RIO DE JANEIRO: It was truly a match to savour for all Malaysians, let alone badminton fans around the world.
The quality shone through in what should easily have been a final encounter instead.
Malaysia’s World Number 1 Lee Chong Wei and China’s World Number 3 Lin Dan gave one of the best displays of badminton that anyone could have hoped to see on the Olympic stage.
China’s Lin Dan won the first set 21-15 in 24 minutes, with his attacking play not making it easy for the Malaysian.
Chong Wei won the second set 21-11 in 19 minutes. It seemed to be an easy set with a confident Chong Wei racking up the points to take a very commanding lead early on, then easing up, but doing enough to win the set easily.
That set up the rubber game which both players seemed to realise they could not allow the other to take any commanding lead.
Both players took alternate points from each other and after five minutes, the score stood at 4-3 in favour of Chong Wei.
The lead switched a few times, as both players kept close on each other’s heel. After 10 minutes, the score was 7-6 in favour of Lin Dan. Five minutes later, the lead had switched back to Chong Wei 9-8.
The slow movement of points in the modern badminton game, without service overs, indicated the long rallies with no leeway given by either player.
The halfway mark in the rubber set, with the players switching sides, came on the 20-minute mark with Lin Dan holding a 11-10 lead.
The same close contest continued in the second half of the rubber game, and on the 25-minute mark, the score stood at 14-14.
There was every likelihood that the match would go to a deuce.
Then… Chong Wei took off. Racking up three points in succession, the Malaysian took the widest lead in the game so far, moving up to 19-16.
Lin Dan pulled back to 17-19 on the 30-minute mark, but the crowd and all Malaysians knew we were on the brink as Chong Wei then got the all-important 20th point.
Lin Dan then showed some of the best recovery and show of strength to pull back to 20-20.
The deuce play saw Chong Wei take the lead for his fourth match point, and finally, after another long rally, the score read 22-20 and Malaysia was into its third badminton final at the Rio Olympics.
It took 36 long minutes for the rubber set alone, and a total of 79 minutes but Chong Wei did the nation proud yet again to enter his third consecutive Olympic final.
Chong Wei will now meet World Number 2 Chen Long of China in the final tomorrow night, with the time yet to be determined. Chen Long took 48 minutes to despatch of Dane Viktor Axelson 21-14, 21-15 in the second men’s singles semifinal.