NANJING • Kento Momota dedicated his World Championships title yesterday to those who stuck by him when a gambling scandal threatened to wreck his budding badminton career.
The explosive 23-year-old convincingly defeated China's highly promising Shi Yuqi 21-11, 21-13 in Nanjing, becoming the first Japanese man to win the world title.
Momota's career descended into controversy in 2016 when Japanese badminton chiefs suspended him for more than a year for visiting an illegal casino, denying him a place at the Rio Olympics.
Momota, No. 2 in the world at the time, has been working his way back to the top ever since and was the pre-tournament favourite.
After dismissing Shi, he was coy when talking about his temporary absence from the sport.
But he said after a pause: "There was a time when I was away. But I got a lot of help and support from many people, this title is a good reward for them."
I WANT TO ENTERTAIN TOO
They have had long and successful careers and, like them, I want to give the audience enjoyment.
KENTO MOMOTA pays tribute to the likes of Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan.
Momota, now seventh in the rankings, added that he wanted to emulate greats Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan, two superstars who have reigned over badminton for well over a decade. Lee missed the tournament because of illness and Lin was well beaten by Shi in the third round.
"They have had long and successful careers and, like them, I want to give the audience enjoyment," said Momota, whose championship-winning point was an anti-climax - the shuttlecock hitting the top of the net before falling in his favour.
The Japanese immediately apologised to Shi, who was playing in front of his home crowd and appeared nervous, making a series of errors.
The third seed, 22, also defeated compatriot and Olympic champion Chen Long on the way to the final to confirm a changing of the guard in the Chinese men's game. "That is why they call me the hope of Chinese badminton, but I need to improve on all fronts," he said.
In the women's final, Carolina Marin also claimed her own slice of history - becoming the first woman to win three singles world titles with a 21-19, 21-10 win over the unfortunate PV Sindhu.
The Spaniard, 25, adds the crown to her titles in 2014 and 2015, and the Olympic gold she won at Sindhu's expense at Rio 2016.
"I feel really happy, I cannot describe my emotions now, I have so many inside," said Marin, who was imperious all week despite being a modest seventh in the seedings.
"I have been waiting for this moment for a long time and preparing for this moment for a long time."
Third seed Sindhu, 23, well known for her never-say-die spirit, has now suffered a string of near-misses. She was beaten in last year's World Championships final by Japan's Nozomi Okuhara and had to settle for silver at this year's Commonwealth Games too.
Sindhu admitted she could not live with the pace of Marin.
"Carolina has that speed and she is very aggressive. She played very fast and quick paced during the tournament," said the Indian.
"Sometimes it is not your day, ups and downs will always be there and you have to always come back stronger."