PETALING JAYA • Malaysian badminton star Lee Chong Wei is undergoing treatment in Taiwan for a career-threatening condition and will spend two months there.
The 35-year-old suspected something was wrong after winning the Malaysian Open title convincingly in Kuala Lumpur this month.
Due to the illness, he withdrew from the World Championships in Nanjing, China, which start today, and also the Asian Games in Indonesia from Aug 18 to Sept 2.
In his illustrious 17-year career, Lee has won 69 titles on the international stage but has also fallen short at several major competitions. He has three Olympic silver medals after losing three straight finals (2008, 2012 and 2016) and also has three runner-up finishes at the World Championships after defeats in the 2011, 2013 and 2015 finals.
His last outing was this month's Indonesia Open, where he bowed out in the semi-finals on July 7.
A statement released by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) last week said Lee was unwell and was suffering from a respiratory-related disorder and added that his doctor had advised him to rest and undergo treatment.
BAM president Norza Zakaria said: "We respect Chong Wei's privacy and have given him time to decide on whatever is needed to recover quickly.
"He needs the best treatment for his respiratory-related disorder and we will wait for the next few weeks before giving more updates. For now, we just want him to focus on his recovery and get well."
Lee's long-time rival Lin Dan is also in the twilight of his brilliant career at 34 but will still be called upon to spearhead China's charge at the World Championships.
The hosts are the most successful country in the sport but are at one of their lowest ebbs. At the London 2012 Olympics, they won all five gold medals. But at Rio 2016, that tally was two, and this year at the Uber Cup - the most prestigious women's team tournament - China were dumped out in the semi-finals by hosts Thailand.
It was the first time since joining the competition in 1984 that China had failed to reach the final, prompting a public backlash and the reported dismissal of the women's coach Zhang Ning.
Superstar Lin helped save face - China's men won the Thomas Cup - but the former world No. 1 is past his prime. Meanwhile, China's reigning Olympic champion Chen Long is struggling for consistency.
On the flip side, holder and top seed Viktor Axelsen of Denmark, Japan's in-form Kento Momota and Kidambi Srikanth of India are all fancied to go far in Nanjing.
Indonesian duo Marcus Fernaldi Gideon and Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo are firm favourites in the men's doubles, underlining how China's dominance has waned.
China last year replaced Li Yongbo, the bullish and no-nonsense coach who oversaw more than two decades of success, in an effort to breathe new life into the sport, which benefits from substantial government support.
Zhang Jun, a former Olympian brought in to coach China's doubles teams, hopes that tasting disappointment can spur them on.
"Actually, losing could be a good thing, especially for the upcoming World Championships and Asian Games," he told the online badminton channel Ace21 this week. "We can find the problems and learn from the losses."
Shi Yuqi is the highest-ranked Chinese men's player, at No. 3 in the world. In the women's draw, Chinese Taipei's Tai Tzu-ying, who has lost just once this year and marched off with an astonishing five titles, is the clear favourite.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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