Momota starts year with another title

Kento Momota punching the air after sealing victory in the Malaysia Masters final against a despondent Viktor Axelsen. The Japanese world No. 1's win in Kuala Lumpur was the 13th straight time he had beaten the Dane, dating back to 2014.
Kento Momota punching the air after sealing victory in the Malaysia Masters final against a despondent Viktor Axelsen. The Japanese world No. 1's win in Kuala Lumpur was the 13th straight time he had beaten the Dane, dating back to 2014. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

KUALA LUMPUR • It is a new year but the same brilliance from world No. 1 Kento Momota as the Japanese badminton star emerged victorious at the Malaysia Masters yesterday.

He beat Denmark's Viktor Axelsen 24-22, 21-11 in a high-quality final at the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil for his first piece of silverware of the new campaign.

Momota had a stellar 2019 with 11 titles, the most ever by a male player in a season. He ended last term with back-to-back wins at the Fuzhou China Open and year-ending BWF World Tour Finals.

He has been equally dominant against the fifth-ranked Axelsen. Last night's victory was Momota's 13th straight win over the Dane, a former world champion who spent 51 weeks between 2017 and 2018 atop the world rankings.

The opening game was understandably tense. Axelsen raced to a 7-1 lead only for Momota to level at eight-all before moving 18-13 clear.

This time, it was Axelsen who clawed back, winning the next seven points for game point at 20-18. He failed to convert but had another at 21-20 and thought he had clinched it but his celebration was cut short by the umpire who ruled a fault.

After a deft drop shot ended the 53-minute clash, Momota punched the air in celebration. He said: "We know each other's game and I had to be careful.

"He was playing really well and had a lead. I thought I had even lost it before the umpire ruled a fault."

Losing the first game seemed to deflate Axelsen. He fell into a 3-17 deficit in the second game and never recovered.

He said: "I did my best and unfortunately today it wasn't my day. I played a very good first game and I'm happy with that."

Momota, 25, is widely expected to clinch gold at home in July's Tokyo Olympics. He missed out on the Rio Olympics four years ago due to a suspension for gambling.

In the women's final, China's world No. 1 Chen Yufei won her ninth career title with an emphatic 21-17, 21-10 victory over Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu-ying.

Second-ranked Tai said: "She is very stable, she never makes mistakes. I couldn't control my lifts today and I had trouble with the draught."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2020, with the headline 'Momota starts year with another title'. Print Edition | Subscribe