SINGAPORE - Fourteen minutes. That was how long the highly anticipated Singapore Badminton Open first-round clash between former world No. 1s Lin Dan of China and Viktor Axelsen of Denmark lasted on Wednesday (April 10).
Lin, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and five-time world champion, withdrew from the match while trailing 20-13 in the first game at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, citing cramp in his left thigh.
The 35-year-old had been cruising at 6-0 up, but the wheels first started to come off in the next point when the umpire overruled the line judge and called Axelsen's return in. There were at least two more instances where Lin was visibly upset over line calls before he called it quits as the crowd of about 4,000 jeered.
Calling the match "a bit weird", a confused Axelsen, 25, said: "I don't really know what to say. If he's really injured, then I think it's a shame and I wish him a quick recovery.
"But, if he's not injured and it was because of two bad line calls, then I feel sorry for our sport.
"If he wasn't injured and he was just angry with the line judge, then I feel like something is wrong and it shouldn't happen."
Lin, who won last week's Malaysia Open, told the media in Mandarin after seeking treatment from the tournament doctor: "There was nothing wrong with my emotions. Last week in Malaysia, I expended a lot of energy and the last two rounds were especially exhausting, so I think it is better for me to play it safe.
"Coming up in two weeks are the Asian Championships followed by the start of the Olympic qualifiers, so I don't want anything bad to happen to my body.
"I have nothing much to say about the referee's decisions because these are quite common, but I think a match-up of this quality would have been better served being played on Court 1."
Court 1 is the only court where challenges are allowed. As such, Lin and Axelsen could not contest any decisions on Court 4, where they were assigned due to scheduling purposes.
It is not the first time the Chinese great has courted controversy here.
At the 2011 edition, the then world No. 2 withdrew from the men's singles final owing to stomach flu. He also did not turn up at the pre-tournament press conference that year, citing a stomach upset.
Lin added: "There's nothing to be disappointed about, we will have many chances to play against each other. As for Singapore, it seems like a particularly tough destination for me. This year's competition is over, I look forward to playing better here next year."
While Lin's pullout was a dampener on the first day of action, at least the top-ranked men and women's players gave the fans something to cheer about when their matches went the distance.
Men's world No. 1 Kento Momota of Japan outlasted 2017 Singapore Open champion B. Sai Praneeth of India 19-21, 21-14, 22-20, while women's No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying had to dig deep to defeat a resurgent Zhang Beiwen of the United States 21-14, 10-21, 21-18.
Tai, 24, a Taiwanese, felt she did not perform her best, saying: "I felt dizzy after coming to Singapore from Malaysia and couldn't really play my best game. It is so rare to see so many fans during the first round here. Their cheers made it hard for me to give up and I'm glad to pull through with their support."
Reigning world champion Momota admitted that he was also not in his best condition as he was battling a cold.
The 24-year-old Japanese said: "Japanese teams have been winning in this tournament so I feel a bit more pressure to perform.
"There was a point where I really thought that I was not going to win this match and, towards the end of the match I could not predict (my opponent's moves) any more."
Meanwhile, Singapore's Grace Chua earned a women's singles second-round clash with third seed Akane Yamaguchi of Japan on Thursday after beating American Disha Gupta 21-19, 21-10 on Wednesday. The Republic's top-ranked shuttler Yeo Jia Min, however, fell 21-18, 17-21, 21-15 to Indonesian Ruselli Hartawan.
The other Singaporeans to progress were Danny Bawa Chrisnanta and Loh Kean Hean, who beat India's Manu Attri and B. Sumeeth Reddy 21-13, 21-17 in the men's doubles. They will face Danish pair Kim Astrup and Anders Skaarup Rasmussen on Thursday.