Former badminton world number one Kento Momota will try to regain his world title next week in Tokyo on Sunday but still feels “a lot of anxiety”.
Once the undisputed champion of Japan, Momota’s career has been in free fall since sustaining serious injuries in a car accident more than two years ago.
The 27-year-old has been in dismal shape this year, losing in the first round of four of the seven singles tournaments he has entered.
But he hopes home support in Tokyo will help him turn the odds and clinch a third title when the world championships begin on Monday.
Momota told reporters, “It’s not so bad in practice, but I still have a lot of anxiety because I haven’t been able to perform well in matches,” adding that confidence is returning “little by little.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve played in front of Japanese fans. I want to feel their support and enjoy playing in front of them.”
Momota’s world was turned upside down in January 2020 when the car carrying him to Kuala Lumpur airport crashed hours after winning the Malaysia Masters, killing the driver and breaking his eye socket.
Since then, he’s been a shadow of his haughty former self, and his goal is to “focus on myself and do my best,” he said Sunday.
“I’m still a little tired, but not too bad,” he said.
“You have to listen to your body when you’re in the game.”
-Axelsen’s Hot Favorite-
Momota is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, replacing Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen.
Olympic champion Axelsen will be a strong contender to win his second world title in Tokyo.
Axelsen changed coaches the night before the tournament, believing that he “has a good chance of doing really well here.”
The 28-year-old, who won his last world title in 2017, said, “When I’ve won many tournaments, I believe I can win this tournament as well.
“I believe in myself, but I also know there are a lot of strong competitors and I have to be completely focused every day.”
Malaysia’s Li Zhijia is also expected to be a strong challenger and if he wins the title, he could become Malaysia’s first badminton world champion.
Reigning world champion Lo Keen Yu of Singapore will defend his title in 2021, while China’s Xi Yu, who was suspended by the Chinese Badminton Association, will return to the competition.
Shi, a 2018 world finalist, retired on match point during his 2021 match against Momota and was later banned for making “inappropriate comments” about his withdrawal.
Chinese state media said Mr Shi was “very excited to be back in court” after 10 months out.
“I haven’t missed a single practice in the last 10 months. I think I’m still in good shape,” he was quoted as saying.
On the women’s side, Japan’s Ayane Yamaguchi will be looking to retain her crown, while Spain’s Carolina Marin will be chasing a record fourth world title.