Every sport is defined by the achievements of the players who play it. Once or twice in a while it happens that two or more players of similar capabilities grace the world by their presence while they take to the “field”.
At times like these, a once in a generation rivalry develops between two greats of sports to split the fans and viewers into half. Every sport in different eras has been witness to famous sporting rivalries, and for Men’s Badminton it has been no different. From Rudy Hartono – Svend Pri to Morten Frost – Luan Jin to even Ardy Wiranata – Heryanto Arbi the tradition of rivalry has continued in the world of the fastest racket sport.
The duo first met on 22 February 2004 at the TUC Asia preliminaries with Dan heading home after a tough fought match that went into the decider. Since then the two modern greats of the game have faced off in as many as 38 occasions with “Super Dan” coming out on top on 26 occasions over his arch enemy’s 12.
Although Lin drew the first blood in the celebrated rivalry, Lee was the one who won their first contested final at the 2005 Malaysia Open in a three game thriller in front of his home crowd. He repeated the feat the very next year when he defeated Dan again to clinch his second straight title in the Malaysian Capital.
The Chinese Superman however got even on his rival during the course of the year with three straight final victories over Lee at the Chinese Taipei, Macau and Hong Kong Open(s).
The much celebrated rivalry reached its peak when the two greats took the centre stage in the final of the Men’s singles in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where both men were vying for their inaugural Gold at the GRANDEST STAGE OF ALL. The match was short lived as Lin Dan picked up a comfortable 21-12, 21-8 victory, much to the delight of his home crowd.
The 2012 Final at London saw the action replay of the previous edition as the duo battled it out hard in a three game classic. Lin again came out victorious after clinching the decider 21-19 to take home his second Olympic Gold.
Although, Lee managed to get the better of his arch rival at Rio 2016 semi finals, he still remained short of his moment of Olympic glory after falling to Dan’s country mate Chen Long in the final.
The duo have between them 10 All England Titles to their names, with the scoreline in the finals being 2-1 in favour of the Left Handed Chinese. Lin Dan has however kept a clean sweep in the BWF World Championships with two victories in the finals of 2011 and 2013 editions. Lee has fallen to his more celebrated rival twice in the Asian Games as well, first in the final in 2010 and then in the semis in 2014.
However, one particular tournament in which Lee Chong Wei has had the most success in is the Malaysia Open. The Chinese Born Malaysian has won a record 11 titles in his home country including two back to back against Lin. The Malaysian Capital however had never proved to be a hunting ground for the GOAT Dan. He had never won the title previously in his more than a dozen attempts.
Last Sunday, the two greatest players of the generation and arguably of all time went for battle one more time in Malaysia. Fresh from his All England Championship triumph and with three back to back victories over the double Olympic champion in the past two years Lee looked clear favourite in the final. However, Super Dan lived up to his reputation of being called the GREATEST OF ALL TIME, after clinching the victory in straight games.
Lee started strongly with his trademark killer cross court smashes, only for Lin to counter with long rallies, swift returns and precision net play. With this victory, Lin Dan has won every available title there is to be won, as he celebrated by dropping his racket, flinging his shirt off and collapsing to the floor.
“My main target was to break my jinx at this Malaysian Open. We both played well and showed a high level of badminton. Me and Lee are both ageing, and so I cherish every moment we play each other in a big tournament”, the 33 year old was quoted as saying.
His arch rival and 11 time champion at Kuala Lumpur, Lee vowed to come back stronger after his disappointing loss. “It wasn’t my best performance today. I lost some confidence after losing the first game, but overall I am satisfied with my overall performance to have made the final,” said the 34 year old.
Last Sunday’s final was another demonstration of the class, power and agility of the two modern greats of World Sports. It also sent a strong message to the critics that age has not been able to weaken either of them to force them to retire any time soon.
As a fan of sports, we can only hope that much like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the world of Lawn Tennis, the world of Shuttlers is sure to be graced by these two legends for more time to come.