Kodai Naraoka: The New Badminton Defense King From Japan

Kodai Naraoka, born on June 30, 2001, is a Japanese badminton athlete associated with FWD Group. Hailing from Aomori, he initiated his badminton journey at the age of 5 under the guidance of his father. Naraoka achieved the second-place finish at the 2023 World Championships, securing a silver medal in the competition.

Kodai Naraoka (Credit: 

Kodai Naraoka achieved a significant milestone in his badminton career by securing his inaugural major title at the China Masters (Super 750 level) in December 2023, marking this accomplishment at the age of 22. Widely recognized as one of the most promising young talents in men's singles badminton, Naraoka shares this distinction with a select group born in 2000 or later, including Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand, Ng Tze Yong of Malaysia, and Li Shi Feng of China. 

Before clinching the BWF China Masters 2023, Naraoka consistently demonstrated a high level of play, frequently reaching finals and semi-finals throughout 2023. Despite his impressive performances, the absence of a major title seemed incongruous, but his victory at the China Masters not only filled this void but also propelled him to the top seed position in the BWF Year-End World Tour Finals, thanks to the accumulation of BWF World Tour points. 

Naraoka's playing style is characterized by prolonged rallies and a strong defensive approach. Admirers of extended exchanges on the court appreciate his emphasis on defense and his remarkable speed, utilized primarily for defensive maneuvers. In contrast to players renowned for their offensive prowess like Anthony Ginting and Loh Kean Yew, Naraoka strategically employs his speed for defensive purposes, launching occasional attacks with remarkable interception. 

Highlighting his distinctive moves, Naraoka's first signature move is the defensive clear. When faced with opponents attempting to accelerate the game with attacking clears, he skillfully returns the shot with a defensive clear, often achieving impressive height and length, making it challenging for opponents to execute powerful jump smashes. His second signature move is the half dive, showcasing his proficiency in returning challenging jump smashes even when aimed at the sidelines. 

Naraoka's exceptional half-diving skills add an extra layer to his defensive capabilities. A standout feature of Naraoka's gameplay is his extraordinary stamina. This becomes particularly evident in matchups against opponents like Shi Yu Qi, where Naraoka's relentless playing style forces opponents to exhaust their energy, often resulting in subsequent defeats for them in the following rounds. 

Naraoka's philosophy revolves around keeping the shuttle airborne. Through strategic defensive clears, blocks, and half-dives, he aims to discourage opponents from attacking while leveraging his speed and stamina to outlast them. Though some may find his game seemingly monotonous, understanding the depth of his strategic approach reveals the excitement and beauty in his play against top-tier players.

Naraoka one step away from making history as Axelsen awaits in final
Kodai Naraoka (Credit: 

For amateur badminton enthusiasts, there are valuable lessons to glean from Naraoka's game. Emphasizing the importance of a well-executed defensive clear, Naraoka demonstrates how it can reset rallies and, against slightly weaker opponents, even provide an opportunity to take the initiative. Additionally, understanding the effectiveness of neutral shots and defensive play can lead to winning points by capitalizing on opponents' mistakes. 

Naraoka's emphasis on stamina highlights its crucial role in prolonged rallies. Amateur players can incorporate stamina-building activities, such as daily walks, to enhance their endurance on the court. As Naraoka emerges as a new king of defense in men's singles badminton, the future promises an exciting era with a lineup of talented players, each with their unique playing styles reminiscent of legendary predecessors. 

While Naraoka's style may seem less offensive, the artistry of long rallies and the potential for future improvements in his defense and stamina add intrigue to his evolving career. The comparison to Kento Momota suggests that Naraoka may further refine his skills to become an even more formidable force in the badminton world. Watching Naraoka's matches is a captivating experience, though it's advisable to set aside ample time for the engaging and strategic play that unfolds on the court.

Badminton: Japan's Naraoka aims to break through more barriers, starting at  World Tour Finals | The Straits Times
Kodai Naraoka (Credit: The Strait Times)

Kodai Naraoka's victory at the China Masters is not just a personal triumph but a heralding of a new era in men's singles badminton. His strategic brilliance, defensive mastery, and unwavering stamina position him as a force to be reckoned with, ensuring that the next five to ten years in the sport will be a captivating journey for fans and enthusiasts alike.

Cover Credit - The Star

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