“I didn’t watch any of the 2016 Olympics because I felt too regretful. It was a tough time, but thanks to people who supported me I was able to get through it.” – Kento Momota
Kento Momota is going to take some stopping at Tokyo 2020.
Since becoming Japan’s first men’s singles badminton world champion in August 2018, the left-hander has been far and away from the best player on the planet.
In 2019, he has found a new level of consistency with victory at the Fuzhou China Open making it 10 titles for the year including a successful defense of his world title.
Three-time Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong Wei enjoyed similar dominance in 2010 and 2013, winning seven BWF Super Series (now the World Tour) events in each of those years.
But he famously failed to win a world title despite his run of nearly four years at the top of the world rankings from 2008 to 2012.
Momota’s next big target comes in July where he will also attempt to win something which eluded Lee, an Olympic gold on his overdue Games debut.
Back from the depths
Momota missed Rio 2016 after accepting a one-year ban from international competition in April of that year for regularly visiting an illegal casino in Tokyo.
The Nippon Badminton Association agreed not to press charges which, had they reached a criminal court, could have seen the then world number two go to prison for up to three years.
That came just days after he defeated Viktor Axelsen to claim the India Open title having beaten the Dane in the final of the 2015 World Superseries Finals in Dubai.
Axelsen went on to take bronze in the Rio Games
Reflecting on his exile, Momota told Tokyo Weekender, “I couldn’t play, I couldn’t see any goals and my future career looked extremely dicey. I really appreciate everyone who was there for me.
But he does not believe he was ready to challenge for the Olympic title back then. I was playing quite well at that point but don’t think I could have won the competition in Brazil. In fact, I would say at that point in my career it was probably impossible to take home the gold. And having worked hard on his game and his fitness, Momota made a hugely successful return to badminton’s top echelon in 2018. At the end of April, he showed his improvement by stunning Olympic champion Chen Long in the final of the Asian Championships in Wuhan, China.”
n the final of the Thomas Cup a month later, he beat Chen again but could not stop Japan going down 3-1 to China.
The left-hander went into the World Championships as the sixth seed and took advantage of a kind draw to reach the final.
His opponent was Shi Yuqi who had beaten five-time world champion Lin Dan before accounting for Chen in the semi-finals.
Shi went into the match as a favourite, but he was outgunned by Momota who won 21-11, 21-13 to become Japan’s first men’s singles world champion.
Afterward, he said, “I want to be like Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan, who ruled the world of badminton for a long, long time.
“They don’t only boast longevity, but they have always displayed top-quality to entertain their fans.”