RIO DE JANEIRO: Malaysian badminton world number one Lee Chong Wei is out to avenge two heartbreaking Olympic final defeats to arch-nemesis Lin Dan of China when the two clash in Friday’s semi.
Despite being one of the sport’s most accomplished players, Lee has never won a world or Olympic title, losing the last two Games finals to his Chinese rival nicknamed “Super Dan”.
An Olympic victory over badminton superstar Lin at the third attempt would put Lee one step closer to that elusive gold, which would be Malaysia’s first in any sport.
“Now I’m thinking about Lin Dan,” a focused Lee said on Wednesday after taking just 42 minutes to brush aside Taiwan’s Chou Tien-chen in a routine victory of 21-9, 21-15.
But he refused to comment directly on the rivalry, which is one of the most intriguing in world sport, stating defiantly: “I will answer this question on Friday.”
The 33-year-old Malaysian 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 tested positive for a forbidden anti-inflammatory drug at the 2014 world championships and many feared it would end his career.
However, he has bounced back to play some of the best badminton of his life. Lee has breezed through to the Olympic semi-finals without dropping a game at Rio.
But Friday’s test, which starts at 8:30 am (1130 GMT), will be an altogether tougher affair.
Lin, regarded by some as badminton’s greatest-ever player, and Lee are close friends off the court but on it, the Chinese has had the better of things.
At Beijing in 2008 Lin humiliated Lee 21-12, 21-8 to become Olympic champion for the first time. Four years later in London it was far closer as the Chinese shuttler edged it.
Lee won the first game 21-15 before being humbled 21-10 in the second. In the third and final Lin sneaked it 21-19, leaving a heartbroken Lee, who had been struggling with an ankle injury, with silver once more.
Friday’s matchup is almost certain to be the last time the old foes meet at an Olympics with both Lee, 33 and Lin, 32 expected to have retired by the time Tokyo 2020 rolls around.
It’s the fourth Olympics for both of them. But who will come out on top and face a likely final on Saturday against Chinese world number two Chen Long, who takes on Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen in the other semi?