Legendary Chinese shuttler Lin Dan believes Malaysian Lee Chong Wei is his ‘fiercest rival’. It’s not a surprise, considering the number of times they have stood in each other’s way while chasing a title. Like Federer and Nadal have during peak of their rivalry. But even he wouldn’t have predicted their rivalry was so intense that if one got knocked out early, the other too would follow the suit. Or so it seemed.
Ever since the India Open draw was out, the expected meeting of the two modern-day badminton greats in Saturday’s semifinals was the most anticipated match-up. So when Dan stepped on Court No. 2 of the Siri Fort Complex for his pre-quarterfinal Thursday, it was expected he would wallop South Korean Son Wan Ho to advance to quarters.
But the world no. 2 does not have great memories of competing in Delhi. Last year, Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia had upset him in the quarters. on Thursday, it would be Wan Ho to shock Super Dan. The Chinese was too casual in his approach, bordering on being uninterested. And Wan Ho, chasing Olympic qualification, was happy to play the aggressor.
He took the first game 21-13 and looked to be running away with the second game as well until Dan woke up. Down 17-20, Dan played his best badminton for just three points – going for his famed jump smashes, deft net play and forcing an error from Wan Ho. For those three points, the Korean did not know what had hit him. Dan again resorted to being lazy and gave away two silly points, and the match, to his opponent. Moments later, when Chong Wei stepped on to the same court, he suddenly was crowned the new favourite.
After all, it’s rare that both these shuttlers are ousted so early in a tournament — and usually when one of them loses, the other goes on to win the title. It was evident at the All England Championships in March, which Dan won after Chong Wei lost early. So the Malaysian’s path was clear, especially with world no. 1 Chen Long also opting out.
Up against unheralded Wei Nan of Hong Kong, Chong Wei, like Dan, was expected to storm into the quarterfinals.
Instead, the top seed too came up with an error-strewn performance, losing 21-19 21-19 in 42 minutes and follow his ‘fiercest rival’ out.
It wasn’t a good day for the top-10 shuttlers, as two more players were ousted in the last-16. Xue Song added to his rising reputation with a commanding 21-18, 15-21, 21-14 Jan O Jorgensen of Denmark. Germany’s Marc Zwiebler stunned Chinese seventh seed Tian Houwei 18-21 21-19 23-21. Indian hopes Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu too progressed. While Saina beat Thailand’s Nitchaon Jindapol 21-19 21-14, Sindhu had to fight hard to earn a 17-21 21-19 21-16 win over Busanan Ongbumrungphan, also of Thailand.