World badminton number one Kento Momota will bounce back from his shock exit at the Tokyo Games, Denmark's Viktor Axelsen said Thursday, blaming "so much pressure" on the Japanese star.
Momota was eliminated in the first round on Wednesday night, losing to unseeded South Korean Heo Kwang-hee to end his gold medal bid after just two matches.
Momota headed into the Games carrying the host nation's expectations, despite playing only a handful of competitive matches since he recovered from career-threatening injuries from a January 2020 car crash.
Axelsen moved into the quarter-finals with a 21-16, 21-14 win over Taiwan's Wang Tzu-Wei on Thursday, but he had words of sympathy for Momota.
"I don't think anybody expected that, but we have to respect Momota has been through a lot the last two years," said Axelsen, the world number two.
"There has been so much pressure on him for obvious reasons here... Had he won the first game, he might have relaxed a little bit and he would be here still in the tournament. He'll come back for sure."
Momota blamed his "weakness" after crashing out, admitting that the pressure of appearing in his first Olympics was too much for him.
Momota was not the only high-profile player to struggle in the opening round.
Number eight seed Angus Ng Ka-long of Hong Kong was eliminated by world number 59 Kevin Cordon, while Taiwanese number two seed Chou Tien-Chen scraped through against unseeded teenager Brian Yang.
"I think it's because it's the first Olympics for many players," said Axelsen, who won bronze at the 2016 Rio Games.
"They might feel they have to go in and prove themselves, they want to get a good result, they're playing for their country. But for me, I just try to relax and enjoy the ride."
Axelsen won the world title in 2017, but the Olympics provide a special motivation to lift his game, he said.
"Seeing the Olympic rings on the court does something to you," he said.
"You don't get to play many Olympics, so it would be a shame to come in there and be afraid. I'm just here to enjoy it and play my best game. So far it's been working out well for me."
Axelsen was joined in the quarter-finals on Thursday by Danish compatriot Anders Antonsen, who beat Britain's Toby Penty 21-10, 21-15.
"So far so good," said Antonsen, the number three seed.
"I'm in the quarter-final now but I'm hungry for more. I'm eager to go to the semi-finals."
But number seven seed Jonatan Christie was bundled out, losing 21-11, 21-9 to China's Shi Yu Qi.
"I wasn't satisfied with my performance because I made a lot of unforced errors," said Christie, who said he was playing in memory of his brother, who died of Covid-19.
Also progressing to the quarter-finals were Indonesia's Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, who beat Japan's Kanta Tsuneyama 21-18, 21-14, and Cordon, who beat Netherlands' Mark Caljouw 21-17, 3-21, 21-19.
China's Chen Long came from a set down to beat Malaysia's Lee Zii Jia 8-21, 21-19, 21-5.