Will the just concluded Glasgow BWF World Championship go down in badminton history as the last World Championships to raise the prospect of a Lin Dan-Lee Chong Wei duel?
Lin Dan is making up his mind to hang his badminton gear. Lee Chong Wei has already revealed his will to move off the court.
From Olympics to World Championships, the presence of two of the greatest singles icons would raise the prospect of a certain Lin Dan-Chong Wei final. Lin Dan would walk off with the title. Predictions were no different for Glasgow either. But the hope fell flat with Chong Wei’s first round exit. Then, the Super Dan crashed after making it to the final.
Legs, shoulders and muscles at 33-34 years of age are not strong enough to carry the weight of expectations and deal with the emerging new challengers on the horizon. There is a firm realization. It can’t get any better from hereon.
The result. Lin Dan has no plans, at least for now, to play after next month’s Japan Open, which also happens to be the only tournament confirmed by Chong Wei as of now. Lin Dan and Chong Wei both have commercial commitments to play at Japan, which is the headquarters of Yonex – one of the prime sponsors of the duo.
For Indian fans, there remains a bigger hope to see one of badminton history’s greatest duels for one last time on our own soil. Come December, Yonex will be conducting a Legends’ tour event in India. The duo is slated to take part.
That is a strong indication that badminton’s biggest icon of his era will soon call time on his brilliant career. “It will be difficult to play in the World Championships at 34,” the 33-year-old had said after going down to Dane Viktor Axelsen in the Glasgow final.
Regarded as the greatest ever singles shuttler, Lin Dan has played and lived on his terms. He decides for himself about when to play and which all competitions to miss. Rankings never mattered to him. He remained the best beyond rankings.
His approach to life outside badminton is not different either. In 2015, Lin Dan quit the People’s Liberation Army job to focus on endorsements. The two-time Olympic and five-time world champion remains one of the top celebrity brand icons in China.
Even as Li-Ning holds all the major badminton endorsement rights in China, Lin Dan in January 2015 signed with Yonex to lend his personal identity to the Japanese brand for a 9 digit price – a big deal considering the fact that Lin Dan would not be allowed to support the brand when playing under the banner of the Chinese national badminton federation.
He endorses the brands like Yonex, Oakley, MontBlanc, Dongfeng, Nissan, Red Bull, Li-Ning, Citroen, Sega, Lvjian Pepsi, L’OREAL, 361, Sedrin, Kentucky, Chinese, Arowana, Gillette, Gatorade, Razor Fu Automobile, Yili, Tsingtao Brewery, Reddy, Intel and Fedex.
Will the retirement be announced soon after the Japan Open? Where Chong Wei has also confirmed to play to honour his commitment to personal sponsors. Lin Dan keeps his billions of admirers, analysts and experts guessing. At Glasgow while speaking out his mind on retirement, he had also said that reaching the final against a player 10 years younger “showed that I am still strong enough physically”. He had proved that endurance by beating South Korea’s World No 1 Son Wan-Ho in the semi-finals.
Many had expected Lin to retire after the Rio Olympics, where he surrendered his title and lost the bronze-medal match to Axelsen. But a reply Lin gave to Chinese media offers an insight into why he continues to defy expectations. Asked several years ago that what would be his retirement speech in just one minute, Dan had replied “I would say ‘I don’t want to go’ and repeat it for 60 seconds”.
Now the man is hinting differently. What will be his last words. That would be interesting to know.