World Badminton Championships 2017: Lee Chong Wei at crossroads as his dreams lay shattered post-early exit
The 2020 Olympics is too far away and the 2018 World Championships in Nanjing may seem only a year away, but to Lee Chong Wei's aching bones and sagging spirit, it may as well be a year, or maybe an age, too late.
For all the silverware that adorn their showcases, legends sometimes are forced to settle for mere numbers, but not the big prizes that they yearn for so much. If it is Majors in golf and Grand Slams in tennis, of which there happen to be four each every year, in badminton the coveted Olympics comes once in every four years and the World Championships only in the years in between them.
Lee Chong Wei, who has every accolade, social and sporting, awarded to him and possesses more than 60 titles worldwide, including four All-England Championships and countless Super Series titles in badminton, may well have to leave the stage without either an Olympic gold or a medal in the World Championships.
Lee, who turns 35 in October, had both his heart and will broken on Tuesday, when Brice Leverdez, a man, who he had beaten six times in seven previous meetings, chose the first round of the World Championships as the stage to shock him a second time.
Never had Lee lost in the first round in all his previous World Championships, and not once to an unseeded player. On Tuesday, the 31st ranked 31-year-old Frenchman shunted out Malaysian genius Lee 21-19, 22-24, 21-17.
The defining statement of the day, while not being directed at Lee, came from Leverdez, and it was about himself.
“The difference was in his head. Usually I put pressure on myself, 'You have to play well, you have to try your best,' but I told myself, 'Play your game, talk to yourself on court, and it will be fine.' And it happened," narrated Leverdez after the match.
The Frenchman added, “I do not really care about what seed anyone is, the fact is I played my game and in a relaxed manner. My secret of success to keep me confident and happy is the jokes for myself!
"I haven’t played here for three or four years, I played today like I did back then (winning 2013 Scottish Open) and with the crowd being really good again. I love playing here in Glasgow.”
Lee has been stopped thrice in the final hurdle in the Olympics — in 2008 and 2012 by Lin Dan and in 2016 by Chen Long. He has also been stopped three times in the summit clash of the World Championships, too, and ironically by the same Chinese duo.
In 2011 and 2013, Lee lost to Lin Dan, who has won six World titles in all, and in 2015, it was Chen Long, who came in the way. In between in 2014, well after Lee had lost to Chen Long in the World final, the Malaysian ace was retrospectively disqualified following an eight-month doping ban.
The 2020 Olympics is too far away and the 2018 World Championships in Nanjing may seem only a year away, but to his aching bones and sagging spirit, it may as well be a year, or maybe an age, too late.
Leverdez’s claim to success is the 2013 Scottish Open title — no wonder he loves Glasgow — and a sports clothing line to his name, that seems to be getting popular in China, too.
He may or may not progress much further in the ongoing Championships — he could run into 10th seed Tian Houwei in third round and Chen Long in quarters — but he will long be remembered as the man, who hastened Lee’s departure from the world stage.
The veteran had delayed his retirement to after the Rio Olympics to target a 10th World Championships and add that elusive gold to his cabinet. He even got his former coach Misbun Sidek to come back after six years to help him chase that dream. Sidek did the same in 2006 and took Lee to No 1.
Lee admitted, “I wanted to win the Olympics and World Championships, but…. “ and the sentence tailed off with silence. He added, “I put more pressure on myself and I made a lot of mistakes. I tried my best and he got lucky on a few points. I'm very disappointed."
A little later he threw a bombshell. On being asked if he still nursed the dream of Olympics and World Championships, he said, “I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow I announce my retirement. Right now my brain can’t think anything.” The word retirement was mentioned twice, but each time he smiled, the superstar seemed to say, “Keep guessing.”
“I tried my best, and I was even leading 15-10 in the third, but he played well,” said Lee, arguing that that the loss to Leverdez in the 2016 Denmark Open did not play on his mind, as he said, “I beat him in All England this year.” Lee won the All England title for the sixth time in the 2017 edition of the event earlier this year.
Lee lost the first game and then saved two match points in the second game, before sending the clash into a decider. He then led 15-10 before the Frenchman rallied to win the final game 21-17.
'Dato' Lee was outplayed at the net for most of the 75-minute match. He led 19-18 in the first game but lost it with three consecutive unforced errors. In the second, he came from 13-18 down to lead 20-18. But Leverdez leveled and then had two match points. The Frenchman thought he won the second. But Lee challenged the call and was saved by the “Hawkeye” which ruled the shuttlecock in by a whisker.
Lee looked good in the third game but Leverdez pounced on three unforced errors by his opponent and finished off the second seed with yet another smash at the net.
The shuttle likes his dreams once again lay shattered and broken on the floor.
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