For many badminton pundits around the world, the 2020 Olympic men’s singles gold should have Kento Momota’s name on it.
But following a tragic road accident on Monday, when Momota was on the way to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport after winning the Malaysia Masters, the script may be different.
The Japanese World No 1 suffered facial injuries while driver N. Bavan died after their van hit the back of a trailer.
Among the questions in the badminton fraternity is how will Momota come back from this harrowing incident.
Japan BA secretary general Kinji Zeniya said yesterday Momota was expected to return to action at the All England Championships on March 11, which means he will be out for two months.
Momota, 25, and three others injured in the accident (BWF official William Thomas, assistant coach Yu Hirayama and physiotherapist Akifumi Morimoto) are still being treated at the Putrajaya Hospital. They are likely to be discharged today.
The Japan BA’s priority is to get Momota back to his country, where he is expected to receive further treatment.
Momota’s rivals may think they have a better chance at the Olympics if he has been affected, mentally and physically by the accident.
Former World No 1 Lee Chong Wei has urged badminton fans not to dwell on Momota’s Olympic chances for now.
On Sunday, just a day before the accident, Momota showed why he is the World No 1 by outclassing 2017 world champion, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark 24-22, 21-11 in the final of the Malaysia Masters at the Axiata Arena in Bukit Jalil.
This had led to two former world champions, Hendrawan from Indonesia and Xia Xuanze of China, agreeing that Momota is the man to beat in Tokyo come July.
“Just looking at Momota, you can sense that the gold is already his. Very few players can come anywhere close to him,” said Hendrawan, who is in charge of Malaysia’s No 1 Lee Zii Jia. “The only person who can beat him to the gold in Tokyo is himself.”
Xuanze, the head coach of the China team, said: “I agree with Hendrawan. Momota looks set to win the Olympic gold.”
That was what they had said about Momota before the accident.
Can two-time world champion Momota, who won a record 11 international titles last season, be the same player again this year?
The badminton world will be eager to find out. The earliest ‘answer’ should come in March.
For now, badminton fans from all over the world wish Momota a speedy recovery.