Japan’s badminton world number one Kento Momota was knocked out in the group stages at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, a day after Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka also went on women’s singles in tennis.
Unseeded South Korean Heo Kwang-hee, 25-year-old world No 38, beat Momota 21-15, 21-19, ending the favourite’s bid for the gold medal after just two matches in the group phase.
Momota won a record 11 titles in 2019, losing just six of the 73 matches he played that year.
But his bid for Olympic gold on home soil ended quickly, with Heo sinking his hopes in just 52 minutes.
Momota smiled incredulously as his shots failed to find their range early in the game, but looked ashen-faced when it became clear that he was in serious danger.
He sealed his own fate when he hit the net to end the match.
“I’m thankful for all the support that I have received,” Momota is quoted as saying after the match by the Badminton World Federation.
“I’m sorry I could not fulfil all the expectations that people had of me. It’s hard for me to deal with this. I was trying to be aggressive, but I couldn’t stay strong emotionally. My physical condition was fine. Playing at my normal level is hard, but it was a good experience to be here.”
Momota’s early exit follows similar upsets for high-profile Japanese athletes, including tennis player Osaka and gymnast Kohei Uchimura.
Incidentally, as per the seedings, Momota was slated to face the winner of Ng Ka Long Angus and B Sai Praneeth in the round of 16. Now all three have been eliminated at the group stage.
Guatemalan badminton player Kevin Cordon left home at 12 to pursue his Olympic dream – on Wednesday he was just “having fun” as he eliminated eighth seed Angus Ng Ka-long.
World number 59 Cordon, appearing in his fourth Olympics, beat world No 9 Ng 22-20, 21-13 in Tokyo, booking his place in the knockout round.
Sai Praneeth had been eliminated after a straight games defeat in his first match against Israel’s Misha Zilberman.
The results mean that one of Korea’s Kwanghee Heo, Netherlands’ Mark Caljouw and Guatemala’s Kevin Cordon will be in the men’s singles semifinal.
Momota was appearing in his first Olympics, having been banned for gambling in an illegal casino just months before the 2016 Rio Games. He was almost forced to retire last year after a car crash that left him with career-threatening injuries.
“I don’t think the accident affected me,” added Momota. “Earlier, I could recover during a match, but today I just could not. I think I was moving well. After my opponent got a lead in the first game, I couldn’t recover like I usually do. There were lots of things happening to me, but still I could be involved with the Olympic Games in Tokyo, I really appreciate that.”
(With AFP inputs)
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