BIRMINGHAM: Lin Dan, the former two-time Olympic champion, turned the clock back for one magical hour on Friday as he ended the title defence of his career-long rival Lee Chong Wei in the quarter-finals of the All-England Open.
The 34-year-old Chinese player beat the 35-year-old Malaysian 21-16, 21-17, though their light-footed movements and brilliantly varied stroke-play would have made it impossible for outsiders to guess their ages.
Lee attacked more than usual to try to nullify the attacking threat of a freshly motivated Lin, and managed to squeeze in front at 16-15 in the first game and 13-10 in the second.
But Lin showed just why he has made himself many people’s unofficial favourite for his seventh All-England title, making brilliant surges during the most crucial phases of both games and finishing them off quickly.
“I played quite well,” said Lin understatedly. “It’s a great tournament, and he is one of the great competitors, so this is superb.”
Lee did not appear too downcast.
“I will move forward now,” he said. “There are a lot of competitions to come this year.”
But there will surely be fears that this may have been his last appearance at the tournament he says he loves best.
Earlier there was an upset when Olympic champion Chen Long lost for the first time to his fellow Chinese player Shi Yuqi, and after his 21-10, 21-17 defeat he appeared to be suggesting that the result was to be expected.
“I am happy that whoever wins this match will go to the semi-finals for Team China,” he said.
“I often train with him and we are friends,” responded the seventh-seeded Shi.
“But every time we played before he won. I will try to do better than last year,” he added, referring to his loss to Lee Chong Wei in the 2017 final.
He next has a semi-final with Son Wan Ho, the fifth-seeded Korean.
The other Olympic singles champion also lost.
Carolina Marin’s 21-15, 21-18 defeat against Akane Yamaguchi, the World Super Series title-winner from Japan, was however much more in line with current form.
Yamaguchi was fast, tenacious, and clever at getting the match played where it suited her, in the mid-court and forecourt.
She now plays Pusarla Sindhu, the fourth-seeded Indian, who reversed the outcome of the women’s singles final at the World Championships in Glasgow in August by recovering from a four-point final game deficit against Nozomi Okuhara, the seventh seeded Japanese, to win 20-22, 21-18, 21-18.
Sindhu was given a yellow card for taking too long to serve just before the end of the match, and her revenge win was only complete after a tense last moment pause when Okuhara called for a video replay to see whether or not Sindhu’s winning kill at match point had landed on the line.
The other women’s semi-final will be between Tai Tzu-ling, the top-seeded titleholder from Taiwan and Chen Yufei, the eight-seeded Chinese player.