SINGAPORE - The world's top male badminton player, Kento Momota, was involved in a car accident in Malaysia early on Monday (Jan 13). The accident resulted in the driver of the van carrying the Japanese shuttler and three others being killed.
The incident has cast a pall over Momota's celebrations after he had captured the Malaysia Masters title with ease on Sunday, when he beat Denmark's Viktor Axelsen 24-22, 21-11.
It remains to be seen if the accident will affect his preparations for the upcoming Olympics, where he is bidding to win a first gold at his home Games.
Here are five things to know about Momota:
1. He was born on Sept 1, 1994 in Mitoyo, in Japan's Kagawa prefecture.
2. He owns two World Championships, with his victory over Denmark's Anders Antonsen last August making him only the fourth male player to win back-to-back world titles. That honour roll was previously occupied only by Chinese players - Yang Yang, Lin Dan and Chen Long.
3. He is also a two-time Asian champion and last year became the first Japanese man to win the prestigious All England Open.
4. Citing their longevity at the summit of the sport, his idols are Chinese legend Lin and Malaysian icon Lee Chong Wei. Last year, Momota told The Straits Times: "I, too, would like to remain No. 1 for a prolonged period. Of course, I feel the pressure of being No. 1 sometimes. But I'm trying not to think so much about it because that can be crippling. I'd rather focus on my game."
5. In April 2016, just four months before the Rio Olympics and when he was ranked second in the world, he was banned "indefinitely" by the Nippon Badminton Association after admitting to visiting an illegal casino, a crime punishable by imprisonment in Japan. He was also removed from the world rankings. By the time he returned to competition in July 2017, he was world No. 282 and had to fight his way back playing in the lowly Challenger circuit to earn enough points to gain entry into the bigger tournaments. He called it the "darkest period of my life".
6. But during his suspension, the 1.75m-tall player retrained his focus and worked hard on physical conditioning and court control.
7. He is a two-time champion of the Singapore Open, though it remains to be seen if he will return this year to defend his title. The tournament takes place from April 7-12 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
8. Last year, he claimed a record 11 tour titles.
9. His stellar 2019 saw him become the first male badminton player to earn US$500,000 (S$673,000) in a calendar year. Momota made US$120,000 from winning the lucrative HSBC BWF World Tour Finals. He also claimed two Super 1000 events (All England and China Opens), three Super 750 events (Japan Open, Denmark Open, Fuzhou China Open) two Super 500 (Singapore Open, Korea Open) and one Super 300 (German Open) title.
10. The left-hander is known for his ability to manipulate his opponents in long rallies and explosive movements on court.