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Fans back Kento on the comeback trail

According to a recent Twitter poll by @YONEXAllEngland, over 80% of fans are backing Kento Momota to regain a place in the world’s top five, with some even suggesting he still has a shot at becoming world number one.

Japan’s former world number two and 2015 Superseries Finals champion has been exiled from international competition for the past 15 months after his national federation suspended him for involvement in illegal gambling.

And with the emergence of India, the rise of Son Won Ho and the coming of age of Victor Axelsen, Shi Yuqi and Chou Tien-chen, a lot has happened to the men’s singles scene while he has been missing from action. 

Whatever side of the Kento Momota argument you choose to embrace, there is little question that the Japanese talent’s much discussed return to court at the Canada Open – his first internationally tournament after suspension - is somewhat timely.

Timely on two fronts in fact. Timely for a nation, so strong, dominant even, in other events but without a single player in the world top 35 of the prestigious men’s singles standings. With 13 countries making up the new world order, the flag from one of badminton’s undisputed superpowers is conspicuous by its absence.

For a player who is still only 22, time is very much on his side as he rebuilds a reputation and a ranking that gives him a fighting chance of reaping the rewards his talent deserves.

Yet for all the timeliness of his return, Momota’s suspension from the game came at the worst possible moment.

Momota was the game’s great big hope – and he was on a meteoric rise.

Tipped for Olympic glory, he was the experts’ choice, when seeded four, to win the 2015 YONEX All England crown before succumbing to a somewhat subdued exit at the hands of Tian Houwei at the quarter final stage.

But 2015 would bring its own riches with title success on the world tour in India and Indonesia, a World Championships bronze and top step on the podium at the season ending Superseries finals.

It was meant to be career-defining:  third in the world, Momota was the one taking the challenge to the old guard – and winning.

Now after a winning return on the domestic circuit and a final appearance on his circuit comeback, column inches are already probing for when, not if, he will be reunited with the Japanese national set-up.

For the Nippon Badminton Association, the start of a new four year Olympic cycle – albeit one with all eyes on Tokyo - brings with it some welcome breathing space on such a big decision.

Japan’s head coach Park Joo-Bong is typically coy about Kento’s return to the national team, suggesting that a showing at the All Japan Championships could be the benchmark.

But if Momota’s win over compatriot Takuma Ueda in domestic competition raised questions over his immediate future, his 21-11, 21-13 semi final beating of Kenta Nishimoto in Canada will further stoke the trial by media.

Had the slight margins gone in his favour during the three-end defeat to Kanta Tsuneyama – the highest ranked Japanese singles specialist - in the Canadian final, then he would have beaten three of the four Japanese A-grade in less than four weeks.

And Momota’s own cause can have only been enhanced by the real inconsistency of Kazumasa Sakai who, after charging through qualification to a first Superseries final in Indonesia, was dumped out of the Canada Open and US Open Grand Prixs at the first hurdle.

Currently ranked 282, it surely won’t be long before the 22-year-old is back among the top echelons of the game.