LONDON • Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei, the two outstanding male badminton players of the 21st century, are set for an unexpected showdown in the final of the All England Open in Birmingham today.
Lee, the three-time All England Open champion, came back from a game down to beat Chinese Taipei's Chou Tien-chen 10-21, 21-14, 21-9 in his semi-final tie yesterday.
On Friday, the 34-year-old Malaysian world No. 1 produced a light-footed performance in the quarter-finals, belying the fact a knee injury almost prevented him from making his final appearance in this tournament as he outplayed Tian Houwei, the seventh-seeded Chinese player, 21-12, 21-15.
China's Lin, the three-time Olympic champion, was set to play compatriot Shi Yuqi in the second semi-final late yesterday.
On Friday, the 33-year-old recovered from a woeful first game to generate rallies of patience, accuracy and beauty, to oust Viktor Axelsen, the World Superseries Finals champion from Denmark, 8-21, 21-14, 21-15.
Both Lee and Lin on Friday played almost as well as in their prime, and often with more subtlety - to their evident pleasure as well as that of the organisers, who would surely love to see the two old gladiators clash today 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".
"It was a great match," the world No. 7 said. "In the first game I didn't play too well, I had a slow start. In the second I was better, my movement was better."
Asked why he had been able to beat Axelsen when he had lost to the Dane in the bronze medal play-off at last year's Olympics, Lin pointed out that the previous day in Rio de Janeiro he 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 crown.
Yesterday, Ratchanok Intanon, the former world champion who only just won a fitness race to be ready for the women's singles, made a dramatic entry into the final, after she eliminated Japanese seventh seed Akane Yamaguchi 22-20, 21-16.
On Friday, the Thai, seeded fifth, had beaten Olympic champion Carolina Marin of Spain 22-20, 13-21, 21-18 in the quarter-finals.
She will meet world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying of Chinese Taipei in the final. The world No. 1 defeated South Korean third seed Sung Ji Hyun 11-21, 21-14, 21-14 in the other semi-final yesterday.
ALL ENGLAND CHAMPIONSHIPS
Finals: StarHub Ch201, 8pm