It was a cruel reality check for Miu Hirano as her surging run of form came to a shuttering end in the Japan Open quarterfinals, but the 17-year-old vowed to rebuild her game to again challenge China's top players.
A straight-game defeat to Chen Meng came in a surprising manner as Hirano was beaten playing her favorite fast, attacking game -- something she believes further underlined that not just the world No. 5 but players from China, the sports' hotbed, have begun to mark her rise.
"I had been winning in rallies but then I was losing them and began to crumble," Hirano said Saturday. "She didn't make mistakes with her serves and returns, she was hitting to the edge during rallies, and finding ways to counter those is where I have work to do."
After having to watch the Japan team win the Olympic bronze at the Rio Games last summer as a reserve, Hirano became the youngest player to win a World Cup event in October before having a brief spell in the Chinese Super League, and her rise had shown no sign of stopping this year.
In January at the age of 16, Hirano became Japan's youngest national champion, but the biggest shock came with the Asian Championship in April, when she beat China's then world Nos. 1, 2 and 5 -- including Olympic gold medalist and world champ Ding Ning, and Chen in the final.
"I wasn't seen as a rival before but something's different, for sure," Hirano said. "They weren't preparing any countermeasures before so I believe that's where things changed."
Hirano lost to Ding in the semifinals at last month's worlds but came third, becoming the first Japanese to medal in 48 years. A Japan Open title would have been fitting before a home crowd.
It wasn't to be, however, as Hirano was thwarted by Chen's low spin returns. Still, in the future she might look back and see this tournament as a turning point in her career.
"I crumble when the other player tries not to let me play the way I do, so I want to become a player who doesn't fall regardless of where I am attacked," she said. "I don't want to get bogged down by whatever they come up with to stop me, but instead earn an ability that can adapt to them."
The defeat brought her back down to earth. But while acknowledging the depth of Chinese talent, Hirano was taking positives out of the meet and has set her sights on upcoming opportunities to make up for the setback at home.
"I thought I had caught up with Chinese players but was reminded how strong they are," she said. "I think they came to face me thinking they can't lose to me twice in a row."
"(But) I can find new things to work on by playing with different types of players (at tournaments)...I think there will be lots of Chinese players taking part at the China Open (from next week) so I'll try to beat them there or at the Australian Open (in July)."