Hours after easily clinching the Malaysia Masters title over Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen 24-22, 21-11 on Sunday (January 12), world number one Kento Momota met with an accident but luckily escaped with minor injuries.
Police said the Japanese star, 25, suffered a broken nose and cuts to his face when the van carrying him to the city’s airport crashed early in the morning, in a blow to his preparations for this year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The victory in Malaysia lends credence to Momota’s drive to win the gold in July’s Tokyo Olympics.
The reigning world champion told reporters that he eyes more success in 2020. Momota currently the best player on the planet, won a record 11 titles last year.
“My condition was not perfect coming into this tournament, but I was focused on this week and was able to play calmly,” said the Japanese star, who pocketed $30,000.
“I do not think I am the strongest, but I am sharp and confident especially after winning the World Tour Finals last year. I know when to focus on attack and defence.” Momota held a 13-1 win record against Axelsen coming into this showdown, but the lanky Dane tried to close the gap by racing to a 7-1 lead in the opening game.
But Momota kept his calm and eventually took the first game despite Axelsen holding match point on three occasions.
The second game was dominated by the 25-year-old Momota, who defended strongly against Axelsen’s aggressive attack. He took 54-minutes to defeat Axelsen.
Axelsen could have taken the first game at 21-20, but a racquet fault denied him.
The Dane, however, admitted Momota would have still won if it had gone to three games.
“It could have been different, but Momota has shown he is stable in three games,” he said.
Chen Yu Fei took home the women’s singles title when she ousted Taiwanese top seed Tai Tzu-Ying 21-17, 21-10.
The driver was killed at the scene after the vehicle collided with a slow-moving lorry on a highway. An assistant coach, physiotherapist, and badminton official also suffered minor injuries.
“Its truly tragic, especially involving a badminton icon like Momota,” Malaysian sports minister Syed Saddiq told reporters, after visiting the injured in hospital south of the capital. But he added those hurt were “recovering well, (and) all four are also in stable condition”.
The others hurt suffered facial, leg, hand and head injuries, according to the police. The Badminton Association of Malaysia said in a statement they were “saddened” by the crash.
Momota enjoyed a stellar 2019, winning a record 11 titles including the World Championships, Asia Championships and All England Open, a turnaround for a player who had been banned for gambling in 2016.
This means he won more tournaments in a season than any other men’s player, including Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei and Chinese great Lin Dan. There is only one major individual title missing from the Japanese player’s trophy haul — Olympic gold.
(With inputs from agencies)