LONDON • Lee Chong Wei, badminton's former world No. 1 who has been making a sensational comeback at the age of 33, suffered one of the biggest shocks of his career when he was dumped out in the first round of the All-England Open on Wednesday.
The Malaysian world No. 2's stunning 24-22, 22-20 defeat was inflicted by B. Sai Praneeth, an Indian ranked No. 37 in the world who looked to have little chance when he slipped to deficits of 3-11 and 6-15 in the first game.
But once Lee made a few mistakes, the 23-year-old's hopes grew and his game showed itself capable of winning rallies of the highest standard. The Indian was fast, sometimes brilliant in defence and had nothing to lose when launching sudden, flat attacks.
"I can't believe I lost in the first round," said Lee, who has won the All-England title three times and was playing in the tournament for the first time since 2014, following his eight-month drug suspension ended last year. "I prepared very well and I won four tournaments recently.
"Maybe I put a lot of pressure on myself to win this tournament. I made a lot of mistakes. Although I was also shocked at how well Praneeth played.
STILL IN A DAZE
I can't believe I lost in the first round. I prepared very well and I won four tournaments recently. Maybe I put a lot of pressure on myself to win this tournament. I made a lot of mistakes. Although I was also shocked at how well Praneeth played.
LEE CHONG WEI, after his shock first-round loss at the All-England Championships.
"But it is all a learning process. I am sad to lose at a tournament like the All-England, but my aim is the Olympics."
Lee had looked to have regained control with his clever tactical variations when he advanced to 17-12 in the second game.
He also had game points at 20-19 in both games, with the first being foiled by Praneeth's diving defence and later missing his chance to take the match to a third by narrowly putting a smash wide.
Two rallies later, the 23-year-old from Andhra Pradesh took his first chance to win the match, making a sudden, fast mid-court jab which forced Lee to block the shuttle long and caused Praneeth to hurl his racket away in joy.
"It's a big shock for me too," Praneeth, who was promoted from qualifying late after team-mate and Commonwealth champion Parupalli Kashyap withdrew with an injured knee, grinned.
"After the last rally I couldn't believe it. For a long time I have been waiting for a big result. I've had close results against top players before.
"It's a matter of confidence. This time, when I got the points I started to get the confidence."
The shock result will reverberate for some time. "This defeat means a lot to Malaysia," said Hendrawan, the Malaysian national coach.
"Everyone has been putting pressure on him (Lee) to win the (Olympic) gold medal. But this defeat means he is human."
Yesterday, China's five-time world champion Lin Dan had an early scare before recovering to beat Japan's Sho Sasaki 20-22, 21-6, 21-8 in the last 16. Earlier, Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon, the women's sixth seed and 2013 world champion, beat Japan's Akane Yamaguchi 21-9, 21-13 to enter the quarter-finals.
Q-finals: StarHub Ch203, midnight