LONDON: Badminton world number one Kento Momota made a winning return to international action at the Covid-affected All England Open Wednesday, but Indonesia’s team were forced to withdraw after a passenger on their flight to Britain tested positive for the coronavirus.
The 26-year-old from Japan 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 proved negative, allowing the event to begin five hours late at 2pm (1400 GMT) with all participants cleared to play.
But Indonesia’s badminton team were 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Indonesian players will not be able to compete in the current or next round of the tournament and have therefore been withdrawn from the All England Open 2021.”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 toward Olympic qualification, leading Asian badminton nations China, South Korea and Taiwan had opted not to travel because of virus restrictions.
The loss of the Indonesia team is a further blow to an event already shorn of 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.”