NANJING: Japan’s Kento Momota, who last year completed a lengthy ban for illegal gambling, is within touching distance of redemption after surging into the final of the badminton World Championships on Saturday.
He will play China’s Shi Yuqi in Sunday’s Nanjing showpiece, which promises to be a thrilling showdown between two of badminton’s rising stars.
The 23-year-old Momota’s highly promising career hit a major roadblock in 2016 when Japanese badminton chiefs suspended him for more than a year for visiting an illicit casino, denying him a place at the Rio Olympics.
Momota has been working his way back to the top of badminton ever since and the world-ranked seven is currently in the form of his life.
He faced a dangerous challenge in his Nanjing semi-final from Liew Daren, the unseeded Malaysian who had been an unlikely giant-killer.
Liew surged into a 5-0 lead in the first game but the explosive Momota woke up to seize the initiative — and ultimately the match — in style, 21-16, 21-5.
Shi comfortably beat Chen Long to race into the final and confirm his newfound status as China’s best player.
The 22-year-old defeated Chinese legend Lin Dan on the way to the last four and has now claimed the scalp of Olympic champion Chen, who was chasing a third world title.
The brilliantly agile Shi taught Chen, 29, something of a lesson with a comprehensive 21-11, 21-17 victory.
Shi has a long way to go to emulate his more seasoned compatriots, but defeating Chen for just the second time was more evidence of a changing of the guard in Chinese men’s badminton.
He beat the 34-year-old Lin to win the prestigious All England Open in March, but the world title would be the biggest achievement of his fast-rising career.