World champion Kento Momota becomes Japan's first men's singles world number one, but then pulls out of Korea Open.

Kento Momota has capped a superb 2018 by becoming the first Japanese man to reach number one in the badminton world singles rankings.

Momota's rise to the top came despite him going down in the final of the China Open last Sunday.

The 24-year-old was quick to thank his team and his supporters, saying on social media, "Number one in the world! It is really thanks to the support of people around me.

"I will do my best in the future! Thank you for your support."

But he will not strengthen his grip on top spot this week having handed a walkover to fellow Japanese Kenta Nishimoto in Friday's Korea Open quarter-finals.

Reaching the summit

Last month, Momota became Japan's first men's singles world champion in Nanjing.

After celebrating his 24th birthday, Momota followed up with a triumphant homecoming at the Japan Open in Tokyo.

Kento Momota poses with his trophy and medal after winning the Japan Open in September
Kento Momota poses with his trophy and medal after winning the Japan Open in SeptemberKento Momota poses with his trophy and medal after winning the Japan Open in September

The shuttler also reached the final of last week's China Open but went down in the final to unseeded Indonesian Anthony Sinisuka Ginting who also beat him at the Asian Games.

Bouncing back

After becoming world junior champion in 2012, Momota announced himself as a top senior player in 2015 with BWF Superseries titles in Singapore and Indonesia.

The left-hander then beat Viktor Axelsen to claim the World Superseries Finals in Dubai.

Kento Momota celebrates his 2015 World Superseries Finals win over Viktor Axelsen
Kento Momota celebrates his 2015 World Superseries Finals win over Viktor AxelsenKento Momota celebrates his 2015 World Superseries Finals win over Viktor Axelsen

But in April 2016, days after defeating Axelsen in the India Open final, Momota admitted frequently visiting an illegal casino in Tokyo.

Had the charges reached a criminal court, he faced up to three years in prison.

But the Nippon Badminton Association agreed not to press charges if Momota accepted a one-year ban from international competition which would see him miss Rio 2016.

Momota told FirstPost.com in June 2018, "I was immature and foolish. I readily accepted the compromise solution, and felt I richly deserved it.

Kento Momota at the Malaysian Open in April 2016 a day before receiving a one-year ban
Kento Momota at the Malaysian Open in April 2016 a day before receiving a one-year banKento Momota at the Malaysian Open in April 2016 a day before receiving a one-year ban

"That one year in the wilderness was the darkest period of my life." - Kento Momota speaking in June

Momota returned to action in April 2017 and played on the Challenger circuit as he did not have enough ranking points to take part in SuperSeries events.

And having worked hard on his game and his fitness, Momota made a hugely successful return to badminton's top echelon in 2018.

A year to remember

At the end of April, Momota showed his trademark athleticism and ability to change defence into attack instantly as he stunned Olympic champion Chen Long in the final of the Asian Championships in Wuhan, China.

A month later, he beat Axelsen again as Japan put out Denmark in the semi-finals of the Thomas Cup.

Momota then recorded back-to-back wins over Chen, but Japan went down 3-1 to China and had to settle for second place in the world team championship.

On the World Tour - which replaced the Superseries this year - Momota was unable to overcome home favourite Lee Chong Wei in the Malaysia Open final.

But he went one better in July's Indonesia Open, beating Axelsen yet again, before securing his first world title against Shi Yuqi.

2018 world champion Kento Momota (R) with runner-up Shi Yuqi
2018 world champion Kento Momota (R) with runner-up Shi Yuqi2018 world champion Kento Momota (R) with runner-up Shi Yuqi

Olympic ambitions

Japan is now challenging China for the title as badminton's premier nation with the women possessing greater strength in depth.

2018 world bronze medallist Akane Yamaguchi is currently number one in the world rankings, while Nozomi Okuhara was victorious at last year's World Championships in Glasgow.

The omens are good for Tokyo 2020 with genuine chances of gold in both singles' events.

They will also be in the medal hunt in doubles with Misaki Matsutomo and Ayaka Takahashi the women's champions from Rio 2016.

Mayu Matsumoto and Wakana Nagahara won the women's doubles at this year's World Championships with Takeshi Kamura and Keigo Sonoga runners-up in the men's doubles.

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