Imagine the world of sports without rivalries. From the Ashes in cricket to Brazil taking on Argentina in football to the evergreen Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal clash in tennis — the entire sporting world yearns for matches like these. On Sunday, badminton fans will have a mouthwatering clash of their own to look forward to — Lin Dan taking on Lee Chong Wei in the men's singles finals of the Celcom Axiata Malaysia Open on Sunday.
Malaysia's Lee and the China's Lin will square off for the 36th time in a competitive match. What's interesting is that in those encounters, Lin has been victorious 24 times, including winning the badminton gold medal match at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics. However, despite a healthy lead in the head-to-head meetings, the Chinese ace was floored by Lee in his last three meetings — Rio Olympics, Badminton Asia Championships and China Open. Interestingly, all matches were forced to go to three games. It is a known fact that while Lin grabbed all the Olympic golds and World events, Lee was busy bagging Superseries and Championships titles.
The Lee-Lin duel is an unique rivalry as they share a total of an incredible 129 titles between them (Lee 66, Lin 63). The two extraordinary shuttlers possess contrasting personalities; Lee comes across as a cool and calm customer whilst on court whereas Lin is known as the 'bad boy of badminton' because of his bold and aggressive approach. 'Super Dan' — as he was nicknamed by the great Peter Gade — believes his strength lies in his attack and pacey forehand shots. Maybe, that's one of the reasons why he is still considered as the greatest male shuttler to ever grace the game. On the contrary, Lee is famous for being an obedient student of textbook badminton as he focuses on taking control of the baseline and covers the court wisely.
In 17 years of Lin's glittering career as a professional shuttler, he has won all nine major titles in the badminton world: Olympics, World Championships, World Cup, Thomas Cup, Sudirman Cup, Super Series Masters Finals, All England Open, Asian Games, and Asian Championships, becoming the first and only player to achieve this feat. Surprisingly, Lin has never tasted victory at the Malaysia Open. The former World No 1 did make it to the finals of the Superseries Premier event on three occasions but was forced to take the runner-up podium twice after tasting defeats at the hands of Lee in 2005 and 2006, and once by compatriot Chen Long in 2015.
Lee, on the other hand, is an 11-time Malaysia Open champion. So, on Sunday he will be entering the court for the 12th time and third against Lin in the final of the men's singles.
En route their way to the final in the $600,000 mega event, both had easy fixtures to say the least but Lin's performances raised a few eyebrows. The two-time Olympic medallist faced Indian B Sai Praneeth in the first round and then Tanongsak S, Jonatan Christie and fifth-seed Son Wan Ho on Saturday. Out of these four matches, three times Lin was forced to play the third game whereas Lee won each of his matches in straight games, sending out a strong message to his old foe well in advance.
Now, after sharing 13 years of men's singles domination, the world knows about the duo's strengths but what about their weaknesses? Has Lee finally overcome his habit of choking against Lin in crucial matches like finals? Can Lin finally win the elusive Malaysia title, that too beating his arch-rival at his home turf? The answer to these questions will be given on Sunday, when the onus will be on the Chinese and not Lee who will have full crowd support.
For Lin, this is revenge time, even though he has beaten Lee on the grandest stage of all. Just imagine beating Lee in front of his own people and claiming the one title that always slipped away. Despite having so many titles to his name, the Malaysia Open title would surely embellish his trophy cabinet.
Updated Date: Apr 09, 2017 09:10 AM