• AFP-JIJI

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World badminton No. 1 Kento Momota will bounce back from his shock exit at the Tokyo Games, Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen said Thursday, saying there was “so much pressure” on the Japanese star.

Momota was eliminated in the first round on Wednesday night, losing to unseeded South Korean Heo Kwang-hee to end his gold medal bid after just two matches.

Momota headed into the Games carrying the host nation’s expectations, despite playing only a handful of competitive matches since he recovered from career-threatening injuries from a January 2020 car crash.

Axelsen moved into the quarterfinals with a 21-16, 21-14 win over Taiwan’s Wang Tzu-Wei on Thursday, but he had words of sympathy for Momota.

“I don’t think anybody expected that, but we have to respect Momota has been through a lot the last two years,” said Axelsen, the world No. 2.

“There has been so much pressure on him for obvious reasons here. … Had he won the first game, he might have relaxed a little bit and he would be here still in the tournament. He’ll come back for sure.”

Momota blamed his “weakness” after crashing out, admitting that the pressure of appearing in his first Olympics was too much for him.

Momota was not the only high-profile player to struggle in the opening round.

No. 8 seed Angus Ng Ka-long of Hong Kong was eliminated by world No. 59 Kevin Cordon, while Taiwanese No.2 seed Chou Tien-Chen scraped through against unseeded teenager Brian Yang.

“I think it’s because it’s the first Olympics for many players,” said Axelsen, who won bronze at the 2016 Rio Games.

“They might feel they have to go in and prove themselves, they want to get a good result, they’re playing for their country. But for me, I just try to relax and enjoy the ride.”

Axelsen won the world title in 2017, but the Olympics provide a special motivation to lift his game, he said.

“Seeing the Olympic rings on the court does something to you,” he said.

“You don’t get to play many Olympics, so it would be a shame to come in there and be afraid. I’m just here to enjoy it and play my best game. So far it’s been working out well for me.”

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