ALL eyes will be on world No. 1 Kento Momota when the men’s singles competition of the Perodua Malaysian Masters gets under way today.The 25-year-old Japanese was in sensational form last year, winning a record-breaking 11 titles out of the 12 finals, including the three major ones – the World Championships, All-England and World Tour Finals.
He played a total of 73 matches and won 67 of them – a winning percentage of more than 90%.
But Malaysia has never been among his favourite hunting grounds.
Of the six defeats last season, two were recorded in Malaysia, including a shocking first-round defeat by compatriot Kenta Nishimoto at last year’s Malaysian Masters in January.
He returned to the Axiata Arena in April for the Malaysian Open only to be booted out early again. He could only reach the last 16 before his run was halted by Indonesia’s Jonatan Christie.
It will be interesting to see how Momota would fare this time. Going by his recent form, Momota is going to be tough to beat.
He is on a 10-match unbeaten streak since he last went down to Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting in the quarter-finals of the French Open.
He ended the 2019 season on a high by capturing the back-to-back China Open and World Tour Finals.
Momota will open his campaign against P. Kashyap of India and barring any upset, a repeat of the World Tour final between him and Anthony is on the cards in the last eight.
The other notable opponents in the same half are world No. 4 Anders Antonsen of Denmark, China’s duo Lin Dan and Shi Yuqi, and home favourite Lee Zii Jia.
The 23-year-old Yuqi, who faces Taiwan’s Wang Tzu-wei of Taiwan today, is another player to look out for this week.
The 2018 All-England champion is desperate to start the year strongly to put his Tokyo Olympic qualification bid back on track.
Yuqi has been struggling to impress since returning from a long injury lay-off last September.
He came in runner-up at the Macau Open in November but failed to get past the last 16 in the other four meets, including losing in the first round to Soo Teck Zhi at the Syed Modi International Champion-ships last month.
Yuqi will find himself in danger of missing the Tokyo Olympics if the situation does not get better. He is currently ranked 27th in the BWF Race to Tokyo rankings behind three compatriots – Chen Long (fifth), Lin Dan (22nd) and Lu Guangzu (23rd).
Yuqi must break into the top 16 and outdo one of his compatriots in order to make the cut.
As for Lin Dan, he will be hoping for a happy return to Kuala Lumpur to keep his hopes of making a fifth Olympic appearance intact.
The five-time world champion is no longer the player he was when he won the Malaysian Open last April, occasionally losing as early as in the second round.
The 36-year-old, however, salvaged something in his last appearance of the season when he came in runner-up at the Korean Masters in November.
World No. 2 Chou Tien-chen, Chen Long, 2018 winner Viktor Axelsen and Jonatan are the other top contenders in the bottom half.
Chen Long will play defending champion Son Wan-ho of South Korea in one of the highlighted battles today.
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