Kento Momota is badminton’s wordless Terminator. More than once now, the three-and-a-half words “I’ll be back” have loomed large when the Japanese World No.1, allergic to errors, has returned to the court from grimmer catastrophes than a mere shuttle limping into the net.
Once again after a long absence owing to a car crash and later Covid, his snappy shuttle kills announced his grand return, though this Arnie wore a scar on his lean bicep.
The question after Momota’s 42-minute 21-13, 22-20 win over Parupalli Kashyap at the All-England though, was, if the Indian can draw out some last fuel from the reserves of his career.
If he could ever murmur a confident “I’ll be back.” And if the 34-year-old can resurrect a resistance on the home stretch of Olympic qualification. The question sprung up in fact when his down the line jump smashes, reflex flicks at the net and craftily constructed points were unsettling Momota, a tad. A walk in the Winterbourne park was predicted for Momota against the Indian, currently 29th in Race to Tokyo list, but often prone to breaking down in impeding injury. Instead, the Indian would settle into snapping at the top seed’s heels. The effort drawn out and poured into every smash was an almighty audible panting grunt, pointing to unsatisfactory endurance.
But for someone who’s still struggling with the after-effects of Covid, and an asthmatic, his effort was commendable.
Kashyap trailed 13-5 in the second, after flatlining in the opener post the break. From there, he would launch an audacious counter – not scathing in intensity, but deliberate in deception – and peppered with those horse-power neighing smashes.
Collecting points swiftly, moving faster, he would parry 4 match points, inducing a hint of doubt in Momota’s mind. The Japanese, dazed at times from the unexpected rebellion brewing in Kashyap’s effort-full winners, would close out when another straight one drifted wide from the Indian.
— BWF (@bwfmedia) March 17, 2021
Clarity of strategy
But the former CWG champion, who fell agonisingly at the quarters stage of World’s and Olympics, seemed like his brain was drawing out perfect plans to push the top-ranked Japanese, but the body couldn’t keep pace with that clarity of strategy.
His first-round loss isn’t shocking. What does beg the question is why Kashyap won’t back himself to focus on his own game in the next two months. He has taken upon himself to push Saina Nehwal closer to heading to her 4th Games.
He strategies, spars and stands like a rock in support of her career. But the manner of his second set fightback threw up the poser: Why not try for himself.
It was evident that coaches Park and Agus Dwi can help him from the coach’s chair. He will need a humongous effort to physically spruce up his fitness, which is a frustrating task given how often he’s broken down with niggles. It is also apparent that Kashyap can continue guiding his juniors – Sai Praneeth, Prannoy, Sameer and Srikanth along with Ajay Jayaram, another keen student of the game.
But Kashyap could do himself and the country a favour by backing his own game in 2021 — and pushing those like Srikanth to up their game, by staying in contention when the Asian swing comes.
Kashyap seemed to be enjoying the feeling of matching wits with the best, after a long time in his opener at Birmingham. It’s been a long illustrious career, which deserves a Super Series title. 22-20 last set score versus Momota pointed to a last push the Hyderabadi can work himself up towards.