Badminton’s not half as much fun without its only saleable contemporary rivalry — Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei. Their’s is a curious war of words. Lee went all cranky when Lin, who’s vamoosed off the international circuit and dropped to No 100 in the world after his London Olympics gold, was handed a wildcard for the ongoing World Championships. Malaysian coaches added their tut-tuts too.
Lin said nothing till he was dragged to the pre-event media interaction, and then stated the obvious: “I have come prepared to win the world title again. My fans will see the best from me.”
Deadpan statements are not supposed to sound so ominous.
The wildcard extended to Super Dan had driven Lee to question the fairness in this world after he had sweated over keeping the top ranking and seeding, only to be told that the Chinese superstar would saunter in and in all probability strut away with the title.
However, even Lee would know that a World title would be hollow without beating the two-time Olympic champion. Having finished second-best to Lin at the last Worlds (2011) and at the London Games (2012), the Malaysian did run into the Chinese at the All England earlier this year. In an incident that must have set Lee’s teeth on edge, Lin aborted the match while leading 21-19, 6-2, walking away as if the contest didn’t matter.
Now in their 30s, both stars will sense that making the next Worlds — even if it’s an annual affair — isn’t a certainty given their growing injury toll, but Lee will feel this more more acutely having never won the World crown despite his long reign as the World No 1. In fact, he’s picked up just a silver and bronze from the last eight years.
However, the wildcard could be justified — not only because China are hosts — but also because no premier badminton tournament can exclude Lin while he’s still game to play. Wickedly, the draw pits him against China’s No 2 Chen Long in the likely quarters.
Lee, however, is clearly rattled and his muttering proves that no matter how big the drop in Lin’s rankings and how long his absence, he’s conceded the psychological advantage to his Chinese nemesis.
No one’s complaining except the Malaysians.
Shivani is an assistant editor based in Mumbai.