Axelsen, Momota lead badminton’s return to Asia

Top-class tour badminton returns to Asia for the first time in 10 months as men's world number one Kento Momota heads a strong line-up for three events in Indonesia culminating in the season-ending World Tour Finals. Olympic gold medallist Viktor Axelsen of Denmark is seeded to meet Japan's Momota in the final of this week's Indonesia Masters, which also features Tokyo bronze winner and home favourite Anthony Ginting. But Olympic silver medallist Chen Long will be missing, along with all players from China, for the first of three back-to-back events on the resort island of Bali beginning Tuesday. Ginting said he was grateful to be able to play at home again, even though there will be no spectators allowed inside the strict bubble to which the players will be confined for three weeks to protect them from coronavirus. "Not only team Indonesia, but all the players have waited to play in front of huge crowds as we had during previous tournaments in Jakarta," said Ginting. "But we're still trying to be grateful that the tournaments could be resumed." Women's world number one and Olympic silver medallist Tai Tzu-Ying of Taiwan is skipping the Indonesia events, while China is not sending any players, meaning Olympic champion Chen Yufei will also be absent. The top seed in the women's will be Akane Yamaguchi, the world number three from Japan, who will face a field featuring Olympic bronze medallist PV Sindhu of India and second seed Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand. Asian badminton fans have been starved of action for almost two years because of the coronavirus pandemic. The last BWF World Tour events to take place on the continent were held in Thailand in January without spectators, as were the Tokyo Olympics. Players have been warming up and acclimatising since last week, but are confined to their Bali hotel and the arena. "They're not allowed to go out once they've arrived at the hotel. We're providing for their needs here," Indonesia Badminton Association spokesman Broto Happy told AFP. The players are staying in a luxury resort with plenty to occupy them, including a private beach. Badminton World Tour events in Indonesia are usually played in the capital, Jakarta, but organisers opted for Bali, which has been badly affected by the loss of visitors during the pandemic. "By holding the tournaments in Bali, we hope to at least revive its economy, which heavily relies on tourism," Happy said. The spectator ban has come as a disappointment for many in a country where badminton is hugely popular. "I'm sad that I can't watch the games in person, but I understand doing it without spectators is the best setting," said fan Renata Indra Adiningtyas, 19, who has resigned herself to watching the tournaments on television. The Indonesia Masters ends on Sunday. The Indonesia Open takes place from November 23-28 and the season-ending BWF Tour finals run December 1-5.

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