KUALA LUMPUR: The vast improvement shown by men’s singles shuttler Kento Momota will give Japan an edge at the Thomas Cup Finals.
Coupled with their players’ indomitable spirits, Japan are one of the genuine title contenders, says former Thomas Cupper Rashid Sidek.
Japan are seeded higher than Malaysia in the Finals starting on Sunday in Bangkok, Thailand.
Both teams are drawn in different groups but there is a chance for them to clash when fresh draw is made at the end of the group stages.
“Japan will arrive in Thailand with extra spring in their steps for sure.
“They are more confident with the return of Momota,” said Rashid.
Momota was in the team when Japan beat Malaysia in the final to lift the Thomas Cup for the first time in 2014 in New Delhi.
But they did not have Momota at the 2016 Finals in Kunshan because of a one-year suspension over gambling issue and Japan eventually crashed out in the quarter-finals.
Rashid said Momota, who was ranked second in the world before the ban, looked even stronger than before.
The 23-year-old showed he was back in the groove by beating Lee Chong Wei in the Asian Badminton Championships semi-finals last month.
“He has improved in every area of his game.
“He’s sharp and looks very determined. It’ll be tough for Chong Wei if he is to meet him again,” said Rashid.
Rashid, who was awarded the National Coach of the Year award after a 10-year service with Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) before quitting in 2013, said Kenta Nishimoto is also a dangerous player in the second singles.
The 23-year-old has beaten Chong Wei, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark and Son Wan-ho of South Korea although he has not won a major title.
“He defeated Chong Wei twice and I think, Lee Zii Jia will have a hard time against him.”
“We have a shot in the third singles whether we field Iskandar (Zulkarnain Zainuddin) or (Leong) Jun Hao.”
On the strength of doubles, Rashid said: “Japan’s top pair are physically stronger and can last the pace no matter how long the match is played.”
“During my time, Japanese doubles were the weakest but now, they are at par with all other traditionally strong badminton nations.
“They’ve come a long way. If Malaysia are to win, we have to win two singles and one doubles,” said Rashid, who was a member 1992 Thomas Cup winning squad.
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