Malkov, ranked 52 places below Japan’s Kenta Nishimoto, looked supremely confident against his top ten rival, overwhelming him 21-18 21-17 in 50 minutes; Nishimoto looking weary and ill-at-ease against the Russian.
The result, followed by a men’s doubles victory for Russia, stirred up proceedings on the second day. Japan recovered to post a 3-2 victory, but Russia had dented the reputation of the title favourites.
What made Malkov’s upset noteworthy was that the Russian had shown no hint in recent months that he was capable of a significant result. In six tournaments this year, he hasn’t crossed the second round.
His training with the club in Zhengzhou in Central China, he said, has led him to fine-tune several vital aspects of his game.
“I’ve been focussed, about how to practice right, how to practice at a really good level. The basic movement has improved, it’s not about moving here and there. Coaching has helped in how to play, how to move, how to hit, how to play a stroke, how to think. That’s very important.
“A few months ago I wasn’t happy with myself. I prepared well for a few months after my vacation. The last month I’ve been training in Zhengzhou. I’ve seen that I’ve improved. I hope I can keep my level and improve my endurance. I’m happy with my performance today.”
Malkov said he started playing with the Chinese club about four years ago, but it has become “full time” now as he prepares to qualify for Tokyo 2020.
“It’s helping. Today was the best I’ve played. For sure I will continue to train there. I’m learning Chinese. I can order food at restaurants now. I’m taking it step by step, focussing on each tournament. I don’t want to think too far.”