Badminton: Japanese wins create badminton history

Kento Momota of Japan returns a shot against Viktor Axelsen of Denmark during their men's single final match in the Dubai World Superseries Finals badminton tournament.
Kento Momota of Japan returns a shot against Viktor Axelsen of Denmark during their men's single final match in the Dubai World Superseries Finals badminton tournament. PHOTO: AFP
Kento Momota of Japan celebrates after winning his men's single final match against Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the Dubai World Superseries Finals badminton tournament.
Kento Momota of Japan celebrates after winning his men's single final match against Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the Dubai World Superseries Finals badminton tournament. PHOTO: AFP

DUBAI • Japan scored the finest double success in its badminton history when Kento Momota and Nozomi Okuhara captured the men's and women's singles titles at the tour's year-end flagship event, the Superseries Finals, yesterday.

Momota, who was involved in one piece of history last year when he helped his country win the Thomas Cup world team championship for the first time, created another by beating Viktor Axelsen, the world No. 6 from Denmark, 21-15, 21-12 in the rather tame final.

This result was hardly in doubt from the middle of the first game on. But the earlier triumph of his compatriot, Okuhara, who beat Wang Yihan, the former world champion and world No. 3 from China, 22-20, 21-18, certainly was.

Okuhara had to recover from game point down at 19-20 in the first game, which she very luckily did with two successive net cords.

Then the world No. 4 trailed 9-15 in the second game, before summoning just enough energy to wear Wang down.

Her rallying and containment was often physically draining for her as well as opponents, but she always "found something emotionally when I needed it", she said.

The 20-year-old broke down in tears when she completed the match after 63 minutes.

"These were tears of happiness, it was a really hard match," she said.

Wang admitted she was affected mentally when she challenged a shuttle which was indicated out and the video analysis proved that it was out.

Amazingly, Okuhara also beat Carolina Marin, the world No. 1 from Spain, twice during the week. She also defeated Indian Saina Nehwal, the former top-ranked shuttler, and Tai Tzu-ying, the defending champion from Chinese Taipei.

Although slow shuttles helped Okuhara during this marvellous sequence of wins, which were all completed in straight games, her success still prompted questions as to whether she is now an Olympic medal candidate.

She deflected her podium chances but made no secret of her desire to feature at the Rio Games next year "because I never attended any Olympic Games before".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'Japanese wins create badminton history'. Print Edition | Subscribe