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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Yuki Tsunoda Makes Solid Start to Formula One Season

More consistency in the early portion of the 2024 Formula One season than in past years has vaulted Yuki Tsunoda into the top 10 in the driver standings.

It's still early in a long Formula One season, with eight of 24 races completed. But for the first time in his career, it looks like Yuki Tsunoda has a good shot at finishing in the top 10 in 2024 in the driver standings.

Tsunoda, who made his F1 debut in 2021, has five top-10 finishes in his last six races to solidify his spot at 10th in the standings with 19 points. Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso is ninth with 33 points. Max Verstappen of Red Bull tops the list with 169 points.

At the Australian Grand Prix on March 24 and the Miami GP on May 5, Tsunoda had a pair of seventh-place finishes. He's already surpassed his points total from last season.

More consistency has helped vault Tsunoda, who turned 24 on May 11, into the top 10 this season. He placed a career-best 14th in the F1 standings in 2023 with 17 points, was 17th in 2022 and 14th in '21.

Up next: the Canadian Grand Prix on June 9 in Montreal.

Yuki Tsunoda
Yuki Tsunoda made his Formula One debut in 2021. (Peter Casey/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Yuki Tsunoda Making Strides in 2024

RB CEO Peter Bayer spoke about Tsunoda's maturation as a driver in a recent interview with Formula1.com. Tsunoda made his F1 debut when the team was known as AlphaTauri. The Red Bull-owned team was rebranded as Visa Cash App RB, or simply RB, before the 2024 season.

"I definitely believe he has made a big step forward," Bayer told the official F1 website. "It's physical preparation, but it's also his mental readiness to perform and deliver."

In the same article, Bayer had this to say: "He's extremely professional in the work that he's putting into the feedback with the engineers, and yes, he definitely made a big step up."

Yuki Tsunoda
RB's Yuki Tsunoda has had a pair of seventh-place finishes in the 2024 F1 season. (Brian Snyder/REUTERS)

After his aforementioned seventh-place finish in Miami, Tsunoda assessed his performance and the racing team's.

"As a team, we stuck to our plan and didn't make any mistakes today," Tsunoda told reporters. He added, "As for me, overall, I'm happy with my driving even though I made a mistake at the start. I reset myself and kept going, and especially in the last stint where I was just driving by myself, I was pushing and able to achieve similar lap times to the cars in front."

Tsunoda placed eighth in F1's most recent race, the Monaco GP, on May 25.

Yuki Tsunoda
Yuki Tsunoda rides a scooter before a Monaco GP practice session on May 24. (Benoit Tessier/REUTERS)

Tsunoda Pleased to Earn Points

How did Tsunoda react to his best-ever Monaco GP showing, after finishing 16th, 17th and 15th in his three previous race appearances?

"[It's] good that we scored points again," Tsunoda said, according to Formula1.com after the race. "I think we deserved these points. It was kind of fine-tuning, a bit of balance between me and my strategy."

He continued: "[I] kind of tried to be calm as much as possible. In the end, the last couple of laps I enjoyed it and [it's my] first points in Monaco, so definitely a happy day."

When Tsunoda placed 10th in the Japanese GP on April 7 at the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture, Bayer described it as a race highlighting his poise. Bayer noted the pressure of competing before Japanese fans in his home country.

"That's something that we've seen now at the last couple of races, and he has made such big progress mentally," Bayer said, according to motorsport.com.

"Over the winter he made amazing progress physically, but mentally he is on a different level now. He's taking this up, and he's actually taking energy from it, rather than being distracted. I think this was certainly a mega drive from him."

Yuki Tsunoda
Yuki Tsunoda participates in a practice session for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on May 18 in Imola, Italy. (Ciro De Luca/REUTERS)

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Teamwork Pays Off for Tsunoda and Racing Crew

In a motorsport.com article on Tsunoda posted online on April 14, the driver highlighted the never-ending quest for improvement in all aspects of racing operations. This, he said, is a big deal in more consistent quality results this season.

"I have to say that the team is honestly so focused on finding that hundredth here, a tenth here. It's a massive effort where everyone's fighting for it," Tsunoda told the website. "And I think that it's a homogeneous push, and that's probably what allows us to sort of sniff into the top 10."

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Haruka Kitaguchi competes in the women's javelin event at the Ostrava Golden Spike meet on May 28 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. (Courtesy of CTK/AP/via KYODO)

Track and Field

World Champion Javelin Thrower Kitaguchi Triumphs at Ostrava Meet

Haruka Kitaguchi extended her 2024 season winning streak to four in the women's javelin with a throw of 60.47 meters at the 63rd Ostrava Golden Spike meet on Tuesday, May 28 in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

The reigning world champion triumphed in her previous competition in her homeland with a winning toss of 63.45 meters in the Seiko Golden Grand Prix on May 19 in Tokyo.

Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (left) runs in the men's 100-meter final in the Diamond League Bislett Games in Oslo on May 30. (NTB Scanpix/AP/via KYODO)

In other track and field news, Japanese sprinter Abdul Hakim Sani Brown placed second in the men's 100 meters at the Diamond League Bislett Games meet on Tuesday in Oslo.

Sani Brown, 25, ran the race in 9.99 seconds. In doing so, he qualified to represent Japan at the Paris Olympics. The national qualifying standard is 10.0 seconds, according to the Japan Association of Athletic Federations.

Sani Brown admitted he was relieved to qualify for the Olympics.

"It finally feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders," said Sani Brown, who has Japanese and Ghanaian roots, according to Kyodo News. "I was doing well until around 70 meters but then started to lose momentum."

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Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani smacks a two-run homer in the eighth inning against the New York Mets on May 29 at Citi Field. (KYODO

Baseball

Ohtani Wants to Compete at the 2026 WBC

As the days zoom by, the 2023 World Baseball Classic may seem like a distant memory. Samurai Japan's thrilling victory over the United States in the final raised the spotlight on the tournament, which was first held in 2006.

Reigning champion Japan, led by 2023 WBC MVP Shohei Ohtani, is now looking forward to the next edition of the tournament in March 2026.

The Los Angeles Dodgers superstar has said many times that he wants to participate.

"I don't think I will be able to compete just because I want to," Ohtani told reporters at Dodger Stadium on Monday, May 27, Sports Nippon reported. "But of course, I will try to be selected. I think it is important to stay in the top tier [of players] first."

Through May 31, Ohtani had the second-most home runs (14) among National League players along with 38 RBIs and a .326 batting average.

Kei Nishikori plays a shot against Ben Shelton in a French Open second-round match on May 30 in Paris. (KYODO)

Tennis

Nishikori Pulls Out of French Open Match with Shoulder Injury

Playing in his first Grand Slam tournament since the 2021 US Open, Kei Nishikori won his men's singles first-round match at the French Open on Sunday, May 26. Nishikori defeated Canada's Gabriel Diallo 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 1-6, 7-5.

However, Nishikori, 34, was then unable to complete his second-round match against American Ben Shelton on Thursday, May 30 due to right shoulder pain. He was trailing 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 when he retired.

After the match, Nishikori spoke about his ailing shoulder.

"The pain began to increase midway through the second set," Nishikori was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. "Maybe I could play one more set."

He added, "When I thought I had to win all three sets from there, I made the decision out of concern over aggravating the hurt area. I just hope I won't be sidelined for a long period."

Agence France-Presse reported that Nishikori said he felt "sharp pain" in his shoulder.

In related news, former women's world No 1 Naomi Osaka fell to current world No 1 Iga Swiatek 7-6 (7-1), 1-6, 7-5 in a second-round encounter on Wednesday, May 29.

Former Chiba Jets head coach John Patrick in a February 2023 file photo. (B.LEAGUE)

Basketball

Coach Patrick, Jets Part Ways After Two Seasons

Veteran coach John Patrick guided the Chiba Jets to a championship runner-up finish in his first season at the helm, 2022-23. Chiba also won 53 of 60 regular-season games.

In the 2023-24 campaign, the Jets reached the playoffs as a wild-card team after going 35-25. They were eliminated by the Ryukyu Golden Kings in the playoff semifinals.

Patrick's two-year contract expired at the end of the playoffs, and Jets management decided to not renew it.

"First, I would like to thank the players, coaching staff, management staff, and all the fans and boosters of the Chiba Jets for creating an unforgettable and wonderful experience over the past two years and two seasons," Patrick said in a statement.

"In Chiba, it was not only the success of the team on the court and the daily efforts of the players that enriched my life, but also the friendships I built with kind people in Chiba Prefecture and surrounded by the beautiful sea and nature. I will miss you, but I look forward to spending time with my family back in Germany and seeing the bright future of the Chiba Jets when we meet again in the future."

Yuki Togashi (KYODO)

Togashi Finalizes a Four-Year Deal with the Jets

In related news, it was announced on Tuesday, May 28 that Jets star guard Yuki Togashi, who averaged 18.0 points and 5.4 assists per game this season, and the team have finalized a four-year deal.

"I am very happy to be able to play in a Jets uniform for another four years," Togashi said in a news release.

He added, "I have been playing for the Chiba Jets for nine seasons now, and I have been blessed with boosters, coaches, staff, and teammates who have helped me achieve results beyond my abilities. Thank you so much."

Togashi, 30, said he's determined to help the Jets achieve great success in the future.

"The level of the B.League is getting higher every year, and it is getting harder to keep winning," Togashi said. "But I hope to win more games, win as many titles as possible, and retire as a Chiba Jets player."

Former Czech Republic head coach Ronen Ginzburg in a 2019 file photo. (FIBA.BASKETBALL)

Brave Thunders Hand Coaching Reins to Ginzburg

The Kawasaki Brave Thunders have hired Israeli-born bench boss Ronen "Neno" Ginzburg as their new head coach, the team announced on May 24.

Ginzburg, 60, previously served as the Czech Republic national team head coach from 2013-23. His tenure included appearances in the 2015, 2017 and 2022 EuroBasket tournaments and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Ginzburg also has extensive coaching experience in the pro ranks, leading teams in Israel, the Czech Republic and Ukraine since 2000.

After missing the B.League playoffs for the first time this season with a 33-27 record, Brave Thunders coach Kenji Sato resigned. He led the squad from 2019-24.

Ginzburg outlined his decision to accept the coaching offer from Kawasaki.

"I chose to join the Kawasaki Brave Thunders because I believe the club is full of ambition to succeed," Ginzburg said.

He then said, "I found a very organized club with a great history as a club and an ambitious management team and management aiming for higher goals. After the success I experienced in Europe, it is a challenge for me to build a new team in Japan and lead it to the highest stage again."

Ginzburg said he will challenge his players to give 100% effort on the court at all times.

"We will play fast offensively and defensively, we will play attractive basketball, and every player will do his best for the club and for victory," Ginzburg said.

Utsunomiya Brex guard DJ Newbill, the B.League's 2023-24 MVP. (B.LEAGUE)

B.League Hands Out 2023-24 Season Awards

At the B.League Award Show on Friday, May 30, the 2023-24 season was celebrated at a banquet in Tokyo and numerous awards were handed out to recognize individual and team accomplishments.

Utsunomiya Brex guard DJ Newbill, who averaged 16.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 60 games, was named the 2023-24 MVP. A Penn State alum, Newbill had a starring role for the Brex, who had a league-best 51-9 record.

Newbill was joined on the Best Five team by Chiba's Togashi (an eight-time selection) and Brex teammate Makoto Hiejima (a three-time selection) along with Yokohama B-Corsairs playmaker Yuki Kawamura (a two-time pick) and Shimane Susanoo Magic forward Perrin Buford (a two-time pick).

Title-winning sideline supervisor Kyle Milling of the Hiroshima Dragonflies received the Best Head Coach Award.

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Cerezo Osaka's Leo Ceara scores a first-half goal against Kyoto Sanga on June 1 in Kyoto. (KYODO)

Soccer

Cerezo's Ceara Leads the J.League in Scoring

Cerezo Osaka's Leo Ceara, a Brazilian forward, leads the J.League with 13 goals in 17 matches in the 2024 J.League season.

Ceara scored his latest goal in a 1-1 draw with Kyoto Sanga on Saturday, June 1.

In the 2023 season, his first season with Cerezo, Ceara had 12 goals in 33 matches.

Marinos Routed in Second Leg of Asian Champions League Final

Al-Ain ended Yokohama F Marinos' hopes of winning the Asian Champions League title with a dominant 5-1 victory in the second leg of the final on May 25 in Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates.

Marinos lost the home-and-away series 6-3 on aggregate. 

Before getting routed in the rematch, manager Harry Kewell's club won the first leg 2-1 at Nissan Stadium on May 11.

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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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