There was little to indicate the long layoff from competition. With his engines purring smoothly on the opening day of the YONEX All England, Kento Momota vaulted his first hurdle in his first international match since 12 January 2020.
For a first round match after such a long layoff – he had endured a traffic accident, surgery for double vision, and COVID-19 – Momota looked sharp. The steady, rallying game was on point, and so was his defence on either flank. His opponent Parupalli Kashyap had his chance to take the match to a third game by saving three match points, but the two-time world champion closed it out before it could get any trickier. Nobody was more respectful of his performance than his opponent Parupalli.
“I’m in good shape but I could not figure out how to play him, at least at the start, and the beginning of the second game,” said Parupalli.
“His clears were right on the lines. His condition is so good, and for the first round he played brilliant today. He was right up there. The first round is always tough for the good ones. I’m challenging him, so I have less pressure; he’s the one who has to prove himself and the pressure is on him. And then once I started putting pressure and pace into the match, he started getting jittery – but that’s because it’s the first round. Once he gets better shot feeling, he’ll keep getting better.
“I could play well in patches and push him to a stage where he got a bit nervous. He has a lot of wins with him so he’s confident. I can take some positives from the second game. It’s his first match and he was very good today for a first round, and he made very few errors.”
The 2019 champion, playing his first match since 12 January 2020, admitted to being nervous.
“I was very nervous. I’ve been away for such a long time, I was thinking about other things and did not concentrate on the play today and that’s bad. I wasn’t confident about winning this match, but finally I could win it and I’m very happy about that,” said Momota.
Gideon and Sukamuljo did not have the best possible start to the tournament, for they were taken to three games by England’s Matthew Clare and Ethan Van Leeuwen, 21-12 19-21 21-9.
“They played well,” said Gideon, praising the England pair. “We haven’t played them before, so we weren’t used to their game.
“We really missed playing tournaments; we haven’t played for a year. We missed the atmosphere. It’s really nice to be back here. I really want to win again this year, because it’s special. We really want to do our best for the fans.”
Sukamuljo, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 just before the Asian Leg in January, pronounced himself “100 per cent and ready for the tournament”.