Lee Chong Wei – the one constant among many variables
The list of eight elite players who have made it to the World Superseries Finals is out. Topping this list are, expectedly, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long.
There is no Lin Dan who, despite being World and Olympic champion, did not qualify as he did not log sufficient Superseries ranking points. He had participated in just three open events, and none after winning the Olympic gold.
There will be no Peter Gade, who retired during the French Open. The other famous name of this era, Taufik Hidayat, will also miss out as he has slowly been winding down his commitments, possibly with retirement in sight.
Men’s Singles badminton is in transition, and the list of the eight qualifiers for the Superseries Finals reflects that. Of the eight, only Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long are de-facto elite players; the others are not in their league, nor are they likely to catch up any time soon. In terms of quality, men’s singles badminton faces a crisis – it does not have the standard of even five years ago. At least seven of the top-12 are not consistent, and are likely to be beaten by any player in the top-30.
Consider players like Sho Sasaki and Kenichi Tago (Japan), Jan O Jorgensen (Denmark), Du Pengyu (China) and Wang Zhengming (China). They are either in the top-12 or have been there in recent times. All of them have shown a worrying lack of stability. Du Pengyu, for instance, went from being Denmark Open finalist to first-round loser at the French Open the very next week. Similarly, Wang Zhengming made the final of the China Open and crashed out in the first round of the Hong Kong Open. Hu Yun (Hong Kong), who made the final of the China Masters Premier Superseries, went on to lose to players like Wisnu Yuli Prasetyo (Indonesia, No. 75), Chen Yuekun (China, No. 52) and Arif Abdul Latif (Malaysia, No. 35).
Even Jan O Jorgensen, who heads the European challenge after Peter Gade’s retirement, had a disappointing season, losing to the likes of Hsuan Yi Hsueh (Taipei, No. 64), veterans like Nguyen Tien Minh and Lee Hyun Il, Japanese youngster Kazumasa Sakai (No. 61) and Gao Huan (China, No. 45).
This is not to suggest that top players should be infallible. But current trends show a worrying lack of consistency among the top players. Only Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei and Chen Long are consistent in the sense that they do not usually lose to players ranked below them.
This does affect the following for the sport. Apart from the three named, the others are hardly known outside the badminton-following circle. How many sports followers can name the top-ten? This is so unlike, say, football, where most fans would be able to name the entire Manchester United or Barcelona teams, the top-ten in tennis, or even the starting line-up at a Formula-One race.
That is why one is so thankful for Lee Chong Wei. The Malaysian lends quality to every event he participates in. He gives his best, and if that isn’t good enough for the trophy, he makes no excuses. His opponent has to play really well to beat him, and that is not often.
Unlike Lin Dan, who stays away from numerous Superseries events every year, Chong Wei participates in as many as possible and that is invaluable for public interest. When Chong Wei plays, one is sure that a lesser player cannot walk away with the title. Lin Dan might be World Champion, but Chong Wei evokes warmer memories in people’s hearts. He is, after all, the Superseries King!