Olympic badminton day seven: The dream final awaits03/08/2012 -
For the second Olympic Games in a row, Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei will square off in the men's singles final. Lin won 21-12 21-8 in Beijing to quash the Malaysian's hopes, but Chong Wei has one more chance to overcome his great rival and claim Olympic gold before he retires. Also, Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei won the all Chinese mixed doubles final 21-11 21-17, while Denmark were victorious in the bronze medal play-off.
It’s on. The dream final between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, the two finest exponents of men’s singles badminton in their generation will add an enthralling, and possibly defining, chapter to a rivalry that has captured fans of the sport.
For Chong Wei it means a chance for retribution, against the man, considered the greatest of all time, who denied him Olympic gold in Beijing and then stole the 2011 World Championship from beneath his nose.
Lin, meanwhile, will have the opportunity to cement his name in the annals, should he become the first player to claim consecutive men’s singles gold medals. Looking at the form each has been in on the road to the final and the recent history between them, this one looks too close to call, but hopefully it should take the attention away from the match-throwing scandal of the week.
After struggling past Ville Lang first time out, there were questions asked of Chong Wei. Whether there was enough to make it to the final and claim the elusive gold medal to fill the empty spot on his mantelpiece. He knocked out Simon Santoso and Kashyap Parupalli with little fuss. Against Chen Long he made a statement.
Chen is no mug, ranked behind only Chong Wei and Lin, and defeated the Malaysian three times in the closing months of 2011. To cruise so comfortably past an opponent with such pedigree will force the doubters of Chong Wei retract their criticisms.
It was hardly Chen’s fault; his opponent was just too good. He was 7-0 up in the blink of an eye, a margin he took into the halfway mark of the first game. Chong Wei extended his lead up to nine points at one moment, and though the Chinese reined it in slightly, 21-13 was still comprehensive.
The second game was tighter, but Chen still never went ahead. At 12-9, Chong Wei played two unbelievable defensive shots, blocking a brace of steepling smashes and came away with the point; it was at that instant that the result looked beyond doubt. Chen put the shuttle in the net on the first of the Malaysian’s six match points, and the emotion was visible.
A pump of the fist and a kiss of the flag on his shirt signalled just how much this meant to Chong Wei, a return to the final and a chance to put his name amongst the greats of the sport.
Lin was similarly ruthless against Lee Hyun-il, racing into an 11-1 advantage at the first mid-game interval. The Korean looked lethargic, drained from the performance against Chen Jin that had won him the quarter-final place. The opener finished 21-13.
To his credit, Lee picked up significantly in the early exchanges of game two, even daring to take a 3-2 lead. The respite was only temporary, however, as Lin strung together four points, lost one and then took the next five, closing out with a sublime round-the-head smash to make sure that Chong Wei was not able to take a psychological edge into Sunday’s showpiece.
The day’s play ended with the first of five gold medal matches, featuring the mixed doubles pairings of Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei, and their compatriots Xu Chen and Ma Jin, guaranteeing China the top honours.
Even though it was the world’s number one and two partnerships, the gulf in class was evident. Lead from the front by Zhao, the top seeds, who had won the World Championship a year ago at Wembley Arena, romped to the first game.
Their advantage gradually extended throughout as they never once looked like giving it up, and they didn’t, going a game up at 21-11. With the score at 8-1 in the second game, Xu and Ma appeared to be sinking without a trace, but as the end drew near they produced a rousing fight back.
Eventually they lost 21-17, but it could have been so different had a line judge correctly ruled a deep shot in as opposed to long. They kept going, but were unable to pull it back, left to return home with a silver medal.
Zhao Yunlei now has the chance to put her name in badminton folklore, heading into Saturday’s women’s doubles final with Tian Qing as the higher ranked team against Mizuki Fujii and Reika Kakiiwa. Should she win, Zhao would become the first player to win two gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
Earlier in the day, the bronze medal was taken by Danes Joachim Fischer and Christinna Pedersen, who swept aside the challenge of Tantowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir 21-12 21-12; significantly leaving Indonesia without a medal for the first time since badminton was introduced into the Games in 1992.
China will also be guaranteed a second gold, top-ranked Wang Yihan facing the world’s form player Li Xuerui in the final, leaving their countrywoman Wang Xin and India’s Saina Nehwal to duke it out for bronze.