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Badminton: Lee tip-toes towards atonement

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The world's best and unluckiest player returns to the scene of some of his greatest triumphs at the All-England Open in the national indoor arena in Birmingham this week, while the mystery surrounding his greatest rival deepens.

Lee Chong Wei, twice the former champion, aims to regain the venerable title currently held by the legendary Lin Dan, who won just about everything he wanted until he disappeared from view after last year's London Games.

If Lee does achieve this it may feel like an early step towards the atonement he seems to feel necessary for losing two of the greatest matches of all time by the narrowest of margins.

The man who inflicted them, Lin, still for the time being the Olympic, World, and All-England champion, is missing here from the draw of the tour's oldest tournament, which starts on Wednesday.

Lin has not competed since his sensationally brilliant win over Lee in the final of the Olympics six months ago, triggering talk of semi-retirement or even that he might quit.

The Chinese player's lengthy absence means that the Malaysian will be an even stronger favourite.

If Lee does win the All-England a third time it may also help him feel he can go on to win the world championships in Guangzhou in August, a title Lin denied him after saving two match points last time.

It may even help firm up Lee's embryonic ambitions to win the Olympic gold medal Lin denied him in similar fashion after Lee was within two points of it last year.

This cruelly heroic loss more than any other created his dream of atonement.

That though will require Lee to retain much of his exceptionally light-footed movement until he is 33, and do so in a sport which tends to write players off when they reach 30 years old. Lee's reached that age in October.

Even his own coach found a need to make reference to it, while paying tribute to Lee's abstinence during Chinese new year celebrations and commending the effects of his wedding four months ago with Wong Mew Choo, the Commonwealth silver medallist.

"Chong Wei is showing a greater maturity after his marriage; with his positive attitude and his maturity he will not make it easy for his opponents despite hitting his 30's," Tey Seu Bock said.

Lee knows too much to be distracted by any of these issues.

"I really don't know why Lin Dan is not playing," he said. "He may not be ready but I don't want to be distracted by that.

"I have already won the Korea and Malaysia Opens (this year) and the players will be aiming to beat me in the All-England. I just have to prepare myself well to face them .

Chen Long, the winner of BWF World Super Series finals, is seeded second and is therefore in the other half of the draw.

However Du, who beat Lee when he was injured and exhausted at the Super Series finals in Shenzhen in December, is seeded to meet him again in the semis this week.

Before that, Lee could have a second round matchup with Wang Zhengming of China, and may eventually need to consider that also lurking in his half is Taufik Hidayat, the former world and Olympic champion from Indonesia, who is unseeded.

China is seeded to win four of the five titles, with Li Xuerui favourite to retain the women's singles.

If Cai Yu and Fu Haifeng find their Olympic gold medal winning form in the men's doubles, the sport's leading nation could complete the full hand of five titles, as they did four years ago.

Seeds.-

Men:

1, Lee Chong Wei (MAS); 2, Chen Long (CHN); 3, Du Pengyu (CHN); 4, Sony Dwi Kuncoro (INA); 5, Chen Jin (CHN); 6, Hu Yun (HKG); 7, Kenichi Tago (JPN); 8, Tien Minh Nguyen (VIE).

Women:

1, Li Xuerui (CHN); 2, Saina Nehwal (IND); 3, Wang Yihan (CHN); 4, Juliane Schenk (GER); 5, Sung Ji Hyun (KOR); 6, Wang Shixian (CHN); 7, Tine Baun (DEN); 8, Ratchanok Intanon (THA).

str/ak

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