Chinese badminton superstar Lin Dan survived a major scare to set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Malaysian arch-rival Lee Chong Wei at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday.
Two-time Olympic champion Lin required three games and one hour eight minutes to defeat ninth-seed Srikanth Kidambi of India after top-ranked Lee cantered to a routine victory against Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen.
Lin, who is bidding for a third consecutive Olympic gold, won the first game easily, triumphing 21-6, but succumbed in the second, losing 21-11, before scraping the third game 21-18.
At one point “Super Dan”, currently ranked third in the world but regarded by some as badminton’s greatest-ever player, was 11-8 down in the final game and in danger of crashing out of the Olympics.
“It was difficult for me because the audience were cheering for the Indian player,” Lin told reporters. “But at 11-8 I just focused on winning. I had no other thoughts,” he added.
Competing in his fourth and probably final Olympics in Rio, the 32-year-old shuttle star Lin is going for a third singles gold after triumphing at his home Beijing Games in 2008 and again in London four years ago.
Malaysia’s Lee had earlier turned his attentions towards Lin after hailing a routine victory to set up the semi-final clash with his arch nemesis.
Top-ranked Lee, who has never won a world or Olympic title, lost the last two Games finals to his Chinese rival and the Malaysian is desperate for that elusive gold.
“I don’t think so much about playing Lin Dan in the semi-final. I just focused on my condition and match,” said Lee after brushing aside the Taiwanese Chou to set up the last-four clash.
“But now I’m thinking about Lin Dan,” added Lee, who took just 42 minutes to complete a routine 21-9, 21-15 victory over sixth-ranked Chou.
The 33-year-old Lee has fought his way back to the top of the rankings after returning from a doping ban last year and is taking a final shot at Olympic glory in Rio.
Lee, who tested positive for a forbidden anti-inflammatory drug at the 2014 world championships, admitted that he was feeling the burden of expectation as the badminton competition neared its business end.
“Number one means more pressure. A lot of top players are losing at this tournament so I must be very careful,” he said.
The victor is likely to face China’s world number two Chen Long, who is playing in the other half of the draw.