The final goodbye


BIRMINGHAM: Lee Chong Wei appears to have won his race against time to make an against-the-odds bid for another title in the last All-England Open of his career this week.

It seemed that the world No. 1 might be denied a farewell to the famous tournament, following early prognoses on knee ligament damage which suggested he could be out for several weeks.

Chong Wei’s name is on the schedule for today’s first-round matches and the Malaysian is determined to take part in what will almost certainly be his last appearance at the world’s oldest tournament.

It means that Chong Wei, three times an Olympic silver medallist, and Lin Dan, two times an Olympic champion, may yet star together in a last episode of the most famous rivalry of all time – long after it seemed over.

 The tenaciously light-footed Malaysian and the charismatic Chinese left-hander have landed in opposite halves of the draw, which means Sunday’s final could produce their 38th encounter.

Lin Dan and Chong Wei both spoke about saying goodbye before the 2012 Olympics in London, but after playing an epic final against each other, both changed their minds and soldiered on through injury-troubled years until the 2016 Games in Rio.

Farewells will certainly be said at this venue – and possibly to each other. Lin Dan has avoided responding to the continual retirement gossip but Chong Wei has suggested that he won’t play another All-England.

“I am ready for it (retirement),” he said. “And I really want to go.”

Though he may be trying to battle on till August, and attempt to win another title narrowly to have eluded him – the World Championships – Chong Wei will surely not continue beyond that.

Lin Dan’s motives for hanging on are less clear but are probably related to his still being the sport’s biggest draw, and the financial incentives that offers.

He could win the All-England Open a seventh time, though he is seeded only sixth after losing to Chong Wei at the Rio Olympic semi-final and then not competing for six months.

Chong Wei, by contrast, has remained world No. 1 but may need to beware a first round with Brice Leverdez, if the world No. 36 from France survives the qualifiers.

Leverdez upset Chong Wei at the Denmark Open in October, and caused waves at last year’s All-England by reaching match points against Viktor Axelsen, the top 10 Dane, in the first round.

There are other reasons for being vigilant about starting slowly, as Chong Wei’s first round last year ended in one of his most improbable defeats, to Sai Praneeth, an Indian ranked down at 37.

Provided Chong Wei starts safely this time, he could progress to a semi-final with Chen Long, who is seeded fourth after competing only once since claiming the Olympic title.

Lin Dan might have a quarter-final with Axelsen, the third-seeded World Superseries Finals winner, with a probable reward for victory being another Danish opponent, the second seeded Jan O Jorgensen.

If Lin Dan does reach a final against Chong Wei he will be seeking a 26th victory against his long-lasting rival, to whom he’s lost only 12 times. This would be an ideal denouement, not least because this time the farewells should be enduring. — AFP


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