.54 on Saturday. Antoinette Rijpma-De Jong of the Netherlands was the runner-up.

The three-day meet concludes on Sunday. Then the ISU World Cup Speed Skating Series heads to Beijing (November 17-19).

Briefly…

The Japan women's team finished second in the 2023 Pan Continental Curling Championships in Kelowna, Canada, dropping an 11-6 final to South Korea on November 4.

In British Columbia, the match was tied 6-6 in the sixth end before South Korea outplayed Japan the rest of the way. 

Japan captain Satsuki Fujisawa said, "We had some good chances, but they've been a really good team this week."

Fujisawa continued by saying, "We've not been playing good curling this season so far, that's why I'm really pleased that we made it to the final. But I really wanted to win."

Shohei Ohtani is teaming up with New Balance Japan to donate baseball gloves to roughly 20,000 elementary schools in Japan. (Provided by New Balance Japan)

Quote of the Week

"I'm hoping the kids can spend their days happily with a lot of energy through baseball. … [And] I'll be looking forward to sharing the field one day with someone that grew up using this glove!"

MLB free agent Shohei Ohtani on his decision to donate around 60,000 New Balance gloves to an estimated 20,000 elementary schools in Japan. Ohtani made an announcement on Instagram on Wednesday, November 8.


Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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