Will Lee Chong Wei finally be World Champion?
Can the old magic from the racquet of Lee Chong Wei be visible at the World Championships in Jakarta?
There are always players who are immediately thought of at the mention of a sport. The greats who invoke veneration and admiration from all quarters, who have played their game better than most. The mention of Badminton brings about similar thoughts about a Malaysian. What are his best achievements? An Olympic gold, World Champion title, Continental games (Asian Games here) Champion? Unfortunately, Lee Chong Wei boasts of none of them.
The most decorated and successful Olympian from his country, Lee Chong Wei, ironically boasts of no gold medal. Having reached the top of his sport and having retained it for longer than anyone, the Malay is considered as one of the greatest to play the sport. Yet, he has failed when it comes to the ultimate clashes at these big events. Interestingly, all these denials have been meted out by his long time nemesis and fellow great, the impregnable Lin Dan.
In a shocking turn of events, the thirty three year old Malaysian had tested positive for a banned substance last year and was handed a backdated ban. With that being one of the worst incidents since the Olympics fiasco in 2012, the entire badminton world went aghast at the news. Some credibility has certainly been lost, both for the sport and the player.
Returning to competitive play earlier this year at the Sudirman Cup, the former world no.1 seemed to have lost little form, as he claimed eighteen wins and two titles on the trot, before going down to the current World no.1 Chen Long at the Taiwan Grand Prix Gold event. He might have two titles under his belt, but they are not the tournaments that offer the toughest competition. He has probably not been adequately tested since his return.
Playing his toughest tournament yet, Ching Wei will enter the World Championships as an unseeded player. He will face his first test in the second round in the form of Marc Zwiebler. He has hardly has to strain himself playing against the German (he leads their head to head 10-0, without the loss of a game), and would most likely rout his opponent as he has in the past. He could then face Wang Zhengming in the pre-quarters and one of Kenichi Tago, Hu Yun or K Srikanth as his likely opponent in the quarterfinals.
Of them all, only Tago has managed wins against the Malaysian while the rest have completely failed to master the Malaysian despite the number of times they have played the Malaysian in their careers. He could end up brushing aside any form of resistance offered by these players who, unfortunately, have Lee Chong Wei as an unseeded player in their quarter.
While he could trot his way to the semifinals, it is his passage to the finals that he will find difficult and crucial. Standing, most likely, between him and the Championship match would be the familiar Lin Dan, a prospect he would like to not face given a choice. Having spoilt the Malaysian’s chances umpteen number of times at crucial events (Lee Chong Wei found it hard to halt Lin Dan even when he was just returning from a long sabbatical after the 2012 Olympics in the Championship match two years back), Lin Dan will surely not let him grab the gold for nothing. Even if he passes that test, Chen Long, who is the top-ranked player and by virtue of which he is drawn to enter the finals, would stand between him and the title.
Lee Chong Wei announced that he has prepared well for the event. Before his departure, he had briefed the media, where he stated that this event will no longer be the Lin Dan-Lee Chong Wei battle it was a few years back. He cited the names of a few leading players as well ,including those of Srikanth, Jorgensen, Momota and others as possible dark horses at the event. He even said that he was confident that he would finally place his hands on the medal that has eluded him for the past nine times. What more, he is even sporting a new blue dyed hairstyle.
Given the competition he faces and the setbacks caused by a few months’ lack of competitive play, however, small it might be, his journey will not be very easy. Yet, his chances to stand atop the uppermost podium next Sunday are as good as those of Chen Long, Lin Dan and a handful of others. To break the jinx and to return home triumphant would apparently mean a lot to him and his countrymen, and it is not completely impossible given his abilities. But the question will keep ringing until then: Will Lee Chong Wei finally be crowned World Champion?