London – Badminton world number one Kento Momota marked his return to action following more than a year out by winning at the All England Championships on Wednesday after coronavirus concerns delayed the start of the tournament by several hours.
Momota, 26, was back on court after he was injured in a car crash and defeated Parupalli Kashyap 21-13, 22-20 in a first-round tie in Birmingham.
This was Momota’s first match since January 12 last year and the 2019 All England champion told the Badminton World Federation (BWF) website: “I was very nervous. I’ve been away for such a long time… I wasn’t confident about winning this match, but finally I could win it and I’m very happy about that.”
This is world champion’s Momota first international tournament since fracturing his eye socket in a crash that killed his driver following victory in the Malaysia Masters in January 2020.
He is facing a battle to regain form and fitness ahead of this year’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics after being off the tour for more than a year.
Momota missed out on a comeback in Thailand after testing positive for Covid-19, which led to the Japan squad pulling out of the Bangkok events.
Earlier, the start of the tournament was pushed back to 1400 GMT from 0900 GMT, with the BWF saying the delay was due to a “significant” number of Covid-19 tests yielding “inconclusive” results, and samples being rerun as a result.
The outcome of the retest was deemed accurate by Public Health England, with all individuals who had returned an inconclusive or positive test previously now negative for Covid-19 and cleared to resume their participation in the tournament.
England’s Gabby Adcock had already withdrawn from playing in the mixed doubles with husband Chris because of long-term Covid.
The 30-year-old, who first became ill at Christmas, told the BBC: “I don’t want to step on court when I’m not conditioned to win.”
The All England was the final event on the BWF calendar to be played last year before the sport shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
International competition resumed in Denmark in October, but was suspended again until January when three tournaments, including the World Tour Finals, were staged in a biosecure “bubble” in Thailand.
With the event not counting towards Olympic qualification, players from China, South Korea and Taiwan had already opted not to travel because of virus restrictions.
Meanwhile, women’s Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain has withdrawn because of an injury. — AFP