World No. 1 Lee Chong Wei was forced to fight for his place in the world championships yesterday in a thrilling battle with an unseeded opponent.
The Malaysian’s archrival, Chinese superstar Lin Dan, breezed through his second-round match against Dutch player Eric Pang, winning 21-14, 21-17, leaving him on a collision course for a final against Lee.
Spectators in Guangzhou were left stunned as they watched Lee lose the first game of the second round 14-21 to Dionysius Hayom Rumbaka of Indonesia, who is ranked 26th in the world.
Rumbaka has met Lee five times and never beaten him, but he showed no sign of nerves, repeatedly forcing him to the net with drop shots that took the pace out of the Malaysian’s game.
Lee looked increasingly rattled and murmurs of disbelief rippled around the Tianhe gymnasium, as he went behind in the second game.
The pair traded smashes and body shots, but Lee recovered to take the second game 21-18, before winning the third 21-11, hitting his attacking stride in the final points.
Lee, 30, is gunning for Malaysia’s first ever world title, on the back of wins this year in South Korea, Indonesia, India and Malaysia, with fans hoping for another classic clash with Lin.
Olympic and world champion Lin was rarely stretched by Pang in yesterday’s match, controlling the court and injecting pace when he needed to.
In women’s singles, Taiwan’s Tai Tzu-ying beat Scotland’s Kirsty Gilmour 21-12, 20-22, 21-6, while in men’s singles, Taiwan’s Hsu Jen-hao lost to Tommy Sugiarto of Indonesia 21-9, 21-7.
Additional reporting by staff writer