How to beat Kento Momota: Indian star HS Prannoy tries to tackle the world number one

Kento Momota and HS Prannoy have faced each other seven times with the Japanese badminton star emerging victorious on each occasion.
By Subhayan Dutta

Heaping praise on the unparalleled consistency showcased by badminton world champion Kento Momota in recent years, Indian shuttler HS Prannoy has picked him as his toughest opponent - ever.

Momota was world No. 2 when the Nippon Badminton Association banned him for visiting an illegal casino, just four months before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. By the time the Japanese shuttler returned to the circuit in mid-2017, he was ranked 282.

Kento Momota's journey from the Challenger circuit to become world No. 1 has been phenomenal and HS Prannoy believes the Japanese’s gameplay has improved significantly in this period.

“Kento Momota is the most consistent player on the international circuit now and has improved drastically over the last few years,” HS Prannoy told the Olympic Channel.

“His shot quality has also been really good. His ability to retrieve the shuttle time and again to keep it in play demands you to be a notch higher to get the better of him.

"Kento Momota is definitely the toughest opponent I have faced,” added HS Prannoy, who has played Momota seven times – since their first encounter at the 2013 Denmark Open – and lost on all occasions.

Japan’s Kento Momota won a record 11 titles in the 2019 calendar season.

Left-handed Momota doing it right

Kento Momota’s return to the badminton court post his ban was marked by a 39-match unbeaten streak from July 2017 to February 2018.

While 2018 saw the Kagawa shuttler winning the Asian Championships and the Indonesia Open amongst other titles, the Japanese broke Lee Chong Wei’s record of 10 titles in a year in 2019 – where the world No. 1 won 67 of the 73 matches he played, to bag 11 tournaments.

Why is Kento Momota so good? HS Prannoy reckons it's because he is left-handed, which is a “tremendous advantage” for the Japanese, who is now likened to legends Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei.

“It becomes unconventional for most shuttlers because we don’t practice against left-handed shuttlers and suddenly to shift your game entirely becomes really tough in a tournament,” the Indian badminton player observed.

“One has to alter all angles, shot selections and other aspects of the game that matter a lot,” pointed out the 2010 Youth Olympic Games silver-medallist.

Top Indian badminton players Kidambi Srikanth, Parupalli Kashyap and B Sai Praneeth have also gone up against the Japanese - returning without an answer - and Prannoy knows why.

“Despite being a defensive player primarily, Kento Momota just loves to attack,” Prannoy observed. “His attributes are his fast and fluid movements to run across the court that he can continue for a very long period.”

HS Prannoy had come close to beating Kento Momota at the 2019 BWF World Championships.

Patience is the key

However, even Kento Momota’s seemingly impregnable defence has its flaws, which were best exploited by Indonesia’s Anthony Ginting at the 2019 China Open and the 2018 Asian Games.

Apart from the Indonesian world No. 6, HS Prannoy himself had come extremely close to getting it right against Kento Momota at the 2019 BWF World Championships’ round of 16 stage.

Kento Momota, the world badminton championship 2019 winner, beat Prannoy in the pre-quarterfinal match. But the Indian believes he came close that day as had dug deep and levelled 19-19 in the first game before going down.

The 28-year-old Indian feels that he has the strategy to beat the top-ranked Japanese, and it just needs the right execution.

“One has to be extremely patient while playing against him and bring out the best shot when given the chance,” Prannoy said of the reigning badminton champion.

“When I play Momota, I try to be patient and calculate certain things and try to execute them at the right moments. I feel I did well in the first game of the world championships last year.

“However, some days you won’t be able to execute as you wish and on other days you get it right.

“Anthony Ginting could do that because he is faster than Momota and more patient as well,” the 2018 Asian Championships bronze medallist explained.