Reigning world and Olympic champion Lin Dan has defended his frequent withdrawals from tournaments that have raised the eyebrows of fellow professionals and fans alike.
In the nine Super Series tournaments the Chinese ace has entered so far this year, he has conceded three walkovers - including a no-show at the Singapore Open final - and had one early retirement.
'Sometimes, you get injured during competition and conceding a walkover is unavoidable,' said the Beijing Olympics singles champion, who arrived in Hong Kong yesterday for the 11th Super Series tournament of the year, which starts at the Coliseum on Tuesday.
'Also, the next Olympic Games are approaching, and you have to take precautious [against aggravating any injuries]. I want to extend my playing career as long as possible, certainly beyond next year's Olympic Games in London.'
However, not everyone is convinced that the walkovers are genuine. There are complaints that Lin, who is also known as 'Super Dan', has deliberately thrown matches against his compatriots so that they can earn enough qualifying points to reach the London Olympics. According to the rules, a country can send three singles players to London but only if they are in the top four positions upon the completion of the qualification period in April. Otherwise, a country can send only a maximum two.
At the moment, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia is on top of the rankings list, followed by China's Chen Long. Lin is third, and Peter Gade of Denmark, the only European who has made it into a Super Series final this year, is fourth, followed by another mainlander, Chen Jin.
In the Singapore Open singles final between Lin and Chen Jin, the match was called off after Lin withdrew at the last minute, claiming he had gastroenteritis. The announcement was followed by loud jeers. Chen Long also received two walkovers from Lin, including in the semi-finals of the Japan Open, where Chen Long went on to beat world No1 Lee in the final. Lin also pulled out of last month's French Open semi-finals against Kenichi Tago of Japan when he was leading 23-21, 18-15.
Gade, who also arrived in Hong Kong yesterday after competing in an invitation tournament in Dongguan, said he was not surprised with Lin's track record of walkovers and withdrawals, especially during an Olympic qualifying period.
'[The Chinese] would really like to have three players in the main draw [in London], and [walkovers] happen when they sometimes play against each other. It does not surprise me,' said the Dane. 'It is now very difficult for me to keep fourth position.
'You all know my attitude towards [players' withdrawal], but that's the way it is. I don't want to waste time and energy complaining about it. It's always the same in every Olympic qualifying year. It's up to the Badminton World Federation to do something. I will leave it to them and focus on playing well.'
Gade, who won his only Hong Kong Open title in 1998, said he would love to be champion here again. 'I've been in good form,' said Gade, who turns 35 next month. 'I do have a foot problem, but it's getting better. I always look forward to playing in Hong Kong.'
The US$250,000 tournament will be played at the Hung Hom venue for the first time since its inauguration in 1982 to meet the requirements of the Super Series, which demands a larger arena than the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai, where the tournament has traditionally been staged.