JAPAN OPEN QF – Momota beats his idol

When Kento Momota was a boy, he dreamt of playing with his idol, Lin Dan, and on Friday at the Japan Open, he faced him as the reigning World Champion… […]

When Kento Momota was a boy, he dreamt of playing with his idol, , and on Friday at the , he faced him as the reigning World Champion…

By Miyuki Komiya, Badzine Correspondent live in Tokyo.  Photos: Badmintonphoto (live)

The first time that (pictured) faced Lin Dan on a badminton court was at the All England back in 2015.  On that occasion, the two-time Olympic gold medallist won the match 21-18, 21-19 against a Momota who was still playing his idol with a boyish excitement.  This time at the Japan Open, however, he needed to play Lin Dan as the World Champion.

After coming back to the international stage last year following his one-year suspension, Momota recorded his first wins over star players Chen Long and Lee Chong Wei, as well as continuing his previous dominance over Viktor Axelsen.  The one remaining star he had yet to beat was the legend Lin Dan and badminton fans had been looking forward to their match for a long time, more than a year after Momota’s comeback began.  Finally, it was held in Momota’s home Japan.

The first game started close but Momota tried to change to more offensive tactics and took a huge lead, soon closing out the first game 21-8.  In the second, Lin Dan tried to move Momota around more and hit the shuttles toward Momota’s left side of the net and right side of the back line in turn.  Momota returned patiently with smooth footwork and again proceed to rack up the points.

The match ended with Lin Dan returning Momota’s service out on the sideline.  Finally, Momota had defeated his hero Lin Dan (pictured left) in straight games of 21-8 21-10.

“Lin Dan has been my idol since I was a boy,” Momota said afterward.  “Before the match, I had two feelings: one was that I was very excited to play with him and the other was that I needed to try to win.  I had to manage both feelings.

“When I stepped onto the court, I tried to believe strongly that I could play better than my opponent.  I kept strong mentally during the match so I was able to play patiently throughout.  I have been watching Lin Dan’s matches since I was a boy.  From those studies, I have learned to anticipate what his tactics will be and to move smoothly and fast.

“This win from Lin Dan has given me confidence.  I want to keep this feeling of pleasure for a while, but I have another tough match tomorrow so I will prepare my best for it.”

Lin Dan said, “I didn’t have much stamina for today because of the previous two matches.  I lost due to his speed.  Momota played very well with few mistakes.  I think it was good for me to play with him here because it allowed me to know about his performance.  We will play together more often in the future.  I will show my speedy performance in next our match.”

Momota will face Viktor Axelsen in the semi-final tomorrow, while in the other half of the draw, world #33 Korean veteran Lee Dong Keun followed up his defeat of former world #1 team-mate Son Wan Ho by extending his unbeaten streak to two matchs over world #8 Srikanth Kidambi, another former #1.  Next, Lee will compete with Thailand’s Khosit Phetpradab (pictured), another player who never reached the final of a event.  Phetpradab also advanced after two huge upsets, both of his coming against Chinese stars World Championship runner-up Shi Yuqi and Olympic gold medallist Chen Long.

Women’s singles featured three China-Japan battles, with both upset queens from Thursday failing to advance.  Gao Fangjie was herself upset by Japan’s world #17 Aya Ohori, while Chen Xiaoxin could not follow her victory over Tai Tzu Ying with one over former World Champion Nozomi Okuhara.

Chen Yufei, the only one of the trio whose second round win was not an upset, was the one who pulled off an upset in the quarter-finals.  She beat world #2 Akane Yamaguchi (pictured) in three games and will face three-time World Champion Carolina Marin in the semis.

After losing her quarter-final to Chen, Akane Yamaguchi said, “I’m disappointed at my loss today.  Actually, I felt my body heavy.  In the first game, I couldn’t run fast as usual.

“I got the second game because I tried to speed up but I couldn’t keep my speed in the deciding game so I couldn’t manage my pace.  My condition was not so bad but I need to train to improve my stamina to move in full court for the entire match.”

By the end of the quarter-final round, Japan’s fearsome legion of women’s doubles pairs had dwindled to just one with the tame loss of World Champions Matsumoto/Nagahara to the in-form Chinese duo of Du Yue and Li Yinhui (pictured).  However, early in the day, two-time World Championship runners-up Yuki Fukushima / Sayaka Hirota (pictured below) showed their great performance to make their way into the final four with a win over 6th-seeded Thais Kititharakul/Prajongjai.

At the beginning of the match, the Japanese pair made a few easy mistakes but they recovered successfully after the mid-game interval, adapted to the shuttle speed and played better and better. After winning the first game 21-12, the Japanese pair weathered a good start to the second game by the Thai pair and showed a flawless performance.  The world #1 pair scored an incredible 17 consecutive points to win the match in straight games.

“We lost to the Thai pair in the last Thailand Open,” Fukushima said.  “We tried to keep our concentration to win.  In this match, we were able to keep our pace with our tactics for the entire match so I believe that is how we were able to show our good performance this time.”

Hirota added, “We expected the long rallies with our opponents.  I think this win was due to our ability to play patiently.  Our goal is to get this title but we should focus on our match tomorrow.”

Click here for complete quarter-final results

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