NANJING: Badminton legend Lin Dan’s bid for a sixth world title met a sorry end as the man widely regarded as the best player of all time was well beaten by Chinese compatriot Shi Yuqi in the last 16.
The 34-year-old “Super Dan” was the most high-profile casualty on a day when men’s number one and reigning champion Viktor Axelsen of Denmark and women’s number one Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan both progressed in Nanjing.
Lin, a two-time Olympic and five-time world champion, may be reaching the end of his career but he remains the biggest draw in badminton.
The crowd willed him on against his younger opponent Shi, 22, but Lin bowed out with a whimper, 21-15, 21-9.
Shi, the third seed, joins Axelsen and Japan’s strongly fancied Kento Momota in the quarter-finals of the World Championships.
The 24-year-old Axelsen pulled through against 10th seed Angus Ng Ka-long of Hong Kong and will play China’s Olympic champion Chen Long in a mouthwatering showdown.
Axelsen admitted that he was not at his best — so it helped that he was able to draw on the crowd, who have taken to the Dane partly because of his efforts to learn Chinese.
Having a good grasp of Mandarin helps in a sport where many players are Chinese or of Chinese descent.
Axelsen has been learning for about four years and can give interviews in the language.
He has even taken to translating for his rivals and he can also listen in on the tactics of his Chinese opponents.
“It really helps me communicate with my Chinese fans and I really appreciate all the support out here,” he told AFP.
“Having the Chinese fans yelling your name, I really appreciate that.
“It is also really convenient to be able to speak a bit, not only with the other players, but at restaurants and out there in the real world, so to speak.”
As well as endearing himself to Chinese fans, Axelsen hopes having the language will be useful for life after badminton.
Axelsen won the first game 21-19, then he and Ng went toe-to-toe in the second, before the Dane prevailed 21-18.
He celebrated with a swing of his fist.
“It meant a lot. Sometimes when you feel like you are not at your highest level, you also have to be able to win,” he said.
“I struggled a little bit to win it and that’s why I showed some emotions out there today,” he added, before passing a couple of Chinese players and exchanging pleasantries — in Chinese.
In the women’s draw, hot favourite Tai recovered from a slow start to book her place in the last eight, where she was joined by Spain’s Olympic champion Carolina Marin.
Tai was behind in the opening exchanges against Zhang Beiwen, the Chinese-born American who needed internet crowd funding to make it to Nanjing.
But the 24-year-old Tai’s quality shone through, winning 21-19, 21-14 in 34 minutes to set up a meeting with China’s sixth seed He Bingjiao