Great rivalries embellish every sport. They are the essence and trigger immense interest on the field. If cricket has Ashes, the duels between India and Pakistan are stuff for the die-hards in this part of the world. There is Federer versus Nadal in tennis.
In badminton, it is Lin Dan of China versus Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia. The 29-year-old Dan has dominated world badminton like a Colossus. The Chinese is a two-time Olympic champion, four-time world champion, five-time All England champion and widely considered to be the greatest player of all time. His rivalry with the 30-year-old Wei, who is ranked world No 1 for 199 consecutive weeks, has evoked tremendous interest in the badminton world.
They are the main contenders for the coveted title in the World Championships, which get under way in Guangzhou, China, on Monday. Dan, who is fighting injuries, has returned to this Championship with a wild card. “I have returned after a year and am serious about winning the title. I have prepared well and my fans will only see the best from me,” he said.
Top seed Wei, who is searching for his maiden world title, said: “The World Championships is important to all players and I have come close when I lost in the final (in 2011). This time, I will throw all my best to nick it.” These two are drawn in different halves and are expected to clash in the summit clash.
Former national coach Syed Mohammad Arif believes there could be another interesting fare on the cards involving the two. “Dan is making a comeback after fighting injuries. He would like to prove his mettle again. When he wants to win, he will win. Dan is an all time great, a complete player. He is capable of winning another title,” he said.
Arif said it is unfortunate that Wei has a great player like Dan around him during his time. “Lee is the fittest and fastest on the court. He has a very sound technique. But the Malaysian always succumbs to Dan for the simple reason that the Chinese manages to raise the bar,” said Arif.
Apart from these two, Chen Long, Pengyu Du (both China), Boonsak Ponsana (Thailand) are the ones to watch out for. India’s Parupalli Kashyap and Ajay Jayaram are in good form and expected to at least fight with the big guns.
The women’s section looks like an open field. Arif says there are many who can create upsets. “Players like Intanon Ratchanok (Thailand), Tai Tzu Ying (Chinese Taipei) and Minatsu Mitani (Japan) have been impressive. But Chinese players like top seed Li Xuerui and Wang Yihan are always formidable at home,” said Arif.
From an Indian point of view, all eyes will be on Saina Nehwal. Coach Pullela Gopi Chand thinks Saina has a good chance. “She is injury free and looks good,” he said and added that PV Sindhu too could create a ripple.
Asian junior champion Sindhu is in the bottom half of the draw and she will have to overcome defending champion Yihan Wang of China in the pre-quarters if she has to entertain hopes of a medal.