The smile is back on the face of the world No.1.
Kento Momota’s troubled relationship with his form found some resolution today as he beat his most difficult opponent yet since his car accident in January 2020.
His 21-18 21-10 victory over Lee Zii Jia in the Group D tie of the TotalEnergies BWF Sudirman Cup Finals 2021 was his first win over a top 10 player in 20 months; that he did it against Lee, who beat him convincingly at the All England, must have been particularly satisfying.
Momota’s win would have gone some way in reinforcing his self-belief after his disastrous early loss at Tokyo 2020. Back then he had looked leaden-footed, and even in his first match at the Sudirman Cup, against England’s Johnnie Torjussen, he’d appeared unsettled.
Today it was a different Momota, the closest in recent months to the man who had dominated the world circuit. Light on his feet and agile in defence, Momota gave nothing to Lee Zii Jia to work with. There was one 51-shot rally that Lee won to make it 15-all, but Momota was constantly on the prowl, always in the right place, cutting off certain winners, and intercepting with a sixth sense.
The tight control broke Lee’s resolve, and the Malaysian’s game fell apart in the second game.
Momota’s broad grin showed how much he valued this win.
“I was a bit confused lately, there were times when I was suffering. But today I could beat an opponent I’d lost to last time. This was a big win for me,” said the world No.1.
“At the All England I was astonished by his attacking play, so I knew I had to play faster with him. My form is not where it was yet, my footwork is not yet stable. I’d like to keep building my form.
“The first game was a game of endurance, it was quite exhausting, but I could play with strong will. In the second, it looked like he didn’t know how to proceed, I could make my own play.”
His vanquished opponent said Momota was on the way back to finding his best form.
“He has very strong character. Maybe he’s not at his best, but he’s getting back.
“I couldn’t continue the momentum I had early on. In the second game I was far away from Momota. I had a very good opening and I couldn’t maintain the focus and momentum.”
Akane Yamaguchi had earlier given Japan their first point against Malaysia, and Momota’s victory was followed by Chiharu Shida/Nami Matsuyama’s 21-16 21-17 result over Pearly Tan/Thinaah Muralitharan. Japan wrapped the tie 4-1 after Yuta Watanabe/Arisa Higashino clinched the mixed doubles over Hoo Pang Ron/Cheah Yee See.
Heo Guides Korean Sweep
Chinese Taipei looked set to take the first match as Lu Ching Yao and Yang Po Han appeared in great touch against Choi Solgyu and Seo Seungjae, but a lapse in the second game cost them dear and the Koreans had the first match in their grasp.
Yu Chien Hui couldn’t trouble An Seyoung in women’s singles, and Heo Kwanghee added one more big victim to his record after his upset of world No.1 Kento Momota at Tokyo 2020.
“There was big responsibility on my shoulders as I was going in with the possibility of winning the tie for Korea. As the lesser-ranked player compared to Chou, I could play without expecting to win. This result gives me great satisfaction, similar to what I felt when I beat Momota at the Olympics,” said Heo.
Korea didn’t let off the pace. Both their experimental pairs – Kong Heeyong/Lee Sohee in women’s doubles and Seo Seungjae/Shin Seungchan in mixed doubles – were too strong for their Chinese Taipei opponents, and the top spot was taken for the loss of just two games in five matches.
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