JAKARTA • Lee Chong Wei claimed his first proper scalp at badminton's World Championships in Jakarta yesterday, defeating 12th seed Marc Zwiebler so convincingly the German declared his Malaysian opponent ready to win his first world crown.
The 32-year-old, who has lost in the final at the last three world championships, beat Zwiebler 21-14, 17-21, 21-8 to book a spot in the third round.
The Malaysian, a former world No. 1, returned to the badminton circuit only in May after being slapped with a ban for doping, and enters the World Championships unseeded for the first time in years.
But his clinical dismissal of Zwiebler, capped off with a string of unanswered smashes in the third set, has the Malaysian showing he is at the top of his game and hungry for his maiden crown.
Zwiebler, who is Lee's close friend, said the Malaysian had clearly returned to former glory during his eight-month hiatus and was the "best player" in the field to take on the Chinese juggernauts Chen Long and Lin Dan.
"He is an almost perfect player. He doesn't have a weak spot," the German said. "If he is ready to put away the pressure and focus on his strengths, then definitely he can be champion."
World No. 1 Chen's bid to retain his world crown got off to a strong start as he dismissed Estonia's Raul Must 21-15, 21-7. The 26-year-old top seed is expected to encounter little trouble until the quarter-finals, where he will likely face seventh-seeded Dane Viktor Axelsen.
Chen, who has already won four titles this season, was not getting ahead of himself, however, and stressed he would take one match at a time.
Five-time world champion Lin marched onward in his campaign for a sixth crown, brushing aside 75th-ranked Daniel Paiola 21-14, 21-14.
But the fifth seed and two-time Olympic champion was surprised at the resistance he encountered playing the unseeded Brazilian, suggesting he was feeling his age.
"My physical condition is not like it used to be," the 31-year-old said. "I did not think my opponent would be so difficult."
There were upsets elsewhere, with local hero Tommy Sugiarto unable to fend off wily Hong Kong shuttler Wei Nan in a gripping three-set contest.
Sugiarto, Indonesia's only hope in the men's singles, came close to winning the 70-minute battle but eventually succumbed 26-24, 8-21, 22-20 to his unseeded opponent.
It was not all bad news for the hosts as local shuttler Lindaweni Fanetri upstaged 13th seed Minatsu Mitani from Japan 19-21, 21-14, 21-11 in the women's singles.
Singapore's Derek Wong lost 12-21, 14-21 to Thailand's Tanongsak Saensomboonsuk in the men's singles, while Chen Jiayuan succumbed 18-21, 11-21 to Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei in the women's singles.
BWF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
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