BIRMINGHAM (AFP) - Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, the two outstanding male players of the 21st century, closed in on an unexpected showdown when they reached the semi-finals of the All-England Open on Friday (March 10).
Lee, three times the All-England Open champion, produced a light-footed performance belying the fact a knee injury almost prevented the 34-year-old Malaysian from making his final appearance at the open, and outplayed Tian Houwei, the seventh-seeded Chinese player, 21-12, 21-15.
China's Lin, the 33-year-old three time Olympic champion, recovered from a woeful first game to generate rallies of patience, accuracy and beauty, to oust Viktor Axelsen, the World Super Series champion from Denmark, by 8-21, 21-14, 21-15.
Both men played almost as well as in there prime, and often with more subtlety - to their evident pleasure as well as that of the organisers who would love to see the two old gladiators clash on Sunday for what would be the 28th and quite likely the last time.
Lee felt that Friday was the best he had moved since slipping on a mat a month ago in Kuala Lumpur, while Lin thought he had delivered a performance worthy "not only of me going on court, but on an All-England court".
Asked why he had been able to beat Axelsen when he had lost to him in the bronze medal play-off at last year's Olympics, Lin pointed out the previous day in Rio he had had a hard match with Lee.
Lin's performance suggests that there is nothing wrong with either his form or motivation in defending the title - which if successful would be a seventh All England - and with both playing unseeded players in the semi-finals the chances are good the organisers and the spectators will get their dream final.
Earlier Ratchanok Intanon, the former world champion from Thailand who only just won a fitness race to be ready for the women's singles, made a startling recovery to destroy Olympic champion Carolina Marin's hopes.
Marin had not won a World Super Series event since before her Rio triumph, and vowed to rectify that here, but slid from within sight of victory to an improbable 22-20, 13-21, 21-18 quarter-final defeat.
Marin was 18-11 up in the final game, having landed a variety of heavy smashes, sliced and round-the-head, which seemed to be overwhelming the defences of her young rival.
Almost as an act of desperation Intanon landed several good blows herself, unexpectedly taking the attacking initiative away from the Spaniard, and kept the momentum going.
"I was in control of the match at 18-11 but I lost focus," Marin reckoned.
"My opponent rushed me and I can't understand why I lost it."
Intanon plays a surprise semi-finalist, Akane Yamaguchi of Japan, whose 21-23, 21-14, 22-20 victory over the fourth-seeded Sun Yu ended the Chinese bid to regain a women's singles title they have previously dominated for almost 20 years.
Earlier Tai Tzu Ying, the top-seeded World Super Series winner from Taiwan, reached the semi-finals with an impressive 21-14, 21-10 win over Pusarla Sindhu, the Olympic silver medallist from India.
Trailing 5-9 in the first game Tai found ways of taming the Sindhu smash which was timed at 223 mph at last year's All-England.
"I tried to find loopholes in her attack," Tai explained.
Both leading Indian players were eliminated.
Earlier Saina Nehwal, the former world number one, was beaten 22-20, 22-20 by Sung Ji-hyun, the third-seeded Korean, after leading 17-12 in the first game. Sung now has a semi-final with Tai.