Dubai // Japan had the finest double success in its badminton history when Kento Momota and Nozomi Okuhara captured the men’s and women’s singles titles at the tour’s year-end flagship event, the Superseries finals.
Momota was involved in one piece of history last year when he helped his country win the Thomas Cup world team championship for the first time. On Sunday, he created another by beating Viktor Axelsen, the world No 6 from Denmark by 21-15, 21-12 in the rather tame final.
This result was hardly in doubt from the middle of the first game on, but the earlier triumph of his compatriot, Okuhara, who beat Wang Yihan, the former world champion from China, by 22-20, 21-18, certainly was.
Okuhara had to recover from game point down at 20-19 in the first game, which she very luckily did with two successive net cords. Then she trailed 9-15 in the second game, before summoning just enough energy to wear Wang down.
Momota knew from early on that he had the game to beat the heavy-legged Axelsen, who left much of his strength and mobility on the court yesterday when he halted Chen Long, the world No 1 from China.
“I got lucky on a few points but I stuck to my strategy,” said Momota, who moved his opponent around with overhead drops or net shots followed by clears or lifts to the back, and occasionally interspersed it with sudden explosive jump smashes.
Okuhara, by contrast, battled against the odds as she had all tournament. Her rallying and containment was often physically draining for her as well as opponents, but she always “found something emotionally when I needed it”, she said.
Amazingly Okuhara also beat Carolina Marin, the world No 1 from Spain, twice during the week, as well as Saina Nehwal, the former world No 1 from India, and Tai Tzu Ying, the titleholder from Taiwan.
Although slow shuttles helped her during this marvellous sequence of wins, which were all completed in straight games, her success still prompted questions as to whether she is now an Olympic medal candidate.
Wisely she deflected them. Momota however was a little more comfortable talking about doing well in Rio next year. As he is 21 and Okuhara still 20, their double triumph suggests that a changing of the guard may be imminent.
One of the sport’s legends, Peter Gade, the former world No 1 from Denmark, certainly thinks so. “It does look like a shift in the generations,” he said. “It is certainly close to a generation move in the men’s singles.”
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