Recalling Modern Era’s Two Greatest Shuttlers as All-England Badminton Begins in Birmingham
Akin to Wimbledon Tennis, All-England Open Badminton Championship is the world’s most prestigious and the oldest badminton competition. It began in Guildford in 1898 and except for the years of two world wars; once during 1915-1919 and again during 1940-1946, All England tournament has been organized every year albeit at different venues. From 1957 to 1993, London’s famous Wembley arena remained the venue of the tournament but from 1994 onwards, it has been shifted to the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.
Badminton fans in Birmingham will be sorely disappointed by the absence of China’s Lin Dan in the 2014 championship matches but luckily for them they will have on display another superstar Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia and of course last year’s champion Chen Long of China. But inarguably, Lin Dan and Chong Wei are the two players, who have fired up the courts of National Indoor Arena in Birmingham in the last 10 years. It is amazing that in the period 2004-2013, Lin Dan has featured in 8 finals and emerged victorious on 5 occasions. Similarly, Chong Wei has reached the final 5 times, winning the championship twice.
Lin Dan, who is famously referred as Super Dan by his large fan following, has also won the World Championship 5 times and the Olympic Gold twice. The 2012 London Games gold was Super Dan’s second consecutive Olympic gold. If ever he has lost in any major tournament, more often than not the opponent was Lee Chong Wei, the great Malaysian superstar. Between themselves, Dan and Chong Wei have won countless badminton events and modern badminton history is replete with the tales of their fantastic achievements.
When Lin Dan came to London Olympics two years ago, his second round opponent was 2004 Olympic Gold winner Indonesian superstar Taufik Hidayat. But Dan crushed him 21-9, 21-12 and moved to the quarterfinals, where he had a tough opponent. Despite being stretched to three set Super Dan got the better of the Japanese Sho Sasaki and then easily beat the Korean Lee Hyun in the semifinal. This led him to the Gold Medal clash with arch-rival Lee Chong Wei. It was a repeat of two earlier matches between the two badminton greats in All England Open and World Championship finals, where the Olympic arena had an unprecedented deluge of Chinese and Malaysian Flags. Also it was the second time in the Olympics that the two big guys were coming face to face having faced each other in the final of Beijing 2008 too. On his part, Lee Chong Wei was determined to win the gold for Malaysia and made a great start to take the first set 21-15. When the second set began, the tables were turned as Lin Dan appeared to have found a new resolve. There were many long rallies, which the Super Dan dominated. He simply didn’t allow Chong Wei any chance to hit winners and won the set 21-10. The final set brought the spectators on the edges of their seats. Both players were equal to each other and put their heart and soul into the match. It was a see-saw battle, like of which was never witnessed before. There were long hard rallies, which ended either in Dan’s favour or Chong Wei’s. At 19-19, the match could have gone either way. As the crowd held its breath, Chong Wei played a smash into the net to make it 20-19 in Dan’s favour. Then Dan caused Chong Wei to commit another blunder, as his shot fell out. Super Dan finished as the only man to retain the men’s singles Gold in successive Olympics.
Super Dan might have won two Olympic gold medals but the reigning world no. 1, Lee Chong Wei is no mean player either. He has spent most of his badminton career staying at the top and winning 52 titles and finishing runners-up 28 times. He has won the Malaysia Open 10 times; Super Series Masters 4 times; Hong Kong Open 3 times; Japan open 4 times; Indonesian Open 5 times; India Open 2 times; Denmark Open 2 times; French Open 2 times and many other prestigious tournaments. At the All-England open this year, Chong Wei is the top seed, though he lost to Chen Long last year.
Many people think that Chong Wei will have higher chances of winning this time, since super Dan is not competing. But Chong Wei’s celebrated coach Rashid Sidek warns against any complacent attitude because; there is no dearth of highly talented youngsters this year. There are at least three Chinese, who are capable of derailing Chong Wei in his bid. They are 24-year old Wang Zhengming, 22-year-old Tian Houwei and 26-year-old Du Pengyu, who is seeded seventh. But Chong Wei’s biggest danger comes from the highly talented and defending champion second seeded Chen Long. Chong Wei would not forget that Chen Long had beaten him the final of Denmark Open in October and again in January’s Korean Open.