Badminton: Axelsen, Momota lead sport's return to Asia for season finale

Viktor Axelsen (left) and Kento Momota at the VICTOR Denmark Open Badminton tournament in Odense, on Oct 24, 2021.
Viktor Axelsen (left) and Kento Momota at the VICTOR Denmark Open Badminton tournament in Odense, on Oct 24, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (AFP) - Top-class tour badminton returns to Asia for the first time in 10 months as men's world No. 1 Kento Momota heads a strong line-up for three events in Indonesia culminating in the season-ending World Tour Finals.

Olympic gold medallist Viktor Axelsen of Denmark is seeded to meet Japan's Momota in the final of this week's Indonesia Masters, which also features Tokyo bronze winner and home favourite Anthony Ginting.

But Olympic silver medallist Chen Long will be missing, along with all players from China, for the first of three back-to-back events on the resort island of Bali beginning Tuesday (Nov 16).

Ginting said he was grateful to be able to play at home again, even though there will be no spectators allowed inside the strict bubble to which the players will be confined for three weeks to protect them from the coronavirus.

"Not only team Indonesia, but all the players have waited to play in front of huge crowds, like we had during previous tournaments in Jakarta," said Ginting.

"But we're still trying to be grateful that the tournaments could be resumed."

Women's world No. 1 and Olympic silver medallist Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei is skipping the Indonesia events, while China are not sending any players, meaning Olympic champion Chen Yufei will also be absent.

Top seed in the women's will be Akane Yamaguchi, the world No. 3 from Japan, who will face a field featuring Olympic bronze medallist P.V. Sindhu of India and second seed Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand.

Asian badminton fans have been starved of action for almost two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The last Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour events to take place on the continent were held in Thailand in January without spectators, as were the Tokyo Olympics.

Players have been warming up and acclimatising since last week, but are confined to their Bali hotel and the arena.

"They're not allowed to go out once they've arrived at the hotel. We're providing for their needs here," Indonesia Badminton Association spokesman Broto Happy told AFP.

The players are staying in a luxury resort with plenty to occupy them, including a private beach.

Badminton World Tour events in Indonesia are usually played in the capital, Jakarta, but organisers opted for Bali, which has been badly affected by the loss of visitors during the pandemic.

"By holding the tournaments in Bali, we hope to at least revive its economy, which heavily relies on tourism," Happy said.

The spectator ban has come as a disappointment for many in a country where badminton is hugely popular.

"I'm sad that I can't watch the games in person, but I understand doing it without spectators is the best setting," said fan Renata Indra Adiningtyas, 19, who has resigned herself to watching the tournaments on television.

The Indonesia Masters ends on Sunday. The Indonesia Open takes place from Nov 23 to 28 and the season-ending BWF Tour finals run Dec 1 to 5.