Defending world and Olympic champion Lin Dan is through to the final of the badminton world championships in Guangzhou after a shaky start against a fired-up underdog.
The women’s singles will see top seed Li Xuerui of China take on Thai 18-year-old Ratchanok Intanon, who outplayed fellow teen P.V. Sindhu in their semi-final.
However, China will not achieve a third straight clean sweep of the world championships, as their men’s doubles pair lost to Indonesia.
Chinese superstar Lin, widely regarded as badminton’s best ever player, took on Vietnam’s Nguyen Tien Minh, seeded seventh.
Dancing around the court, the agile Vietnamese player, 30 — who became Vietnam’s first ever world Championships medalist by reaching the semi-finals — won applause from the partisan crowd with a cheeky over-the-shoulder return as Lin took his time to find his feet.
Lin, who is back on court after almost a year on the sidelines to spend time with his family, slipped behind in the first game after misjudging Nguyen’s early returns.
However, as the match went on, he injected pace and attacking play with jump smashes and unreachable shots down the line, taking the first 21-17.
The second game saw the tenacious Vietnamese player, who has never beaten Lin, give his all in punchy rallies and force Lin to dive around the court.
Though his game was error-prone, Lin eventually outpowered and outmanoeuvered Nguyen to take the second 21-15.
“I haven’t really played any world-level matches over the past year and it’s unbelievable that I’ve got into the finals. I’m really happy,” Lin said after the match.
He said he had stopped caring so much about winning and that family life had helped him curb his on-court temper.
“I don’t care too much about the result, I just want to do my best,” he said. “My better temper is to do with my family because after getting married I have to take responsibility.”
He praised Nguyen as a hard-working player who he admires — the Vietnamese veteran often trains and travels on his own, without the extensive support network of the bigger badminton nations.
“I felt today everything was OK, but I was a little bit tired because yesterday I played [Danish Jan O] Jorgensen,” Nguyen said.
“I don’t think [Lin] played well. He made so many mistakes, but he is experienced and in the end he knows how to get the points,” he added.
Lin, who entered the tournament on a wild card after his time out from the game, is on course to face world No. 1 Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia in what fans hope will be another classic final.
The Chinese star beat Lee at the previous world championships and in the last two Olympic finals.
Lee was up against China’s Du Pengyu in his semi-final later yesterday.
China’s Li strolled to a 21-5, 21-11 win against Bae Yeon-ju of Korea in the women’s singles, while India’s Sindhu was unable to cope with Intanon’s power and precision, losing 10-21, 13-21.
Stalwarts Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng lost 21-19, 21-17 to Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan of Indonesia in their semi-final, putting China out of the men’s doubles competition.