Badminton: Chen Long follows Lee Chong Wei in making early exit from All England Open

World No. 1 Chen Long, normally an extremely steady player, was inconsistent at the net and in mid-court. Xue, meanwhile, despite eliminating the All England title holder, was not thrilled to beat his close friend.
World No. 1 Chen Long, normally an extremely steady player, was inconsistent at the net and in mid-court. Xue, meanwhile, despite eliminating the All England title holder, was not thrilled to beat his close friend.PHOTO: REUTERS

Holder loses to compatriot Xue after failing at crucial points but Lin has an easier path now

LONDON • Badminton's top player Chen Long became the victim of a second seismic shock in less than 24 hours at the All England Open, when his title defence was upended in the second round on Thursday.

The Chinese was beaten 21-19, 21-17 by compatriot Xue Song, who played tenaciously and thoughtfully but whose modest world ranking of 30 now makes it impossible, he believes, to qualify for the Olympics.

On Wednesday, Lee Chong Wei, the world No. 2 from Malaysia, was beaten by an unseeded player, falling in the first round to India's B. Sai Praneeth - who was then beaten by Denmark's Hans-Kristian Vittinghus 12-21, 21-11, 21-16 in the last 16.

The curious thing about Thursday's upset was that Chen, usually such a consistent player, was uncertain and error-prone at the most important moments - from 19-18 up in the first game and from 17-17 in the second.

He was a little too inconsistent at the net and in mid-court - usually areas of great strength for him - and he was also often unable to force attacks home, perhaps because of the cool conditions.

Chen tried to claim the result was not so surprising.

OTHERS IMPROVING FAST

It can happen because the competition is so fierce. It's normal. I have to say the top seeds losing means the general standard of men's singles is very high. I am feeling well but I will have to go home and find out what went wrong today.

CHEN LONG, badminton world No. 1, on his shock defeat by Xue Song at the All England Open.

"It can happen because the competition is so fierce," he said. "It's normal.

"I have to say the top seeds losing means the general standard of men's singles is very high. I am feeling well but I will have to go home and find out what went wrong today," the 27-year-old added.

Even more strange was the low-key reaction from the winner.

"It's no secret that our relationship is so close," Xue said. "It is closer than with my parents - and I think that impacted on our performances.

"I am not feeling great about winning this. Although he is the top seed I was not desperately wanting to win."

Chen's position as world No. 1 is not under immediate threat after a superb 2015 in which he won seven major titles, but the surprise result does appear to open a path for another compatriot, Lin Dan, to win the All England title for a sixth time.

Lin reacted to danger quite differently, switching to his overdrive gear to accelerate into the quarter-finals.

The outcome was impressive as the two-time Olympic champion utterly transformed his match against Sho Sasaki, the world No. 20 from Japan, finishing a calm 20-22, 21-6, 21-8 winner.

He played at a higher tempo, he sliced and disguised smashes into difficult areas, and he gave Sasaki far fewer opportunities to win points at the net, where the Japanese player had done well.

Asked how the Lin of today compared with the player who won Olympic golds in Beijing and London, he replied: "There are more and more challenges. It's important to keep on training to get the best out of myself."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

ALL ENGLAND OPEN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'CHEN FOLLOWS LEE OUT EARLY'. Print Edition | Subscribe