NANJING: Kento Momota became the first Japanese man to win the badminton World Championships on Sunday, putting behind him a gambling scandal that threatened to ruin his career.
The explosive 23-year-old convincingly defeated China’s highly promising Shi Yuqi 21-11, 21-13 in Nanjing.
Momota’s nascent 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, number two in the world at the time, has been working his way back to the top ever since and the world-ranked seven is currently in the form of his life.
But in Shi he faced another of badminton’s rising stars.
The brilliantly agile 22-year-old defeated legend Lin Dan and Olympic champion Chen Long on the way to the final to confirm his newfound status as China’s best player.
Shi and Momota had only played each other once before, Momota having the edge that time — and he was to enjoy it once more.
Shi, who was playing in front of his home-province crowd, appeared nervous early on.
He made a series of errors as the favourite Momota clinched the first game in 21 minutes, and the Japanese star’s superiority was even more apparent in the second.
When the end came it was an anti-climax — the shuttlecock hitting the top of the net before falling in Momota’s favour. The Japanese apologised to his opponent.
Shi has a long way to go to emulate his more seasoned compatriots, but defeating Chen for just the second time in the semi-finals was evidence of a changing of the guard in Chinese men’s badminton.
Shi captured the All England Open crown earlier this year after beating Lin “Super Dan” in the final.