Victory at last: Lee Chong Wei defeats arch-rival Lin Dan in men’s singles badminton semi-final
Malaysian superstar stays on course for his first Olympic gold as he overcomes his nemesis in three hard-fought games, but he faces another Chinese in Chen Long in final
Lee Chong Wei pulled off one of the greatest victories of his career when he finally beat his intense rival Lin Dan in an Olympic clash in Rio on Friday – but all it did was ensure him of at least a repeat of his past two silver medals.
The Malaysian dropped to his knees after hitting the winning drop shot against China’s two-time defending gold medallist after a semi-final worthy of champions that went to deuce in the final game and lasted 83 minutes.
The pair, in a symbol of their long rivalry and friendship, exchanged shirts after Lee – losing finalist to Lin in the past two Olympics – moved into the final with the Chinese star set to battle for the bronze.
Lee prevailed 15-21, 21-11, 22-20 in a match full of twists and turns, with the final game providing the vocal crowd of around 2,000 with edge-of-the-seat action.
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Lee will play China’s Chen Long for gold after the second seed defeated Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen 21-14, 21-15 in the other semi-final.
Despite one of his best victories, Lee was reluctant to look too far ahead and, like in previous victories in Rio, preferred to keep his comments brief.
“Lin Dan is a great player and that’s why this victory is so important. It’s a semi-final, but it was played like a final,” said Lee.
“But I’m not thinking too much about it, just treat it as a win and there is still the gold medal to play for.”
The 33-year-old Malaysian had said this was to be his final Olympics and was determined to capture gold, but that meant facing Lin in the semi-finals.
Lee was impressive in his preliminary pool matches and quarter-final, while Lin struggled to beat India’s rising star Kidambi Srikanth.
But it was Lin who looked the more accomplished player at the start of the semi-final, surging to a 6-2 lead in the first game and dominating Lee at the net and from the back of the court. Despite a brief comeback by the Malaysian, Lin eased to a 1-0 lead.
After some advice from his coach, Lee took a firm grip on the second game, rushing to a 9-2 lead before Lin knew what had hit him.
Lee was reluctant to smash and relied more on soft smashes from the back and making Lin work hard to retrieve. Lin’s best phase in the second game was coming back from 15-4 down to 19-11.
At game point, Lin almost appeared to give the point away as he allowed Lee plenty of open court to drop a soft smash for a winner and to tie the match at 1-1.
The third game was gripping stuff and highlighted the respect both players have for each other. There was never more than two points in it until Lee went 19-16 up much to the delight of the Malaysian fans in the stands, comprising many of Lee’s fellow athletes.
Lee then gave himself three match points, but forever the fighter, Lin hauled back with some incredible defensive and attacking play to make it 20-20 and force deuce.
But the Malaysian world number one, who came back from a nine-month doping suspension to return to the top of the sport, wasn’t about to let this chance go and won the final two points to end Lin’s unbeaten run in the Olympics.
In the women’s gold medal match, Spain’s world number one Carolina Marin defeated Indian shuttler P. V. Sindhu on Friday.
Marin, who is also the reigning world champion, lost the first game 21-19, but grabbed the second 21-12 before clinching gold with a 21-15 win in the decider.