London – Badminton world No. 1 Kento Momota made a winning return to international competition at the All England Open on Wednesday, but Indonesia's team was forced to withdraw after a passenger on its flight to Britain tested positive for the coronavirus.
The 26-year-old Momota defeated India's Kashyap Parupalli 21-13, 22-20 in a first-round match played without fans in Birmingham.
Momota, who made a successful return to domestic badminton by winning the All-Japan Championship in December, was playing his first BWF World Tour match since a January 2020 car crash in Malaysia, in which he suffered a fractured eye socket and his driver was killed.
"I was very nervous. I've been away for such a long time," he told the BWF website. "I wasn't confident about winning this match, but finally I could win it and I'm very happy about that."
Momota missed out on his planned comeback to the international tour in January after testing positive for COVID-19, which led to the Japan squad pulling out of three events in Thailand.
The start of the prestigious All England Open was delayed on Wednesday after a number of COVID-19 tests yielded both "positive" and "inconclusive" results.
All were retested and returned negative, allowing the event to begin five hours late with all participants cleared to play.
Indonesia's team, however, was later forced into isolation by UK coronavirus contact-tracing rules, forcing the team out of the event.
"In accordance with UK Government requirements, the entire team will self-isolate for 10 days from the date of their inbound flight after a person traveling onboard tested positive for COVID-19," said a statement issued just before midnight UK time on Wednesday.
"All Indonesian players will not be able to compete in the current or next round of the tournament and have therefore been withdrawn from the All England Open 2021."
Several Indonesian players enjoyed successful opening matches on Wednesday, including men's fifth seed Jonatan Christie and men's doubles top seeds Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo.
The Indonesian players' opponents in the next round have been given walkovers.
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 in March.
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 all England Open not counting towards Olympic qualification, leading Asian badminton nations China, South Korea and Taiwan opted not to travel because of virus restrictions.
The loss of the Indonesian team is a further blow to an event already that already lost women's Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain, who withdrew because of injury.
England's Gabby Adcock had already pulled out 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."
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.