Japan's golden boy and reigning World No. 1, Kento Momota, who has had his eyes set on the Tokyo Olympics for a long time, is eager to claim the yellow metal for himself. It has been a long wait for the Guinness Book record holder for the maximum number of titles (11) won in a single season, who is yet to make his Olympics debut.
Since Kento Momota could not take part in the 2016 Rio Games owing to a one-year-ban being imposed, the Japanese will be all the more impatient for the games in Tokyo to commence.
There have been a lot of hiccups in Kento Momota's exciting but illustrious career so far. The 2-time World Champion has had to face near-death situations and undergo phases of difficult mental health and physical fitness in recent years as well.
The 26-year-old star is currently scripting a comeback on the BWF tour after recovering from an eye injury suffered in 2020. In the All England Open 2021, Momota finished as a quarter-finalist, losing to eventual winner Lee Zii Jia.
Playing in his home country, Momota will no doubt get unwavering support and this should empower him emotionally.
Tough competition awaits Kento Momota in Tokyo
Kento Momota's path towards clinching the illusive yellow metal at Tokyo won't be a cakewalk. The men's competition is at an all-time high with both new-age as well as seasoned players gearing up to put in a stiff fight.
At least 5 shuttlers in the fray can play spoilsport to Kento Momota's comeback party and disrupt the World No. 1 player's Olympic dream. Here's taking a look at the hurdles which lie in Kento Momota's way:
#5 Viktor Axelsen
The rivalry between World No. 1 Kento Momota and World No. 2 Viktor Axelsen is pretty historic. Axelsen, who is known for his offensive style of playing, has had to struggle a lot against Kento Momota.
In 15 meetings so far with the Japanese, the 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medalist Axelsen has only emerged successful once, way back at the 2014 German Open. In all the other encounters, it has been Kento Momota who has called the final shots, edging past the Dane time and again.
Although the statistics [1-14] might look glaring, this does not do credit to the amount of drama and quality of badminton that gets produced when two of the finest shuttlers on the tour clash.
While Momota is yet to get back into the groove this season, Axelsen is in slightly better form, having finished as a finalist at the All England Open 2021. Come Tokyo, it remains to be seen if Axelsen can conjure new tricks and disrupt Momota's Olympic dreams.
#4 Chou Tien Chen
An unconventional player from Chinese Taipei, Chou Tien Chen, could play spoilsport to Kento Momota's hopes of clinching an Olympic gold. The 31-year-old, who is currently placed at World No. 4, is enjoying a good run of form ever since he parted ways with his old coach and went solo.
In fact,Tien Chen has been performing exceptionally well in the last couple of years and has also been a semi-finalist at 2 events in the Thailand leg of the BWF tour this year.
However, against the Japanese, Tien Chen has only been victorious twice in their 13 career meetings so far. Momota's dominance on the court has always been overpowering and Tien Chen, despite his exceptional skills with the racquet, hasn't been able to dent Momota's dominance. Tien Chen could possibly use Momota's absence from the tour to his advantage, as the latter makes his way back into competition.
#3 Chen Long
2-time Olympic medalist, as well as reigning Olympic champion Chen Long, is possibly the biggest threat to Kento Momota. For the veteran Chinese shuttler, who has practically every important medal in his bag, Kento Momota has been a fierce rival. The duo have almost kept abreast of each other and their clashes are perpetually explosive and intense.
Yet to begin his 2021 season, Chen Long has been missing in action since the All England Open 2020, where he finished as a quarter-finalist. Long's rivalry with Momota goes back a long way. The duo have met 10 times in their careers and have split the wins equally so far.
In the previous 3 meetings, it was Momota who had the last word. But Long will head into Tokyo hoping to defend his gold medal and Momota will have to be extra careful around this Chinese ace.
#2 Shi Yu Qi
Yet another Chinese player who could play spoilsport to Kento Momota's plans is the 25-year-old Shi Yu Qi. Always a force to reckon with, Yu Qi's agility and aggressive approach on court has been a cause of torment for his opponents. Yet to begin the 2021 season, the 2018 World Championships silver-medalist and World No. 11 Yu Qi has had an interesting rivalry with Kento Momota so far.
The two have clashed against each other 6 times but the 25-year-old Chinese ace has managed to win only twice. In the last encounter, it was Yu Qi who won a thriller at the Sudirman Cup in 2019. Yu Qi will definitely be a difficult opponent to shake off for Momota as he vies for a gold medal at Tokyo.
#1 Lee Zii Jia
Rising Malaysian superstar, the young and sensational Lee Zii Jia, is riding on an all-time high. Following in the footsteps of Malaysian legend and 3-time Olympic silver medalist, Lee Chong Wei, the 22-year-old Zii Jia will be one to watch out for. The youngster has already hampered Kento Momota's comeback plans by ousting him at the quarter-final stages of the All England Open 2021, defeating the Japanese in straight games, 21-16, 21-19, before going on to claim the prestigious title.
Although it has been Momota who has tasted success on every occasion in their 7 meetings so far except the one at Birmingham, Zii Jia will be a very potent threat for the Japanese. The Malaysian is feisty and will put up a good fight and Momota will have to dig deep to tame him and stay on track for his Olympic plans to succeed.