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World No. 1 Kento Momota victorious in long-awaited Olympics debut

Badminton world No. 1 Kento Momota was victorious in his long-awaited Olympics debut as he beat American Timothy Lam - a self-confessed fan of the Japanese - in straight sets. AP Photo/Dita Alangkara

In his long overdue Olympic debut, men's badminton singles No. 1 Kento Momota of Japan easily beat the United States' Timothy Lam 21-12 21-9 on Sunday, even making the occasional trick shot behind his back during their warm-up.

Though Lam had his moments -- once bringing his "favourite player" Momota to his knees -- he was no match for Japan's darling on his home turf.

Momota's journey to Tokyo 2020 has been fraught with personal and professional setbacks, including contracting COVID-19. The 26-year-old was embroiled in an illegal gambling scandal months before the Rio Games in 2016, and banned by the Nippon Badminton Association.

Then ranked second in the world, Momota was stripped from the league tables. By the time he returned to the court in 2017, he was ranked 282nd. With a 39-match unbeaten streak, he clawed his way back to the top.

But Momota's Olympic dreams seemed crushed again in early 2020 when he was in a car accident that left the driver dead and damaged his sight among other injuries. He had time to recover during the pandemic, making a comeback at the All-England Open in March to lift Japanese hopes he could challenge for Olympic gold.