Out of all sporting rivalries, the one between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei has a special place in the hearts of badminton fans. The pair met 40 times with the Chinese great winning 28 of those matches while Lee had to be content with only 12.
But it's the sheer quality of those matches and the exemplary sportsmanship shown by the two legends which made their showdowns stand out. They have contested some of the biggest badminton matches and have put up an absolutely sterling display. Lee's counter-attack coupled with his crouch defense against Lin's tactical play and sudden attacks made their rivalry so fascinating to watch. Both went on to reach the pinnacle of the world rankings and cement their names in the annals of badminton history.
Lee Chong Wei bid adieu to the badminton world in 2019 after recovering from nose cancer. Lin Dan, on the other hand, hung up his racquet this year. With both having left the scene, it is a good time to reminisce some of their best matches.
2010 Japan Open final (W: Lee Chong Wei)
One of the early matches in their rivalry that finished in favor of Lee Chong Wei was the Japan Open final in 2010. By then, the two legends had already met 21 times with Lin Dan having won 15 of those matches.
In fact the Malaysian was on a three-match losing streak when he and Lin Dan squared off at the Japan Open final in 2010. Both did not lose a game on their way to the summit clash which made this face-off even more interesting.
Lee Chong Wei was able to get the opening game 22-20 after a gritty fight. Never one to bow out easily, Lin Dan stormed back to take the second game 21-16 before Lee wrapped up the 22-20, 16-21, 21-17 win.
It was certainly a big test for Lee Chong Wei and he was able to pass it with flying colors.
2011 BWF World Championships final (W: Lin Dan)
Buoyed by his win over Lin Dan at the 2011 All England Open final, Lee Chong Wei arrived at the London World Championships with a lot of confidence. There was still a huge gap in their rivalry with Lin Dan leading 17-8 before the start of the world event.
In fact, Lee Chong Wei was the top seed and kept playing an utterly dominant brand of badminton throughout the week. Having blown away all his opponents with a display of sheer precision, the Malaysian looked the heavy favorite for the title.
Second-seeded Lin Dan, meanwhile, cruised through to the semifinals where he faced a stiff challenge from Peter Gade. In a battle between the second and the third seeds at this prestigious tournament, Lin Dan had to dig deep to see off the indefatigable Gade 22-24, 21-7, 21-15.
Lee Chong Wei was obviously the fresher of the two in the final but that hardly mattered to the Chinese. Having lost the opener 22-20 by a whisker, he got into the groove to pocket the second game and set up a decider. In a riveting third game, Lin Dan saved multiple match points to dash the hopes of Lee Chong Wei with a 20-22, 21-14, 23-21 victory.
2013 BWF World Championships final (W: Lin Dan)
Yet another World Championships saw heartbreak for Lee Chong Wei. Between the 2011 All England Open and the 2013 World Championships, the Malaysian ace had managed to get the better of Lin Dan only once. The southpaw had extended his lead over the Malaysian to 22-9 by the time the world event started in 2013.
But there was still a slice of hope for the Malaysian as Lin Dan wasn't very active on the tour since his 2012 Olympic gold win. Lee Chong Wei fought his way through to the final, dropping a couple of games on the way. This was his second attempt at getting the highly-coveted world crown and he was ready to give his all.
Lee even took the first game against Lin Dan who hadn't lost a game all week. Lin Dan changed his tactics since then and started engaging the Malaysian in long rallies. It worked in his favor as Lee suffered cramps towards the end of the match and had to be carried off the court in a stretcher with Lin Dan winning 16-21, 21-13, 20-17 (r).
2015 China Open semifinals (W: Lee Chong Wei)
The China Open in 2015 saw yet another chapter of the glorious Lin Dan vs Lee Chong Wei rivalry. This meeting came when both were in the twilight of their careers. Yet they managed to put up a memorable show.
At this time Lee was returning from an anti-doping rule violation while Lin Dan was seeded third at this Super Series Premier tournament. After suffering three early exits, Lee Chong Wei managed to taste success at the French Open, following which he came to the China Open.
However, both kept struggling through the early rounds until facing each other in the semis. Lin Dan had the home support and bagged the first game 21-17. The next two games were the ultimate test of nerves for Lee Chong Wei. The Malaysian managed to remain calm under pressure and pulled off the 17-21, 21-19, 21-19 marathon win.
Lee Chong Wei went on to win the China Open for the very first time, thus becoming the first men's singles exponent to have captured all Super Series titles.
2016 Olympic Games semifinals (W: Lee Chong Wei)
This was the only time Lee Chong Wei could beat Lin Dan at the Olympics where he had been dealt some of the biggest blows by his greatest rival. The Malaysian had lost two Olympic finals to Lin Dan but this time he looked very much prepared to get one back.
Both were in fine form in the group stages as they advanced to the knockout phase. In the quarterfinals, Lee Chong Wei was absolutely rock solid against Chou Tien Chen. Lin Dan, on the other hand, struggled to get past India's Kidambi Srikanth and needed three games to get the job done.
In the semifinals, when the two legends met, it was once again Lin Dan who had the early momentum as he grabbed the first game 21-15. But this time in Rio, Lee Chong Wei was not to be denied.
With a breathtaking display of attack and defense, he stormed back to get the second game 21-11. The two then got involved in a neck-to-neck battle as none looked ready to give the other an inch of space. After a 79-minute classic, Lee Chong Wei finally ended Lin Dan's Olympic title defense 15-21, 21-11, 22-20.
The Malaysian great, however, still ended up losing the final to Chen Long the next day.