BIRMINGHAM (AFP) - Lin Dan, the three-times Olympic champion, lost his men's singles title at the All-England Open with a bewilderingly limp straight games semi-final defeat to his fellow Chinese player Shi Yuqi.
The man regarded as the greatest player of all time briefly held two game points at 20-18 in the first game against the unseeded Shi, before slipping quietly away to a 24-22, 21-10 defeat.
Lin's deflating loss ended hopes of another final showdown between the veteran greats - the 33-year-old Lin, and the 34-year-old world number one from Malaysia, Lee Chong Wei, who had already reached the final.
"My condition is not very good," said Lin though he had looked in good shape while coming from a game down to beat Viktor Axelsen, the World Super Series champion from Denmark, the night before.
"I am proud of the way I am still able to play at this level at my age." Four-time champion Lee reached the final for a seventh time by recovering from a worrying start to beat Chiu Tien Chen of Taiwan 10-21, 21-14, 21-9.
It was a wonderful turn-around after a slow first game and a tournament preparation which had been decimated by injury - so wonderful that afterwards Lee announced that his retirement, which has been mooted at least three times in the past four years, has been postponed yet again.
Lee will now, he says, be back next year, when he will be 35.
In the meantime he will be favourite to win the All-England title back and to claim it a fourth time.
"I'm still not a hundred percent recovered," he said, referring to the left knee injury sustained with a trip on a badminton mat back home in Kuala Lumpur last month.
"I just focus myself and do what I can. I just came here to enjoy it." The women's final will be between Tai Tzu Ying, the top-seeded Taiwanese, and Ratchanok Intanon, the creative Thai who has been the youngest world champion and the youngest finalist at the All England, both at the age of 18.
Now four years later Ratchanok, like Lee, has recovered from injuries which placed her participation in doubt, coming from 12-16 in the first game and 13-15 in the second to win 22-20, 21-16 against Akane Yamaguchi, the teenaged sixth seed from Japan.
Tai was also in difficulties for a while, losing the first game 21-11 and was 6-5 down in the second before finding more creative patterns which loosened the grip of Sung Ji-Hyun, the Korean, and going on to a 11-21, 21-14, 21-14 success.