In what will count as one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history, home favourite Kento Momota crashed out in the group stage at Tokyo 2020.
The most dominant player of the last four years was a shadow of himself as he reeled under a barrage of smashes from Korea’s Heo Kwanghee. The match was over in 52 minutes, 21-15 21-19, and allowed Heo to progress to the Round of 16 from Group A. Not since Lin Dan’s first round defeat at Athens 2004 has there been a similar upset in badminton.
It was always a struggle for Momota. His game was unsure, so unlike the certainty of his prime; his defence was skittish and his touch off. Heo found smash winners at will, as Momota appeared to react a trifle late. To his credit, Heo kept up the intensity without wavering, and even when it got close in the second game, he dared to charge the net and win match point.
The question of how much his car accident last year had affected his form hung in the air, but Momota himself declined to attribute his loss to the accident.
“I don’t think the accident affected me,” said Momota. “Earlier, I could recover during a match, but today I just could not. I think I was moving well. After my opponent got a lead in the first game, I couldn’t recover like I usually do. There were lots of things happening to me, but still I could be involved with the Olympic Games in Tokyo, I really appreciate that.
“I’m thankful for all the support that I have received. I’m sorry I could not fulfil all the expectations that people had of me. It’s hard for me to deal with this. I was trying to be aggressive, but I couldn’t stay strong emotionally. My physical condition was fine. Playing at my normal level is hard, but it was a good experience to be here.”
Heo Kwang Hee said he’d stuck to his game plan and was surprised that he’d managed to upstage the top seed. “I just stayed aggressive throughout. I didn’t really expect to win because he has such a great record. I just tried to stay positive and it worked out well.”