Kento Momota suffered a broken nose and cuts to his face when the van carrying him to the city's airport crashed early in the morning, in a blow to his preparations for this year's Tokyo Olympics. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Badminton world number one Kento Momota was injured and his driver was killed in a crash near Kuala Lumpur on Monday just hours after he won the Malaysia Masters. Police said the Japanese star, 25, suffered a broken nose and cuts to his face when the van carrying him to the city's airport crashed early in the morning, in a blow to his preparations for this year's Tokyo Olympics. The driver was killed at the scene after the vehicle collided with a slow-moving lorry on a highway. An assistant coach, physiotherapist, and badminton official also suffered minor injuries. The accident came after the dominant Japanese star began his 2020 season in style Sunday with victory over Denmark's Viktor Axelsen in Kuala Lumpur.
"It's truly tragic, especially involving a badminton icon like Momota," Malaysian sports minister Syed Saddiq told reporters, after visiting the injured in hospital south of the capital. But he added those hurt were "recovering well, (and) all four are also in stable condition". The others hurt suffered facial, leg, hand and head injuries, according to the police.
Kento Momota enjoyed a stellar 2019, winning a record 11 titles including the World Championships, Asia Championships and All England Open. (Image credit: Getty Images)
The Badminton Association of Malaysia said in a statement they were "saddened" by the crash. The accident happened around 4:40 AM local time, and 10 firefighters rushed to the scene, senior fire and rescue department official Norazam Khamis told AFP. The injured "were able to walk out of the van by themselves with some scratches", he added.
Pictures showed the front of the van crushed against a lorry but the back section appeared intact. Momota enjoyed a stellar 2019, winning a record 11 titles including the World Championships, Asia Championships and All England Open, a turnaround for a player who had been banned for gambling in 2016. This means he won more tournaments in a season that any other men's player, including Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei and Chinese great Lin Dan. There is only one major individual title missing from the Japanese player's trophy haul -- Olympic gold.
Momota had been in Kuala Lumpur to take part in the Malaysia Masters badminton tournament. He won easily on Sunday, defeating Denmark's Viktor Axelsen 24-22, 21-11 in a boost for his Tokyo Olympics preparations. The 25-year-old Japanese enjoyed a stellar 2019, winning a record 11 titles including the World Championships, Asia Championships and All England Open. No men's badminton player, not even Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei or Chinese great Lin Dan, has won as many tournaments in a season.
The left-handed Momota has played 73 matches this year, losing just six times, and admits that he has surprised even himself with his blistering form. Malaysia's Lee won 10 titles in 2010, but Momota said: "Although I broke the record of Lee Chong Wei, I don't think I can be compared to him as a player and as a human being. I feel like I am not yet a legendary player but I will work hard in order to play well in future tournaments."