How Momota Kento he converted his fourth match point to a defeat Nishimoto Kenta and win his fifth Japanese badminton national championship last month the former world No. 1 collapsed on the court at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza with both fists in the air.
After pulling himself together and hailing his NTT East teammates in the stands, Momota, exhausted and drenched in sweat, took an oath in front of the crowd during an on-court interview – the rebirth oath.
“People say that Momota’s time is over, the Momota we knew is gone,” he said after defeating his friend and colleague 28-year-old Nishimoto in two games.
“But I’m not done yet. I still want to be good. I want to continue to show a better, stronger Momota Kento and I am asking for your support.”
It was December 30, two days before the new year couldn’t come early enough for Momota. And on the same court where he was eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League on July 28, 2021. Olympic Games Tokyo 2020a humiliating defeat that precipitated the fights that were to come.
A year to remember
In 2022, Momota lost five times in the first round of the tournament and twice in the second round, including at the August World Championships in Japan.
Opponents knew they could get to Momota, and they did. The man who won it all, winning a record 11 titles in 2019, didn’t win a single trophy last season.
A week after World CupMomota fell at the first hurdle Japan Open in Osaka and closed it on tour for the rest of the year.
As a result of the unforgettable campaign, Momota lost the number one spot in the world men’s singles ranking, which he had held for three years, and dropped to No. 16.
He’s not even the top-ranked Japanese any more. This distinction now applies to up and coming people Naraoka Kodaiwhich has reached Malaysia Open final in the 2023 BWF World Series opening event.
There were tears. There was anger. There was frustration. Momota tried and tried and tried but nothing worked.
It was too much.
“During the World Tour, I lost in the first round a few times, and in (Thomas and Uber Cup), I couldn’t do my job at all and I disappointed the team. For a whole year I wondered what the hell I was doing,” she recalls.
“It’s been a really tough season for me and the truth is I didn’t think I had a chance even when I was on the road. There was a part of me that didn’t want to compete, that was very negative.” – Momota Kento
Momota still has one of the most elegant strokes and softest touches on the tour, as if the racket were an extension of his hand. It sways as Merlin waves his wand.
One of the best line readers in the game, Momota says it’s his defense – his daily bread – that gives him problems.
“I don’t think I can defend as easily as I used to. That’s how I feel now. I have to do things like pull the opponent into the net and try to lob them, hinder their return – throw them off somehow. These are the things I’m working on in practice.
“I think I defended really well here. Lately I just had to fight back when the tide turned against me. But this time I was able to think and regroup when things weren’t going well and then start rallying. I managed to tire my opponents out and lure them into playing my game.”
What will the future bring
Momota admits that winning his first national title in two years is no guarantee of anything, let alone a return to form when he hits the road again on Tuesday for his 2023 debut at Open India against Denmark Rasmus Genke.
At the Japanese Nationals, Momota knew everyone like Nishimoto and has mental control over many of them due to his height. Besides, there was always a crowd behind him. This will not be the case abroad.
Nevertheless, Momota believes he may have turned a corner with this national championship performance. With a tendency to overthink, he managed to let go at times and just play in the semi-finals and finals.
Momota believes that it was aggressiveness that got him winning the competition, and if he can keep it up, it could help him return to the role and prominence this season.
But don’t call it back yet. He makes sure not to overtake himself – as in Paris 2024, whose qualifying race starts in May.
What awaits Momota in 2023? We’ll find out soon.
“I am very happy to have won the tournament at home, but I still can’t imagine how I will play when I compete abroad again. It’s really hard to say,” he said after winning the tournament in Tokyo.
“But this title today can mean more than any other title I’ve won, just because of everything I had to fight and overcome to get here.”
“To be completely honest, I’m not looking too far into the future. From time to time I wonder how much longer I will be able to compete.
“I want to stay involved in badminton, help spread the game and work with juniors, kids to pass on what I know. But as far as my career is concerned, I really can’t say anything definitively at the moment.