Can Kento become Superman?
World No. 1 eyes BWF World Tour Finals win to make up for Olympic nightmare
Kento Momota suffered a career-threatening car crash and then flopped at the Tokyo Olympics, but the Japanese badminton star can end a turbulent two years on a high at this week's BWF (Badminton World Federation) World Tour Finals.
The world No. 1 won the Indonesia Masters earlier this month - his first international title since being badly injured in the January 2020 accident - but then endured a shock defeat by Singapore's world No. 26 Loh Kean Yew in the last 16 at last week's Indonesia Open.
It was typical of the roller-coaster journey that the 27-year-old has been on since he was almost forced to retire after fracturing his eye socket in the car crash.
Momota said that his "spirit was almost broken" as he tried to recover from the accident - hours after he won the Malaysia Masters - which killed the driver of the vehicle taking him to Kuala Lumpur airport.
He suffered double vision and needed surgery on a bone near his eye that delayed his comeback, leaving him fearing his career was over.
"I thought about it. How long will it take?" he said in March last year, when asked if he was worried he might never play again.
Momota made a full recovery and headed into the Tokyo Games in July as the favourite.
But his Olympic dream turned into a nightmare when he was eliminated in the group stage. Momota admitted his killer instinct had deserted him and blamed his own "weakness" for the shock exit.
"Previously, when a match went like this, I would be able to recover and think clearly," said a visibly stunned Momota.
It was the latest unhappy chapter in his Olympic career, following a dramatic fall from grace just months before the 2016 Rio Games.
He admitted gambling in an illegal casino with a fellow player in April 2016, and was kicked off Japan's Olympic team and banned from competition indefinitely.
He returned a year later and set about making up for lost time, beating then-Olympic champion Chen Long for the Asian title in April 2018 before working his way back up the rankings.
His comeback reached a climax in 2019 when he won a record-breaking 11 titles, including at the World Championships, Asian Championships and All England Open.
The left-hander lost just six of his 73 matches that year and admitted he had surprised even himself with his blistering form.
"I feel like I am not yet a legendary player but I will work hard in order to play well in future tournaments," he said.
But then came the accident and a pandemic that forced the cancellation of badminton tournaments all over the world.
He played his first match in almost a year at Japan's national championships in Tokyo last December, starting tentatively before beating Kanta Tsuneyama in the final.
His hopes of returning to international competition were then dashed when he tested positive for Covid-19 at the airport in January as the Japan team were about to depart for the Thailand Open.
He eventually resumed international play at the All England Open in March, but lost in the quarter-finals. His form since his Tokyo Games heartbreak has been mixed.
While his name Kento is reportedly a tribute to Superman's alter ego Clark Kent, Momota has shown he is only human.
Now he's hoping he can be the "Man of Steel" by capping off his latest comeback with victory at the Tour Finals in Bali.