World Badminton Championships 2017: Is this the end of an era?
Is the supremacy of the legends Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei in big events over? Is this the end of an era dominated by these two greats? The 2017 BWF World Championship that concluded in Glasgow suggested answers to these questions which badminton aficionados wouldn’t like to agree with.
Ever since Lin and Lee made their forays in the international circuit in 2002-03, they have constantly ruled the men’s singles section and entertained fans with their extraordinary game of badminton for over a decade now. On few occasions, they were joined by contemporaries and more skillful Taufik Hidayat and Peter Gade on the podium in major tournaments including the Olympics, World Championships and All England Championships.
But just like the proverb goes: all good things must come to end, and we might be witnessing the last leg of their performances. The duo, closing in at 35, are in the twilight of their careers and it won’t be a surprise if they hang up their boots from here on. Questions of retirement have emerged following Lee’s shocking exit in the first round of the World Championships, a tournament where the Malaysian great had been a bridesman on three previous occasions. The former world no. 1, who has more the 60 titles worldwide, lost to Frenchman Brice Leverdez in three games.
Lin, a five-time World, and two-time Olympic champion, was rusty in his matches and had to stretch himself to the limit to survive scares from his relatively younger and unheralded opponents. He managed to reach his seventh final before settling for the silver in a less intense match against 23-year-old Dane Viktor Axelsen. Playing against his idol and the greatest shuttler of all time, Axelsen surprised the Chinese great with his powerful smashes and a fast-paced game.
The way the badminton greats surrendered was in much contrast to the resurrection of tennis legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal lately. Their vulnerability at this World Championship was probably due to their aging body and much-exposed tactics—their opponents have better plans to tackle them now. In his post-match conference, the 33-year-old Lin has said: "I have no plans after the Japan Open. It will be difficult to play in the World Championships at 34."
Lee too was unclear about his plans following his early exit. "I may just retire tomorrow," he said.
But more than the players, it’s their famed rivalry, much like Federer vs Nadal, that will be missed by the fraternity. They are like the yin and yang and their face-off, 39 times according to BWF with Lin having an edge of 27 wins, has been one of the major attractions during tournaments; a huge crowd-puller for sponsors, organizers, and broadcasters.
Future in men’s singles
Without any doubt, the legends’ absence will be sort of a catastrophe for the sport, one that will take years to recover from. Many youngsters have emerged in the past few years to take over the baton from these two greats but it’s still a long way to go for the sport to find the next Lin and Lee.
For China, Chen Long has already proved his potential with two World Championship title and 2016 Rio Olympic gold. Chen has been the closest to step into the shoes of Lin and carry the legacy. Former junior World and Asia champions Shi Yuqi and Tian Houwei also have shown glimpses of their talents in several Super Series meets.
Malaysia, however, still doesn’t have a second name to Lee. Former junior world and Asian champion Zulfadli Zulkiffli and Iskandar Zulkarnain are there in the Malaysian singles camp but don't have much in their armour to match the consistency of their senior Lee, who was ranked world no. 1 for 199 consecutive weeks between 2008 and 2012.
Axelsen’s thrilling 22-20, 21-16 win over Lin for a historic gold at the World Championship ended all worries for Denmark, which has got a star now to maintain the legacy that five-time European champion Gade had left. European Championship silver medallist Anders Antonsen, 20, is another name the Danish could bank on in years to come. Jan O Jorgensen and Hans-Kristian Vittinghus have been there for some time now but still unable to overcome the mighty Chinese.
Korea, Taipei and India too, have names like World no. 1 Son Wan Ho, Chou Tien Chen, Kidambi Srikanth and B. Sai Praneeth respectively who have dominated in the Super Series events recently, but a medal at the majors is still a few steps away.
Despite the age and talent, these players have on their sides to continue chasing their dream but the void would be difficult to fill in. The world of badminton and its competition would be a different picture altogether once Lin and Lee are gone.