The 26-year-old got his chance again, in the quarterfinals of the TotalEnergies BWF Thomas & Uber Cup Finals 2020 when Korea took on Japan.
It was a closer match than the one at Tokyo, when Momota had looked shell-shocked and unable to get a racket on any of Heo’s smashes. Today the Japanese gave Heo fewer chances for the full-blooded hit, and played the shuttle around to get close in the opening game. Once Heo took it, Momota trailed all through the second, still unable to react in time to the smashes, and still appearing weighed down. Heo took the match 21-19 21-17 to give Korea the lead.
“Even if I beat him at the Olympics, I didn’t go too far, so personally I was unsatisfied. I was looking forward to another match with him so I could prove myself. I’m satisfied that I could show everyone that I can be on the same level with him,” said Heo.
“I trained very hard at the Olympics and no matter what people claim, I did get a result. I think it became a chance to believe in myself, that I’m going in the right direction.”
What was running through Momota’s mind after his second straight loss to the Korean? Having beaten Lee Zii Jia yesterday for the second time in three matches, Momota must have sensed an uptick in his form, but Heo had again tripped him. He walked away from the court looking forlorn.
“It seems like I couldn’t get the game I wanted. I tried my best but I couldn’t succeed. I just couldn’t catch up. At the moment I have to change something because my opponents are attacking me, I’m trying to change the pattern,” said Momota.
As for Heo, it was reaffirmation of his abilities. He has been a relatively late entrant to the top level, and is best known for the Momota upset, although he did have notable wins over Chou Tien Chen and Kunlavut Vitidsarn at the Sudirman Cup.
“It means a lot to beat Momota again because many people said my first win could’ve just been luck, but I’ve proved myself, that I’m getting to a higher level, so it means a lot to me. I’m very satisfied. I beat some top players at the Sudirman Cup, and this event is also high level so there’s a lot of meaning to this performance.
How different was it today, compared to the one in Tokyo?
“At the Olympics, I was very aggressive. This time I tried to stay with him, so that if it was a long match he would be tired too. I could induce more mistakes from him today. Momota was tending to play half-smashes rather than full smashes. I could anticipate those shots and I think that made him a bit embarrassed, as I could read his shots. I’m very good at the crosscourt smashes but he was ready for it today. But as I noticed that, I tried to mix it up.”
Japan went 0-2 down with Takuro Hoki/Yugo Kobayashi falling to Choi Solgyu/Seo Seung Jae, but then Kanta Tsuneyama, Akira Koga/Yuta Watanabe and Kenta Nishimoto completed the fightback. Japan progressed to the semifinals against China, who had it easier than they might have anticipated in the semifinals, beating Thailand 3-0.
A potential Shi Yu Qi-Kento Momota clash looms. Having fallen to the Chinese in Vantaa, can Momota turn it around as he continues to search for the form that has eluded him?
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