Momota powers past Long to give Japan early Thomas Cup edge

Bangkok (AFP) –


Japan's Kento Momota smashed and drop-shotted his way past Chinese star Chen Long in straight sets, taking the first point for a possible upset in the Thomas Cup final on Sunday.

China went into the tournament with some of its heaviest hitters, including Olympic medallist Long, bent on claiming the badminton title after a subpar showing at the prestigious biennial tournament in 2016.

But the top seeds now face an uphill battle after the left-handed Momota put on a flashy performance of angled shots and breathtaking smashes to win 21-9, 21-18 at the Impact Arena in Bangkok.

Momota dominated Long in the first game with an aggressive performance at the net. He had a much harder time in the second as his opponent regained momentum, saving several match points with crowd-pleasing winners and finesse.

But Momota held on and forced an error to walk off the victor, saying he had not been sure about the outcome going into the match, the first in the best-out-of-five final.

It was the second time Momota, 23, had stunned Long this year after beating him at the Asian Championships in April in a continuing comeback. He was barred from the sport in 2016 for being caught gambling in an illegal casino but returned to action last year.

In addition to Long, Momota caught world number one Viktor Axelsen from Denmark off guard in the semis, helping end that team's dream of a repeat Thomas Cup title.

The Japanese national teams are eyeing a clean sweep after the women's side clinched the concurrent Uber Cup with an easy 3-0 victory against Thailand on Saturday.

The pressure is on for China's men after its women shuttlers were knocked out in the semis by crowd favourite Thailand, the first time the team failed to make the final.