Kento Momota

Momota has been the dominant force in Men’s Singles all through 2019, his consistency and strength are second to none.  It’s no surprise then, that after such an electrifying twelve months, his position as World #1 is very firmly fixed. King Kento triumphed over Viktor Axelson in the course of 3 dramatic games at the 2019 Yonex All England Championships and in doing so became the first Japanese man to win the title. His outstanding year earned him a total of 11 titles; it’s extraordinary to reflect that he has played in 73 matches and only lost 6.   It’s hard to pinpoint who will challenge this relentless excellence anytime soon.

Screenshot from BWF TV

The key to the left-hander’s success is his domination of the net and the forecourt which allows him to control the progress of the duel.  He is so fit he dictates the tempo of the contest.  He is brilliant at game management because he is strategically quick witted – this allows anticipation to be a significant part of his armoury.  If he misjudges his opponent’s tactics, he is electric around the court; his fast feet and lovely balance allow him to reach any area. This translates into further pressure for his opponent as they search for undefended space.  As we would expect from an elite player, technically he is very accomplished with powerful and precise shots. The knack of swiftly spinning defence into attack rushes his rivals and means he can gain more time for himself.

His superb all-round game is underpinned by his athleticism.  Lean and tall, his muscle to weight ratio gives him the perfect physique for badminton.  It’s well known that he completes additional work in the gym long after his hitting partners have showered and returned home.  A day off is a distraction from the training regime he is immersed in. He is driving himself to find that extra percentage point of fitness that can make the difference between triumph and defeat at the top level of sport.  Winning a singles match over three games can become a war of attrition; perpetual movement is all.  We have all seen collapses from cramp as players push themselves into their red zone.  Once an opponent starts to falter physically Momota will ruthlessly force the issue and gain an inevitable win.

It’s been said that he can sometimes sit back and be too passive, it’s true that he can be patient but when the time is right, he explodes into action and will seize the match. Choosing shots to keep a rival off balance – even a simple sequence to move them around the corners – means that sooner or later the opportunity will open up to win the rally; it doesn’t seem to matter to the left-hander if the rally lasts 30,40, or 50 shots, inevitably his opponent ends up running further, becoming tired and making a mistake.  He knows that opponents’ errors cost will them the match; being patient is – paradoxically – a sharp sword in his strategic make up.  He often does not need to use his full repertoire; through a competition he can perform within himself and get a good result.

Playing against Momota is like becoming trapped in a maze; whichever tactics are employed they seem to lead to the dead end of defeat.   He is impenetrable.  Alone on the court with no partner to protect him he has to be emotionally self-reliant and confident in his own decisions.  Defensively he can soak up pressure endlessly without using up too much energy.  Victory in men’s singles often rests upon stamina, mental strength, and the sparing use of explosive power to punish mistakes.

Right now, he is getting further and further out of the reach of his rivals.  His opponent at the Yonex All England 2019 final – Viktor Axelsen – has subsequently had an injury disrupted year and is only just starting to compete again at a good level.  The Dane is famous for his 400 kph smash but this isn’t enough against Momota.  In fact, the energy used for a smash can often contribute to defeat.  CHOU Tien Chen, the world #2, has endurance and mental fortitude to equal him and will always ask tough questions in a match. The adorable SHI Yuqui – the 2018 YAE champion – has also suffered from injury problems, but if he was fully fit it is arguable that he would be the player to upset the World #1. In their Sudirman Cup match this year it was Momota who succumbed to accuracy, relentless athleticism and an unmatchable will to win. 

The two best players in men’s singles at the moment: Momota & Ginting.
Screenshot from BWF TV

I think his most interesting rival is Anthony Ginting despite what the world rankings say.  Ginting’s sparkling style, his inventiveness, courage and speed push Momota to new heights.  They inspire each other but it seems that this inspiration feeds the Japanese’s ambition and leaves Anthony unrewarded. 

At the moment he is unstoppable.  Over the years his career has taken a lot of twists and turns – including an enforced absence from Rio 2016 – but now it feels as though his time for greatness is approaching.  His desire for success, his realisation that the Tokyo Olympics offers the chance of immortality, and possibly a need to make up for his mistakes in the past all give an irresistible vitality to his performances on court.  The devastating effect that C-19 has had on the world means that all athletes are enduring a career hiatus. I’m confident that Momota has the mental strength to endure this delay. 2020 was the year his fans regarded with the highest expectations – so now we wait a little longer. Will 2021 be the year that Kento Momota cements his place amongst the legends of the game?


Here’s my recent article about Momota’s trickiest rival https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/25/anthony-sinisuka-ginting/

Here are links to blogs about other members of the Japanese team https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/11/06/japans-fukuhiro-can-they-win-tokyo-gold/ there is also this one about Akane https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/08/09/japans-akane-yamaguchi-hotter-than-july/ and this about Nozomi https://womensbadminton.co.uk/2019/04/23/nozomi-okuhara-racket-ready-for-tokyo-glory/

This is a version of an article I originally wrote for the Yonex All England website https://www.allenglandbadminton.com/

©2020 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Badminton World Championships Basel 2019: WS Preview

The Badminton World Championships start on August 19th so I’m taking a look at some of the main contenders for Women’s Singles gold.

Pic from Twitter

This discipline is full of talent – and unlike the men’s singles it’s not dominated by one person – so it will be an intriguing contest right from the beginning. All tournaments offer a rising intensity as players progress through the rounds: physical endurance can be sapped as well as the emotional drain of competition. The parity of ability amongst the top seeds means that being able to deal with tournament pressure will have a huge part to play. Who will relish the fight?

“…every player has a chance of being crowned champion.” Ratchanok

Nozomi Okuhara: Contender

From BWF TV

Nozomi’s been in the waiting room this year – she hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success as Akane and yet she is a fabulous player. Her tactics often mean she gets stuck in a war of attrition so I’d like to see a bit less patience and more drive to finish off a rally. I think her edge is blunted by predictability so it would be great to see her surprise her opponent (& us!) a bit more often. Prediction: Final.

Tai Tzu Ying: The Queen

Shutterstock

Tai Tzu Ying has never won the World Championships and goes into this competition as #2 seed. Because of her hints about retirement and her lack of big tournament form recently, fans have focused on this title with the sense that time is running out. I cannot pretend to be neutral about Tai Tzu Ying – the way she plays is brilliant and gives me so much pleasure – so I wish I felt more confident about this tournament. Her possible path to the final is tough and includes Sindhu who would relish a big battle. Prediction Semi Final.

Akane: World #1

From BWF TV

Akane’s triumph at the Indonesian Open quickly followed by success in the Japan Open – her home tournament – means that she enters the World Championships as #1. Since disappointment in the Sudirman Cup her game has become more aggressive with a willingness to push her rivals around. She can’t just win everything from now on though, can she? Prediction Semi Final.

Chen Yufei

Feifei is a very clever player with the might of the Chinese coaches behind her. I think she is good at rebalancing her game to beat whoever she faces. Often she traps ‘flair’ players into thinking they will conquer her by playing their natural game. She waits it out and then finishes them off; her natural strength means she can get through three draining games. It’s been said that her weakness is her inability to cope with her nerves but this seems to be eratic. Prediction: Final

P V Sindhu: fighter

(Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)

Sindhu is renowned as a big match player and this skill is a huge advantage in the top tournaments. By her own standards 2019 has been quite quiet but July saw her spring into life. It was great to see a refreshed player getting her game back. I love her style when she unleashes her inner badminton beast and dominates the court with her aggressive smashes and drives. I think that’s going to be the secret of success for her; when she’s confident and plays like that she can become unstoppable. She is seeded 5 and her path to success looks very tough: Zhang Beiwen in R16 and possibly TTY in the quarters. Prediction: QF owing to hard draw.

Saina Nehwal

2019 has seen Saina endure various injuries and this has obviously disrupted her training programme. Her half of the draw is no picnic & includes players like Chen Yufei and P V Sindhu. She always has the desire to win and heaps of experience but realistically I can’t see her progressing beyond QF. That’s not necessarily a bad performance in the context of her year so far. I see this competition as her opportunity to continue to work on her match fitness and focus on her aim to get to Tokyo 2020. Prediction QF

Ratchanok Intanon

“… women’s singles is so competitive that on any given day whoever can control herself and play her style of game will be the champion.” Ratchanok

May lost out in the Thailand Open Final to Chen Yufei but she played very well in that match. CYF won because she played with patience and endurance – often in rallies she was content to simply keep sending the shuttle back. Towards the end May did slightly alter her approach but by that point it was too late. It’s been noticeable that since then she has been posting plenty of evidence on IG of her hard work in the gym so perhaps this means she’s preparing her body for longer games with less reliance upon a dazzling winner and more focus on turning the screw. Prediction Semi Final

Any Surprises?

Funny things can happen in knock-out tournaments; sometimes athletes really fly through their games and suddenly find themselves in a quarter final. The Indonesian players -Fitriani & Tunjung – are both talented but frustratingly inconsistent. Their homeland can have high hopes of medals from others but it would be a welcome shock if honours came from WS.

Michelle Li from Canada can push anyone on her day and often gets good results but realistically I don’t think she would trouble Chen Yufei (assuming she gets past Saina).

Chochuwong had a great run in the Thailand Open but again her draw is tricky. Lastly He Be Jiao is seeded 6 so has to be taken seriously as a possible semi-finalist.

So, in conclusion…

That gold medal, that title, the culmination of years of work, is realistically within the reach of about eight of the players. It’s going to take an immense effort – physically and emotionally – to clinch the prize. I also think it requires someone to play with inspiration and joy; there is more to winning this than mere sweat and toil.

© 2019 Amanda Bloss All Rights Reserved

Yonex All England 2019. Definitely not village hall badminton

The Yonex All England is an unbelievable show: its where the world’s top players want to make history and where we all want to watch it happen. The arena is dark except for spotlights when the players emerge, the crowd is noisy and the intensity is often unbearable.

So, to my highlights of 2019

Video courtesy of Badminton England

The WD semi-final between Hirota/Fukushima and Chen/Jia was an epic physical battle. Right from the start both pairs tried to seize a place in the final. The Chinese duo were ferocious with their attacking smashes; Hirota and Fukushima kept getting the shuttle back but…two, three, four smashes in a row, it was just too much for them to live with. This happened point after point. I didn’t expect that Chen and Jia had the strength to play like this through the entire match. I was wrong. They dominated and they won.

On to the final where they faced Matsumoto and Nagahara, who kept hitting the shuttle up. Clever tactics to exploit tiredness or injury after the exertions of the day before? Nope. After three brutal games Chen and Jia were champions, they deserved it.

I loved watching Viktor Axelsen win his semi-final against Shi as did all the boisterous Danes watching from the seats around me. We were caught up in the charged atmosphere as the match ebbed and flowed. Yes, he did smash at 418kph; I can’t believe I saw it. Shi kept pushing and pushing to try and get back into the game but in the end was beaten.

It’s over for another year. A great spectacle where the worldwide badminton community comes together to support the elite. Congratulations to the winners, and congratulations to those people working behind the scenes to make it such a success. It is definitely not village hall badminton.