World Badminton Championships 2017: Have we seen the last of the great Lee Chong Wei?
The wait gets longer and excruciating. Every successive World Championship or Olympics, for over a decade now, he has fallen short in his attempt to win gold and this time, it has been even shorter. Lee Chong Wei, one of the greatest shuttlers the sport of badminton has ever produced, crashed out in the very first round of the World Championships that are currently underway in Glasgow. The former world no. 1 was sent packing by Frenchman Brice Leverdez 21-19, 22-24, 21-17 in an hour and 15 minutes, as the Emirates Arena watched on shell-shocked.
The fact that this might be Chong Wei’s last shot at World Championships glory, the pain of this loss will hurt him all the more than any other misses. Till date, from the ten World Championships he has participated in, he has three silvers and one bronze, but no gold. Much like the World Championship gold, since his debut in 2005, that has played hide and seek all these past years, an Olympic title too has long remained obscure for the Malaysian, who has been stopped every time by his legendary rival Lin Dan and later, Chen Long. With Chong Wei turning 35 in October, the chances of winning these elusive medals seem receding fast.
Now the most obvious question that arises in everyone's mind: will Chong Wei return next year to continue his hunt for the elusive title or will he hang up his boots from here on?
Questions of his retirement were imminent after his poor error-prone performance, which was nowhere close to his usual game. The power in his smashes, sharpness in his strokes and pace in his movements; all were missing. The unforced errors, just added to his woes.
Probably, the pressure of expectation of winning the gold was just too much this time, while Leverdez’s “strong mentality” on the court was his key to his second win over the giant in their ninth head-to-head career meeting.
The disappointment was obvious, and Chong Wei expressed about it adding, “I don’t know about my plans now. I may just retire tomorrow. It’s probably just a blur for me right now.”
“I never give up and keep trying to win the gold in every World Championship or Olympics. I know everyone wants to know whether I am competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics or not. But I don’t know about tomorrow. If I have the fire in me then I will continue, or else I will retire,” said the reigning All England champion, who had finished second best in 2011, 2013 and 2015 editions of World Championships.
Chong Wei will be nearly 38 for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and he would, definitely, need the fire in him more than ever to overcome the relatively younger players. But for badminton lovers, his exit has devoid them a chance of witnessing yet another epic Lee Chong Wei vs Lin Dan showdown.
Right after the loss, Chong Wei also apologized to his home fans. "Today I didn't manage to play my best. Sorry for letting you down. Sorry Malaysia,” he said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
While back home in Kuala Lumpur, Badminton Association of Malaysia president Datuk Seri Norza Zakaria had urged everyone not to speculate the legendary player’s future. “We will discuss Chong Wei’s future plans with him once he returns from Glasgow and respect any decision he makes,” Norza told local mediapersons.
Qualities like indomitable spirit and never-say-die attitude are what differentiate great players like Chong Wei from the others and the Malaysian star has overcome many battles, of injuries and then a doping ban in 2015, riding on these traits. So, his return to the Worlds next year and possibly the 2020 Olympics cannot be completely ruled out. It remains to be seen how he picks up from here and plans his journey ahead.
As of the present scenario at the Emirates Arena, many of his nemesis including two-time champion Long must have heaved a sigh of relief as Chong Wei has always been a prime medal contender. The reigning Olympic champion looks strong to reach the semi-finals, with the only threat being India’s B. Sai Praneeth and Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in the bottom half of the draw. From the other half, it's Lin Dan, India’s Kidambi Srikanth, China’s Shi Yuqi and South Korean top seed Son Wan Ho, who could pose a threat in Long's attempt to win a hat-trick of world titles.