BUKIT JALIL: With his fiery red new hairstyle, Japan’s rising star Kento Momota is ready to take the world by storm.
The 2012 world junior champion from the Kagawa prefecture has been enjoying a stellar rise through the ranks.
Last year, Momota, who turned 20 last Thursday, achieved a career best as he made the semi-finals of the China Open, before losing to China’s Wang Zhengming.
Having risen significantly through the ranks, from No. 89 last January to a current career high of No. 17 in the world, Momota who sports a cool and calm demeanour much like Lin Dan, believes he can only get better.
There are many incentives to spur the young Momota to do well, especially with Japan setting their sights on the Thomas Cup Finals which will be held in New Delhi in May.
Momota is currently the third-ranked Japanese, behind world No. 5 Kenichi Tago and Takuma Ueda who is No. 15.
There will be no qualifying matches for the Thomas Cup. Instead, the teams earn their spots through their individual rankings.
“I played really well last year and now that I am at No. 17 in the world, my main target is to at least maintain, or improve on it.
“I owe most of my growth to the fact that I have been in NTT East, the same team as Tago, back home in Japan.
“Training with an experienced senior like him has definitely helped me improve a lot and I am looking to get better and better.
“Right now, in terms of team rankings, Japan is third in the world and my goal is to become a strong third singles for the team.”
Meanwhile, Momota also has another reason to get fired up at the Maybank Malaysian Open which starts on Tuesday with the qualifying round. The main draw begins on Wednesday.
He will take on Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in the first round ... and he is eager to resume their rivalry from their junior days.
“To face Viktor, who is from the same batch as me during the juniors, will be very exciting,” said Momota.
“He’s a fast attacking player with a lot of power and I’m really looking forward to playing against him.”