NANJING, China: Kento Momota dedicated his world title yesterday to those who stuck by him when a gambling scandal threatened to wreck the history-maker’s budding career.
The explosive 23-year-old convincingly defeated China’s highly promising Shi Yuqi 21-11, 21-13 in Nanjing, becoming the first Japanese man to win the World Championships.
Carolina Marin claimed her own slice of history as the Spaniard became the first woman to win three badminton world crowns with an emphatic 21-19, 21-10 victory over PV Sindhu of India.
Momota’s career descended into controversy in 2016 when Japanese badminton chiefs suspended him for more than a year for visiting an illegal casino, denying him a place at the Rio Olympics.
Momota, number two in the world at the time, has been working his way back to the top ever since and was the pre-tournament favourite in Nanjing.
After dismissing Shi, Momota was coy about his temporary absence from the sport, but said after a pause: “There was a time when I was away.
“But I got a lot of help and support from many people, this title is a good reward for them.”
Momota, now seventh in the rankings, said he wanted to emulate greats Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan, two super stars who have reigned over badminton for well over a decade. Lee missed the tournament because of illness and Lin was well beaten by Shi in the third round.
“They have had long and successful careers and like them, I want to give the audience enjoyment,” said Momota, whose championship-winning point was a huge anti-climax - the shuttlecock hitting the top of the net before falling in his favour.
The Japanese immediately apologised to Shi, who was playing in front of his home-province crowd and appeared nervous, making numerous errors. The third seed, 22, defeated compatriots Lin and Olympic champion Chen Long on the way to the final to confirm a changing of the guard in Chinese men’s badminton.