Badminton No 1 Lee Chong Wei escapes as China stars slump at All-England
World number one Lee Chong Wei managed one of his most nerve-jangling survivals on Wednesday when he saved him two match points in the first round of the All-England Open.
Lee, who hopes to win the famous title back and capture it for a third time, looked dead and buried at 19-20 down in the final game with Wong Wing-ki launching a kill from an imposing position.
But the world number 18 from Hong Kong hammered it into the net, bringing a great gasp from the crowd, and a couple of minutes later the Malaysian had completed an improbable escape by 13-21, 21-6, 23-21.
Lee did that after saving another match point at 20-21, producing a good smash to the body and a nerveless piece of judgment in leaving Wong’s ensuing block, which sailed just long.
“I was lucky,” admitted Lee. “But for that shot into the net I would have been one of the big casualties of the tournament, like the others today.”
Lee was referring to the defeats in the early part of the day for the third-seeded Du Pengyu and the sixth seeded Hu Jun, in the men’s singles, and those of two other Chinese players, Li Xuerui, the Olympic champion, and Wang Yihan, the world champion, in the women’s singles.
In a roller-coaster match, Lee took 15 points in a row and threatened to crush Wong’s morale altogether while winning the second game, and then let slip a five-point lead in the decider.
During those phases Lee was winning points in such a wide variety of ways – at the net, with disguised overhead attacks, or with light-footed manoeuvring – that no-one looked more in charge than he did.
But at 12-17 in the decider Wong found and made opportunities to hit huge smashes just as he had in the first game, and almost snatched the finest win of his career.
“I’ve never seen him play like that before,” said Lee.
Lee now plays Wang Zhengming, the world number 19 from China, in the knowledge that if he wins he will not have to face a leading Chinese player before the final.
That is because Du was earlier beaten 21-17, 10-21, 21-18 by Chou Tien Chen, the world number 28 from Taiwan, and Hu also went down in three games, by 21-16, 11-21, 23-21 to Tanonsak Saensomboonsuk, the world number 39 from Thailand, despite having led 19-17 in the final game.
Earlier still Li Xuerui suffered one of the most extraordinary defeats in the history of the game when she was beaten in the first round in defence of her title.
Widely regarded as the sport’s outstanding woman player after her triumph at the Olympics, Li went down 21-18, 21-18 to Bae Yeon Ju, the world number 13 from South Korea, in an early morning match before most spectators had even arrived.
It became an even more stunning opening day when China’s other leading woman player, Wang Yihan, the world champion, also fell at the first hurdle.
Wang let slip leads of 8-4,12-9, and 16-15 in the second game of a 21-12, 21-19 defeat to Lindaweni Fanetri, the world number 18 from Indonesia.
Why these shocks had happened were a mystery to many, but clear to Saina Nehwal, the second-seeded Commonwealth champion from India, who only just struggled through 21-8, 18-21, 21-16 against Sapsiree Taerattanachai, the world number 20 from Thailand.
“They have played too many tournaments,” Nehwal asserted. “And so have I. I didn’t play as I would hope to play but I am just happy I am through.”