Kento Momota made an impressive return to top-tier badminton, taking down World No.4 and Yonex All England champion Shi Yuqi in the second round of the Badminton Asia Championships 2018.
The Japanese (featured image), who spent a year out of competitive action and returned only in July last year, hasn’t played an event or opponent of this stature since March 2016. Today’s performance left little doubt that the former No.2 is close to his best. The Japanese was as elegant as he was sharp, finding winners with immaculate drop shots and half-smashes, leaving Shi somewhat befuddled with the precision of his strokes and the quality of his defence. Shi’s resistance melted early in the third and Momota was in his first quarter-final of the Badminton Asia Championships with his 21-15 12-21 21-12 victory.
“I think I was a bit too anxious,” admitted Shi. “Going into the match I knew he is a tough player with good technique, but as I was anxious I made too many mistakes.”
Momota next faces Chinese Taipei’s Chou Tien Chen, who stopped Khosit Phetpradab (Thailand) 21-18 18-21 21-13. In the same half, top seed Kidambi Srikanth (India) had an unexpectedly easy passage into the quarter-finals as Hong Kong’s Wong Wing Ki retired early in the match. Kidambi’s next opponent will be Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei, who overcame an early setback against Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting, 16-21 21-9 21-11.
The bottom half of the draw will see third seed Chen Long (China) against Ng Ka Long (Hong Kong) and HS Prannoy (India) against Son Wan Ho (Korea).
China suffered a blow in Women’s Doubles with top seeds Chen Qingchen/Jia Yifan crumbling before Indonesia’s Rizki Amelia Pradipta/Della Destiara Haris. The World No.1 Chinese pair’s disappointing year continued; after their runner-up performance at the Perodua Malaysia Masters in January, Chen/Jia haven’t gone past the quarter-finals in their last three events. The Indonesians, who had a 2-0 record over the Chinese, continued to bedevil their opponents; as the match progressed, Chen and Jia’s confidence evaporated, and they quickly fell 21-16 21-14.
“This is the third time we’ve beaten them. We know what we have to do on court. They play a typical Chinese style, strong and fast, and their defence is also good. We just played our pattern, we only attacked once we had worked out an opening,” said Pradipta.
Their compatriots Greysia Polii and Apriyani Rahayu overcame a stiff test from young Koreans Baek Ha Na/Lee Yu Rim, 21-12 17-21 21-13, to set up a quarter-final with second seeds Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi of Japan.
The match was a test of tenacity and patience, with neither pair able to earn quick winners. Several rallies went upward of 70 and 80 shots, but once the Indonesians had earned a small lead at the break in the third, they were able to step on the pedal, even as the Koreans flagged under the strain.
Japan had a profitable day in Men’s Doubles, with three pairs – Takuto Inoue/Yuki Kaneko; Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe and Takeshi Kamura/Keigo Sonoda – entering the quarter-finals. Their feat was matched by China, who also saw three of their pairs make the last-eight. Others in the last-eight are Malaysia’s Goh V Shem/Tan Wee Kiong – who beat Indonesia’s Berry Angriawan/Hardianto 21-16 21-18 – and Chinese Taipei’s Lee Jhe-Huei/Lee Yang, three-game winners over another Indonesian pair, Mohammad Ahsan/Hendra Setiawan.
Heading China’s charge were top seeds Li Junhui/Liu Yuchen, who had their hands full in the second game against India’s upcoming pair Shlok Ramchandran and Arjun MR; the Chinese though had a couple of tricks up their sleeve and edged out the Indians 21-11 21-19.
The Chinese had trouble in the second with Arjun anticipating exceptionally well at the net and cutting off their returns. However, from 10-14 the Chinese consistently used the flick serve to unsettle their opponents, and closed out the match before the Indians caught up at the end.
In Women’s Singles, Chinese youngster Gao Fangjie received high praise from her vanquisher Saina Nehwal (India), who hailed her as a top ten prospect after beating her 21-18 21-8.
“She plays exactly like Li Xuerui – she even looks like her,” said Nehwal, echoing what several other players have commented about Gao’s playing style and appearance. “The first set was very close. Maybe because she had a tough match yesterday, she got tired in the second.
“I was quite weak in my legs and had to work a lot on strengthening because I was getting a lot of injuries. I didn’t work on anything else. The way I’m moving and playing is thanks my new physio, I can play a bit easier at the net and at the sides, otherwise I was weak there, I was falling and unable to get back in position.”
Nehwal’s next opponent will be Korea’s Lee Jang Mi, who surprised fourth seed Ratchanok Intanon (Thailand), 19-21 21-17 21-15.
In Mixed Doubles, Hong Kong’s Tang Chun Man/Tse Ying Suet set up a quarter-final clash against China’s Zheng Siwei/Huang Yaqiong, while top seeds Tontowi Ahmad/Liliyana Natsir eased past Thailand’s Tinn Isriyanet/Pacharapun Chochuwong and next face young Chinese He Jiting/Du Yue.
Thailand’s Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai earned a hard-fought victory over Chinese Taipei’s Wang Chi-Lin/Lee Chia Hsin, 11-21 21-18 21-18; they will be up against home pair Zhang Nan/Li Yinhui.
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