A second-round loss to India’s HS Prannoy on Tuesday have left the legendary Chinese star with a mountain to climb to book an Olympic spot.
However, ‘Super Dan’, who turns 36 in October, was typically defiant as the curtain seemed to draw ever closer on the end of his career.
“My goal is always the Tokyo Olympics and that doesn’t change anyway,” said Lin Dan, following his shock 2-1 (21-11, 12-21, 21-7) loss to Prannoy – the five-time champion’s earliest exit from the worlds since his debut in 2003.
“All I’ve done and what I will endeavour to keep doing in training and competitions is to try to qualify for Tokyo. Knowing the journey will be extremely difficult, I will try as hard as I can.”
According to Badminton World Federation rules, a country can select up to two players ranked within the world’s top 16, as of April 26 next year, to compete in the singles in Tokyo.
Now the odds are massively stacked against world No 17 Lin Dan overtaking his younger compatriots Shi Yuqi (3rd) and Chen Long (5th).
Should he miss out, Lin Dan’s expected retirement will officially end a golden era of badminton which began in the early 2000s and saw the two-time Olympic champion battle for supremacy with three other now-retired giants of the court: Malaysia’s former world No 1 Lee Chong Wei, Indonesia’s 2004 Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat and Danish legend Peter Gade.
Lin Dan’s epic rivalry with Lee in particular, which began in 2004 and spanned 40 matches, is among the greatest in modern-day sport.
Asked about the shift of power in men’s badminton during the worlds, an emotional Lin Dan, who won Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, replied: “Many opponents have come and gone, I am still here standing.
“I have had the longest career among my peers, but unfortunately I now have to play against much younger competitors with age no longer on my side.”
Known as the most complete player on tour in his prime, Lin Dan’s ferocious attack, dramatic pace changes and tight defence have all declined in recent years as his endurance ebbs.
His sudden collapse in the third set against 27-year-old Prannoy underlined his diminishing physicality in the rapid-fire racquet sport.
The match was Lin Dan’s second in just 15 hours following his three-set first-round win over Nguyen Tien Minh of Vietnam.
“I didn’t have enough energy in today’s match, especially in the final set,” Lin Dan said.
“I played better in the second but in the third I just ran out of energy.
“Some players who played much earlier than me yesterday will play their second-round match later today. I wish that organisers could make the schedule fairer.”
As speculation of his retirement inevitably swirls, Lin Dan said he has not decided whether to compete in the 2021 world championships.
“I have not thought about it,” he said. “At the moment, to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games is the most important thing.
“Since I have not collected enough points here, I need to do much better at the tournaments in Changzhou and Hong Kong later this year.”
Lin Dan has won 20 of 32 singles matches this year at 20 tournaments. He has claimed only one BWF Tour title – at the Malaysian Open in early April, by beating compatriot Chen Long 2-1 in the final. — ANN
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