Badminton: Lee and Lin face emotional farewells
BIRGMINGHAM, United Kingdoom—Lee Chong Wei appears to have won his race against time to make an against-the-odds bid for another title in the last All-England Open of his career this week.
It seemed that the world number one might be denied a farewell to the famous tournament, following early prognoses on knee ligament damage which suggested he could be out for several weeks.
Lee’s name is on the schedule for Wednesday’s first round matches and the Malaysian is determined to take part in what will almost certainly be his last appearance at the world’s oldest tournament.
It means that Lee, three times an Olympic silver medallist, and Lin Dan, three times an Olympic champion, may yet star together in a last episode of the most famous rivalry of all time – long after it seemed over.
The tenaciously light-footed Malaysian and the charismatic Chinese left-hander have landed in opposite halves of the draw, which means Sunday’s final could produce their 38th encounter.
Lin and Lee both spoke about saying goodbye before the 2012 Olympics in London, but after playing an epic final against each other, both changed their minds and soldiered on through injury-troubled years until the 2016 Games in Rio.
Farewells will certainly be said at this venue—and possibly to each other. Lin has avoided responding to the continual retirement gossip but Lee has suggested that he won’t play another All-England.
“I am ready for it (retirement),” he said. “And I really want to go.”
Though he may be trying to battle on till August, and attempting to win another title narrowly to have eluded him—the World Championships—Lee will surely not continue beyond that.
Lin’s motives for hanging on are less clear but are probably related to his still being the sport’s biggest draw, and the financial incentives that offers.
He could win the All-England Open a seventh time, though he is seeded only sixth after losing to Lee at the Olympics and then not competing for six months.
Lee, by contrast, has remained world number one but may need to beware a first round with Brice Leverdez, if the world number 36 from France survives the qualifiers.
Leverdez upset Lee at the Denmark Open in October, and caused waves at last year’s All-England by reaching match points against Viktor Axelsen, the top 10 Dane, in the first round.
There are other reasons for being vigilant about starting slowly, as Lee’s first round last year ended in one of his most improbable defeats, to Sai Praneeth, an Indian ranked down at 37.
Provided Lee starts safely this time, he could progress to a semi-final with Chen Long, who is seeded down at four after competing only once since claiming the Olympic title. Chen could nevertheless become the unofficial favourite quite quickly if he proves fully match fit.
Lin might have a quarter-final with Axelsen, the third-seeded World Super Series finals winner, with a probable reward for victory being another Danish opponent, the second seeded Jan Jorgensen.
If Lin does reach a final against Lee he will be seeking a 26th victory against his long-lasting rival, to whom he’s lost only 12 times. This would be an ideal denouement, not least because this time the farewells should be enduring.