The world No.127 Nigerian promptly fell to the floor and asked for the doctor. Would he retire?
He wouldn’t. The next point, with the threat of 21-0 looming, Opeyori attacked Watanabe, watched as the return fell wide of the sideline, and raised his arm in triumph. The 21-0 score was averted.
How big was that point that he won?
“My partner (Godwin Olofua, coach for the match) said, 20-0 is the same thing as 20-20 for both of us. Anybody can win that point, can win the game. I feel like the person that won the game.
“I never thought of retiring at 20-0. I just aimed at taking the point. I know that if I try 99 times, I will succeed once.
“He (Watanabe) has played at a high level, I’m not used to this kind of tempo, but I’m happy I could enjoy myself and I could at least play toe-to-toe with him. I took my chances and I played my game, and I’m happy that I was able to.”
Opeyori is better known for men’s doubles. He and Olofua are world No.53 and were Africa’s representatives at Tokyo 2020. Since Tokyo he has had little on-court practice, and late last month secured a training stint with the Centre of Excellence in Denmark.
“In the first game I had a lot of energy, so I was confident, but towards the end I lost all my strength because I’m not used to playing at this tempo, so the second game I was totally out. I tried to move but the speed and everything kept going down. So I had to find a way to restore my energy to take a point. I couldn’t go on like this, I had to look for something else. Whatever I had to do to take that one point. It’s always good to change strategy, that’s why I called the doctor. So it was a bit of rest, a bit of recovery on my leg.”
Was that the most important point of his career?
“Yeah, right now it should be. But I’ve never faced an opponent like him before. This is my first time. So it’s one of the most important points I’ve ever taken. It’s also a lesson for me to keep up my strength.
“I don’t think scores really matter. What matters is finishing the game, then you go back home, learn from the mistakes. It’s good to finish the match. What matters most is that we finish, even though you collapse or finish last.”
Highlights of Day 1
♦Rising star Kunlavut Vitidsarn was the earliest big name to fall on the opening day of the World Championships. The Thai couldn’t get much right in a 21-16 21-12 loss to China’s Lu Guang Zu.
“I felt very tired and I found it hard to control the shuttle in the wind,” said Vitidsarn. “He was quite quick and I was on the defensive all through, so it was easy for him.”
♦In women’s singles, Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour scored an impressive straight games victory over Aya Ohori, 21-19 21-17.
♦Kevin Cordon, whose performance at Tokyo 2020 has made him a sought-after name in badminton now, was taken the distance by Dutchman Joran Kweekel. Cordon prevailed 21-18 10-21 21-16.
“Happy that I’m back again at a big tournament. It was not easy. It feels like more pressure, to be honest. It’s a big step at any tournament to win the first match. Now I know the environment and the shuttle. It wasn’t comfortable today. He was winning most of the points with his smash. I feel like I’m having pressure, but I’m still having fun.”