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Sunday, 27 May 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Stylish southpaw the man to watch in final against China

HIGH-FLYING Kento Momota played a starring role to lead Japan into the Thomas Cup final but he remains grounded.

On Friday, the 23-year-old Momota continued his fine form by defeating reigning world champion Viktor Axelsen 21-17, 21-9 in the semi-final against Denmark.

Japan went on to edge Denmark 3-2, thanks to splendid displays by singles players Kenta Nishimoto and Kanta Tsuneyama.

The 23-year-old Nishimoto overcame Hans-Kristian Vittinghus 21-19, 21-12 while the 21-year-old Tsuneyama delivered the winning point by downing Jan O Jorgensen 21-18, 21-11.

Japan’s Takeshi Kamura-Keigo Sonoda and Takuto Inoue-Yuli Kaneko lost both the doubles matches.

Japan will feature in their second final in four years. In 2014, they defeated Malaysia for the Cup.

Japan face China in the final today. China are aiming to be champions for the 10th time.

Momota said he had not reached his best form despite having beaten almost all the world’s top players since making a comeback from a one-year ban for gambling.

Besides knocking out Axelsen, he also defeated China’s Chen Long and Shi Yuqi, and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei in other tournaments. He hasn’t crossed paths with Lin Dan.

Asked whether he and Axelsen will dominate the game, he said: “I’m slowly making a comeback and trying to return to where I was before.

“Maybe it’ll take some time to be consistent. My aim is to be the world No. 1 player,” said Momota, who was ranked second in the world before the ban in 2016.

On his opening match against Chen Long today in the final, Momota said: “I’ve beaten him (at the Asian Championships in China last month). This is a team event and everything is different. I’ll be out to win the first point.”

Axelsen saluted Momota and looked forward to more exciting matches with the crafty southpaw.

“It’s great to see the rise of Momota. His presence is making the men’s singles quite exciting. I believe there are going to be many more close matches between us – just like Lin Dan and Chong Wei before.”

Meanwhile, head coach Park Joo-bong was pleased with Japan’s final appearance.

“The Thomas Cup squad are seeded fifth and I would have been happy with a semi-final finish but they defied the odds. It will be tough against China tomorrow (today) though,” he said.

 

THOMAS CUP SEMI-FINAL

Japan bt Denmark 3-2 (Kento Momota bt Viktor Axelsen 21-17, 21-9; Takeshi Kamura-Keigo Sonoda lost to Mathias Boe-Mads Conrad-Petersen 18-21, 15-21; Kenta Nishimoto bt Hans-Kristian Vittinghus 21-19, 21-12; Takuto Inoue-Yuli Kaneko lost to Kim Astrup-Anders Skaarup Rasmussen 21-17, 16-21, 15-21; Kanta Tsuneyama bt Jan O Jorgensen 21-18, 21-11).

 

UBER CUP FINAL

Japan bt Thailand 3-0 (Akane Yamaguchi bt Ratchanok Intanon 21-15, 21-19; Yuki FukushimaSayaka Hirota bt Jongkolphan Kititharakul-Puttita Supajirakul 21-18, 21-12; Nozomi Okuhara bt Nichaon Jindapol 21-12, 21-9).