Arch-rivals Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei set up mouth-watering clash in badminton semis
Lee Chong Wei was stern-faced as the microphone intruded into his space. He lowered it with his hand and the volunteer seeking quotes for the official Rio Olympics website slinked away.
Lee had won easily against Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen in straight games in the quarter-finals but he wasn’t happy.
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Minutes earlier he had been asked about his next opponent and long-time rival Lin Dan. He threw his arms up in the air and left the questioner standing.
Even with the Malaysian press he didn’t want to hang around. He answered as quickly as he could and left.
Two-time defending gold medallist Lin Dan was also unhappy, having struggled to beat India’s Kidambi Srikanth in three games. Like Lee, he didn’t want to answer too many questions. But at least the Chinese star was willing to talk about his rival.
The two face each other in the semi-finals of the Rio Olympics badminton men’s singles competition in their third straight meeting at the Games. In Beijing and London, Lin defeated Lee to win the gold in the finals.
For Lee, the terse answers and aloofness is so he can focus on winning the gold. It’s his last Olympics and it’s do or die.
“I came here wanting to take it one game at a time and I’m doing that well,” said 33-year-old Lee, who beat Chou 21-8, 21-15. “It’s a mental game from now on so I have to be prepared.
“This is my last Olympics. I’ve won two silvers in the past and now I want gold so I have to focus on that.”
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Lin was relieved to have even set up such a semi-final, needing three games to overcome stylish Srikanth. After easily winning the first game, Lin suddenly had no clue as Srikanth dominated the Chinese player and gave voice to the crowd of about 2,000, most of whom were supporting the Indian.
Srikanth has beaten Lin before, in the 2014 China Open final, so the defending champion knew it was not going to be easy. He was forced to call on all his experience and mastery to win the important points and edge the final game for a close 21-6, 11-21, 21-18 decision.
“Srikanth is a very good player and I thought the key was when I fought back from 8-10 down in the third game,” said Lin. “I did not think too much about the result. I just focused on the game itself.
"During the third game I think psychological factors were important. I played well because I had no other thoughts.
He then turned his attention to his next opponent.
“As for playing Chong Wei, we are both around the same age we have been doing this for a long time. It’s going to be a good match between us and we’ll see what happens,” said Lin, 32.
For Srikanth, it was a missed chance after he totally outclassed Lin in the second game. But he refused to blame anyone but himself, saying he had enough experience to advance to the last four.
“I don’t think experience mattered in this case,” he said. “I just made too many mistakes at crucial times. At 19-17 in the third, I hit a poor smash and suddenly it was 20-17 instead of 19-18.
“After losing the first game I really wanted to be more aggressive and overall I was happy with the way I played.”
In the other semi-final, China’s Chen Long will take on Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, who beat Great Britain’s Rajiv Ouseph in straight games. Chen defeated South Korean Son Wan-ho 2-1.