Tokyo: Up-and-coming shuttler Kento Momota is rewriting Japan’s history in badminton at the international level at a remarkable pace.
The 20-year-old won a bronze medal in men’s singles in Jakarta on Saturday, bringing the country its first men’s singles medal in the World Championships.
“I woke up fresh in the morning, and I was light on my feet today,” Momota said after beating Hong Kong’s Wei Nan 21-6, 21-14 in the quarterfinals. “So I was able to play the match in a very positive frame of mind.”
Momota entered the match with his concentration level high. He exploited Wei’s mistakes to score nine consecutive points and take the first set by a wide margin. Wei led 10-5 in the second set, but Momota used shots with both power and finesse to rally back and sweep his opponent.
Momota lost to world No. 1 Chen Long of China, but he is in the midst of a remarkable season. In April, Momota won the Singapore Open, a Super Series event, followed by a victory at the Indonesia Open in June, an event part of the higher-ranked Super Series Premier. No Japanese man had won a singles title in either series before Momota.
His world ranking rose to a career-high fourth before worlds.
A winning environment
Momota’s track record is decorated with titles. A native of Mitoyo, Kagawa Prefecture, he started badminton when he was a second-grader, inspired by his sister — who is three years older — and her enjoyment of the sport.
He won the primary school national championship four years later and persuaded his parents to let him attend Tomioka Daiichi Middle School in Fukushima Prefecture. The reason he chose to go there was because of the school’s ability to attract top badminton players and he wanted to train with the best. He also won a national title while there.
In his second year at the Tomioka High School, he finished second at the Inter-High School Championships. He captured the title next year, and became the first Japanese player to win at the World Junior Championships.
After high school, Momota joined the corporate team NTT East. In May 2014, he became a member of the national squad that earned Japan’s first victory at the Thomas Cup, an international team competition. Momota and his teammates snapped China’s title streak at five with a victory in the semifinals.
Momota’s remarkable advancement was halted Saturday when he lost to Chen 21-9, 21-15 in the semifinal at the World Championships. He could not find a way to attack the world No. 1 in the first game, collapsing early after losing consecutive points. The second game was closer, but the point difference gradually widened as Chen began deftly mixing up the tempo on his shots.
“I was supposed to play with the mentality of a challenger, but the pressure from my opponent made me hold something back — I wasn’t able to play like I was supposed to,” Momota said. “I didn’t play a quality game.”
But the loss has rekindled Momota’s motivation.
“I guess I had become complacent to a certain degree, but now I’ll work hard to quickly catch up with the players who are better than I am.”
Many will be watching to see whether he can swing his way to new chapters in Japan’s badminton history.
— The Yomiuri Shimbun