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Kento Momota and Akane Yamaguchi capture titles at badminton's Japan Open

Kyodo

World champion and world No. 1 Kento Momota defended his men’s singles title with a straight-sets win, while Akane Yamaguchi beat Nozomi Okuhara in an all-Japanese women’s singles final at the Japan Open on Sunday.

Playing in front of a cheering home crowd, Momota won a tight first game against Jonatan Christie of Indonesia 21-16 before cruising 21-13 in the second.

It’s the first time Japan has won both the men’s and women’s singles titles at the Japan Open, an HSBC World Tour Super 750 tournament held since 1982.

“I didn’t get good results last week and I wasn’t confident of a repeat,” said Momota, who made a second-round exit from last week’s Indonesia Open in Jakarta as the top seed and defending champion.

“But so many people were rooting for me, and thanks to all of you I was able to win. I hope to keep working hard knowing that I have that support,” he said.

Momota reached No. 1 in the Badminton World Federation men’s singles world rankings last September and has held the top spot since then. Though he was disqualified from taking part in the Rio Olympics, he is leading the race to win Olympic gold in 2020.

In April 2016, Momota and a teammate were slapped with indefinite bans by the Nippon Badminton Association for illegal gambling, but Momota made a winning return at the Japan Ranking Circuit competition after a year’s absence.

Earlier on Sunday, world No. 2 Yamaguchi beat third-ranked Okuhara 2-0. The much-awaited contest between the country’s top two female shuttlers, however, lasted just 46 minutes.

In a repeat of their 2015 Japan Open final, Yamaguchi won a total of 42 points compared to 28 for Okuhara. She reeled off seven consecutive points at one stage to build a comfortable lead before eventually closing out the first game 21-13.

In the second game, where Okuhara showed signs of a return to form, Yamaguchi turned a 10-8 deficit into an 11-10 lead and pulled away to win 21-15.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever won two weeks in a row and there’s a feeling of accomplishment,” the 22-year-old Yamaguchi said.

“I had a bad feeling when we started out with long rallies. But it was good I was able to regain control of the moment and play with perseverance,” she said.

It was Yamaguchi’s first Japan Open title in six years, and follows last week’s championship at the Indonesia Open.

In the women’s doubles final, the Japanese pair of Wakana Nagahara and Mayu Matsumoto missed out on their first title, going down 2-0 against South Korea’s Kim So-yeong and Kong Hee-yong.

The July 23-28 Japan Open held at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza, which will host the Olympic badminton competition next year, was a test event for the Tokyo Olympics.

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