Some fans watch badminton to see who comes out on top. While I think the victors deserve all the fanfare they get, others, like myself, watch the game for a different reason — for the jaw-dropping rallies. One badminton player has been in many heart-stopping court exchanges in the last few years — the Japanese up-and-coming shot master, Kodai Naraoka!
Kodai Naraoka is one of Japan’s most promising young talents. Representing his country in 2018, Naraoka took home bronze in the 2018 Summer Olympics after a three-game thriller against Arnaud Merkle. Naraoka also boasts a stellar youth career, winning bronze and silver medals at the World Junior Championships. Debuting as a senior player in 2019, Kodai Naraoka bagged five titles at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) International Series. Naraoka has also finished as a runner-up in several World Tour tournaments. In 2023, Kodai Naraoka’s accomplishments earned him enough points to ascend the BWF World Rankings. By January 2023, he became the number six best men’s singles player in the world — at just 22 years old! Naraoka has made a name for himself with his nail-biting performances against the likes of Chou Tien Chen and Viktor Axelsen.
Kodai Naraoka is turning out to be an exciting prospect in the men’s singles division. Join me as we take a peek at Naraoka’s budding career and dazzling on-court prowess!
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Early Life and Junior Badminton Accomplishments
Kodai Naraoka was born on June 30, 2001, in Aomori Prefecture, Japan. He was practically born with a badminton racket in his hand as he started at just five years old. Under the influence of his father, the young Kodai Naraoka developed his skills, competing in many inter-school tournaments.
When he turned 13, Naraoka made his international debut at the 2014 Singapore Youth International. There, he won most of his matches in both the boys’ singles and doubles events.
A year later, he won his first junior title at the 2015 Badminton Asia Junior Championships. He breezed through the boys’ singles event, defeating a young Kunlavut Vitidsarn in the finals.
Perhaps the most successful year in the young Naraoka’s career was 2018. In 2018, Kodai Naraoka competed at the 2018 Osaka International Challenge, despite being a junior player. There, he was a finalist, finishing in the runner-up position of the men’s singles division.
Months later, Naraoka qualified for the 2018 Youth Olympics, where he took home bronze in the boys’ singles event. He also took home silver weeks later when he competed at the 2018 World Junior Championships.
Breakthrough in 2019: Success in the International Series
After the 2018 World Junior Championships, Kodai Naraoka made his senior debut. He debuted at the 2018 K&D Graphics International Challenge, where he easily made it to the finals again. In the finals, he lost to his compatriot Koki Watanabe in a match that went three games. Despite the loss, Naraoka walked away with silver.
Hungry for his first senior title, he kicked off his 2019 title hunt with a stellar showing at the 2019 Laos International. At the tournament, he advanced to the finals to face his compatriot Minoru Koga. In straight sets, Naraoka won the match and his first senior title!
He quickly followed up his Laos International title victory with another International Series win at the Jamaica International. At the 2019 Jamaica International, Naraoka dominated the men’s singles event again, defeating Guatemala’s Kevin Cordon in the finals.
In June 2019, Kodai Naraoka won his third International Series title. He won the 2019 Mongolia International after defeating Thailand’s Kunlavut Vitidsarn in the finals. In October, Kodai Naraoka captured another International Series crown after winning the 2019 Dubai International.
Kodai Naraoka capped off a successful debut year with another International Series victory. By winning the 2019 K&D Graphics International Challenge, Naraoka chalked up his fifth International Series title.
Accomplishments on the World Tour
Kodai Naraoka experienced his first World Tour podium finish in 2022. He finished as the tournament runner-up at the 2022 Gwangju Korea Masters. He also bagged another silver medal at the 2022 Singapore Open, having narrowly lost to Anthony Sinisuka Ginting in the finals.
Perhaps one of the most well-remembered matches in Naraoka’s young career was his three-game battle against the Taiwanese phenom, Chou Tien Chen. In the finals of the 2022 Taipei Open, Kodai Naraoka and Chou Tien Chen faced each other in a match that went the distance. While the Taiwanese superstar won the match, Naraoka’s ability to return rallies and perform near-impossible shots stunned the crowd.
Following the Taipei Open, Naraoka had yet to win his first World Tour title. His chance came in September at the 2022 Vietnam Open. There, he reached the finals again where China’s Sun Fei Xiang was waiting for him.
The two battled for three games to win the tournament. In the end, Naraoka’s on-court prowess and ingenuity proved too challenging for his opponent. After defeating him in a match that lasted 75 minutes, Naraoka finally won his first World Tour title!
Kodai Naraoka possesses an uncanny ability to return rallies even from impossible angles. Here’s a video of him defending near-impossible shots from Ng Tze Yong at the 2023 Malaysia Open.
Kodai Naraoka also seems to have mastered the fine art of the near-net-tip. Basically, he sets the move up by performing big shots like smashes and clears. When he decides to go in for the kill, he punts the shuttlecock close to the net — close enough for his opponents to commit a shot fault. Here’s a sample of this stroke of brilliance and trickery.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Naraoka’s game is his ability to hang on and return rally after rally. Here’s a video of his famous 50-shot exchange with the Danish superstar and future GOAT, Viktor Axelsen.
Sure, Axelsen came out on top, but few can say that they lasted a whole rally with the Danish superstar.
Kodai Naraoka: One of the Most Exciting Players To Watch
Naraoka is only a few years into his senior career. With that in mind, you can bet that he’s going to thrill more fans with his arsenal of shots and staying power.
The sky’s the limit for this young badminton player from Aomori Prefecture. Win or lose, Naraoka has been and will be a really fun player to watch in the coming years!
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