Sports

Renewing a riveting rivalry

Lee and Lin could meet in a dream final after being placed in opposite halves of the draw

Lee Chong Wei has won his race against time to make an against-the-odds bid for another title in the last All England Open of his career this week.

It seemed that the Malaysian world No. 1 might be denied a farewell to the famous tournament, following early prognoses on knee ligament damage which suggested he could be out for several weeks.

But the 34-year-old three-time All England champion made a speedy recovery and he departed for Birmingham, England last Saturday.

"Chong Wei went through a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) yesterday and the results were positive," Malaysia's national singles coach Hendrawan told The Star newspaper last week.

"It will be his first tournament since December, but I'm sure he'll go there and give it his best (shot)."

This means that Lee, a three- time Olympic silver medallist, and Chinese great Lin Dan, who won the Olympic singles gold twice by beating Lee, may yet star together in a last episode of the most famous badminton rivalry of all time - long after it seemed over.

The tenaciously light-footed Malaysian and the charismatic Chinese left-hander have landed in opposite halves of the draw, which means Sunday's final could produce their 38th encounter.

Both Lin and Lee spoke about saying goodbye before the 2012 Olympics in London but, after playing an epic final against each other, both changed their minds and soldiered on through injury-troubled years until the Rio Olympics last year, where Lin lost to Lee in the semi-finals and Lee suffered a heartbreaking defeat by another Chinese Chen Long in the final.

Farewells will certainly be said at this venue - and possibly to each other.

It will be his first tournament since December, but I’m sure he’ll go there and give it his best (shot). Malaysia’s national singles coach Hendrawan on Lee Chong Wei

Lin has avoided responding to the continual retirement gossip, but Lee has suggested that he won't play another All England.

"I am ready for it (retirement)," he said.

"And I really want to go."

Lee may try to battle on until the World Championships in August - another title to have eluded him - but he will surely not continue beyond that.

Lin's motives for hanging on are less clear, but are probably related to his still being the sport's biggest draw, and the financial incentives that offers.

He could win the All England Open a seventh time, although he is seeded only sixth after losing to Lee at the Olympics and then not competing for six months.

Lee, by contrast, has remained world No. 1, but may need to be wary of his poential first-round opponent Brice Leverdez, if the world No. 36 from France survives the qualifiers.

Leverdez upset Lee at the Denmark Open last October, and caused waves at last year's All England by reaching match- points against world No. 3 Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the first round.

There are other reasons for being vigilant about starting slowly, as Lee's first round last year ended in one of his most improbable defeats, to Sai Praneeth, an Indian ranked No. 37.

Provided Lee starts safely this time, he could progress to a semi-final with Chen Long, who is seeded down at four after competing only once since claiming the Olympic title.

Chen could nevertheless become the unofficial favourite quite quickly if he proves fully match fit.

Lin might face a quarter-final with Axelsen, and could meet another Danish opponent, the second-seeded Jan Jorgensen, in the last four.

If Lin does reach a final against Lee, he will be seeking a 26th victory against his long-time rival, to whom he's lost only 12 times.

Singapore will be represented in these events - women's singles (Liang Xiaoyu), men's doubles (Loh Kean Hean/Terry Hee and Danny Bawa Chrisnanta/Hendra Wijaya), and mixed doubles (Hee/Tan Wei Han). 
- WIRE SERVICES

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