LEE Chong Wei views his fourth All-England victory as sort of a fresh start towards the tail-end of his badminton career. The last six months have been quite a challenge: picking up a hamstring injury at the Denmark Open last October; suffering a demoralising quarter-final exit in the World Superseries Finals in Dubai in December; injuring his knee during training in February; and getting involved in a dispute with Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) technical director Morten Frost. Then, with just 10 days of intensive training, the 34-year-old showed that there is still fire in his belly by bagging his fourth All-England title on Sunday. Inspired, he tells StarSport’s RA JES PAUL that he plans to keep on playing ... maybe even until the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Q: You made it look easy with your 21-10, 21-12 win over French Open champion Shi Yuqi of China in the All-England final. How is that?
A: It wasn’t easy. Many things were going through my mind. I had just come back from a knee injury ... I couldn’t believe that I was in the final. Surprisingly, I did well to fend off the youngster. This win is a turning point for me. It has given me the confidence and desire to win more titles. There’s still fire in me to push myself further.
Q: What do you think of the 21-year-old Yuqi?
A: China have produced a few good youngsters, but Yuqi is definitely one of the better ones. He is young, determined and possesses good attacking skills. You cannot predict where he’s going to place the shuttle. With experience, he’ll be better. After all, he beat Lin Dan (in the semi-finals).
Q: You’ve declared that you would defend your All-England title. What’s your motivation behind it?
A: It’s one of my favourite tournaments. I want to be the most successful Malaysian singles player in the All-England by winning it five times. Now, I share the record of four titles with our former greats – Wong Peng Soon and Eddy Choong. It’s exciting.
Q: That declaration has quashed all talk of you retiring after the World Championships in August. Can you keep going?
A: No one needs to tell me when my time is up. I’m still fired up to play. The All-England victory showed me that I can do it if I put my mind to it. I was determined to prove a point to some people at the All-England. I won. I’m still the world No. 1. And I may even push myself until Tokyo. Why should I even think of retiring now? I’ll know when it’s time to stop ... a player will know. I’ll stop when there is no more fire in me.
Then, I will hand over the baton to the next generation of players. For now, Lin Dan and I are like tennis stars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Those two are considered old for their game, but they still produce great performances. As long as Lin Dan and I are still at the top of our game, we’ll give our fans a good show.
Q: You spoke about Malaysia’s next generation of players. Where are our own Shi Yuqis?
A: We have a few good players in the team but they need proper guidance ... and a breakthrough. Even I needed a win at the All-England here to get me all excited again. Look at the 21-year-old Lim Chi Wing. He won the national title for the second time in a row (last month). I see him more motivated in training now ... he needs to ride the momentum. He must keep the fire burning and not give up easily. Others must step up also.
Q: Since your squabble with Frost over training matters, you have been placed under the Special Squad. Does it make any difference?
A: I’m comfortable with the arrangement to train under chief coach Hendrawan and Tey Seu Bock. I don’t have to worry about any interferences under this squad. I can be focused on my game as there are other important missions to accomplish. I’ll help motivate a few back-up players, including Soo Teck Zhi, Soong Joo Ven, Chi Wing, in the team. There is pressure on the coaches to find new singles stars ... I’ll do my part to assist.
Q: After the All-England victory, all eyes will be on you to win at the World Championships in Glasgow. What are your thoughts?
A: It will be a challenge. Everyone wants me to become the world champion for the first time ... I want it too. There will definitely be pressure, but I’ll have to deal with it. At this year’s All-England, I took it one match at a time and even learnt to enjoy the game. I may do the same in Glasgow ... just enjoy the world meet. I’ll prepare hard. I’m fitter, but I must not get injured again. For now, my focus is on the Indian Open and Malaysian Open. I hope to sustain my form. (He has won the Indian Open three times and the Malaysian Open 11 times).
Q: Who have been most supportive in your recent comeback?
A: It’s been tough after my knee injury, but coaches Hendrawan and Seu Bock have always been there for me ... encouraging me in training. My wife (Wong Mew Choo) was present at the training centre everyday during my recovery period.
My physiotherapist, Sandra Fiedler, helped fast-track my rehabilitation process. There are others too who were sincere in their support during my difficult time. I thank them all.