Olympics: Shuttler Momota shines on long-awaited Games debut

Kento Momota's journey to Tokyo 2020 has been fraught with personal and professional setbacks. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - In his long overdue Olympic debut, men's singles No. 1 Kento Momota of Japan easily beat the United States' Timothy Lam 21-12, 21-9 on Sunday (July 25), even making the occasional trick shot behind his back during their warm-up.

Though Lam had his moments - once bringing his "favourite player" Momota to his knees - he was no match for Japan's darling on his home turf.

Momota's journey to Tokyo 2020 has been fraught with personal and professional setbacks, including contracting Covid-19. The 26-year-old was embroiled in an illegal gambling scandal months before the Rio Games in 2016, and banned by the Nippon Badminton Association.

Then world No. 2, Momota was stripped from the league tables and by the time he got back on the court in 2017, he was ranked 282nd. With a 39-match unbeaten streak, he clawed his way back to the top.

But Momota's Olympic dreams seemed crushed again in early 2020 when he was in a car accident that left the driver dead and damaged his sight among other injuries. He had time to recover during the pandemic, making a comeback at the All-England Open in March to lift Japanese hopes he could challenge for Olympic gold.

In women's singles, China's Chen Yu Fei and India's PV Sindhu destroyed their opponents with powerful smashes and decisive backhands in under 30 minutes, while a tearful Nozomi Okuhara from Japan overcame a far weaker player after a struggle.

Sindhu beat Israel's Ksenia Polikarpova 21-7, 21-10, leaving her visibly frustrated and hanging her head with each lost point.

"It was quite an easy match," Rio 2016 Olympics silver medallist Sindhu said at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza.

Though Sindhu, who was beaten to the gold at Rio by Spain's Carolina Marin, is No. 7 in world rankings, she is considered a serious threat to Chen and Taiwan's Tai Tzu-Ying. Marin withdrew from the Tokyo Games in June after tearing knee ligaments.

"Tokyo is a fresh start," Sindhu said. "You can't expect to be Superman, to think that you will again be a medallist. It's not like that because everybody is going to be at their top form." Chen Yu Fei, the second best women's singles player, crushed Egypt's Doha Hany 21-5, 21-3 in about 20 minutes.

Okuhara - world No. 3 - took the stage just after Sindhu, getting off to a rocky start against Germany's Yvonne Li, the world No. 22 but Okuhara rallied to win 21-17 21-4.

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