KUALA LUMPUR: Can Lin Dan of China win his seventh All-England title this year?
Based on his current form, it seems like a distant possibility - but one thing is for sure, the former world No. 1 singles player still commands respect from his peers and it will be no different when he begins his campaign at the Birmingham Arena on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old Lin Dan, who last won an international title at the Malaysian Open in April which was his only title last year, takes on Kunlavut Vitidsarn of Thailand in the opening game in Birmingham.
If he wins, he faces teammate Chen Long in the second round.
If the two-time Olympic champion goes on to pull off a surprise by beating Chen Long, he may play one of these players - Malaysia’s No. 1 Lee Zii Jia, Jonatan Christie of Indonesia, Kantaphon Wangcharoen of Thailand, China’s Lu Guangzu - in the quarter-finals.
Although world No. 21 Lin Dan’s form has been spiraling down, Malaysia’s coaching director Wong Choong Hann said the five-time world champion continues to be a role model for others.
“Lin Dan has not been winning titles like before but he has not given up - he keeps fighting. Others should emulate his attitude, ” said Choong Hann.
In fact, this year, Lin Dan has lost in the first round of all the Masters tournaments in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in January.
“Every player still looks forward to playing against him... there is much respect for him, ” said Choong Hann.
“Something is still keeping him going - and I guess, that’s the same motivation that other coaches hope to see in their players.
Lin Dan is the only player out of four legends still active in badminton as the others - Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, Peter-Gade Christensen of Denmark and Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat - have left the scene at different seasons for different reasons.
Choong Hann has not seen another set of dominant four players like in the era of Lin Dan, Chong Wei, Peter and Taufik - although he said a few have been trying to establish themselves as the leading pack in the men’s singles.
He singled out two-time world champion Kento Momota of Japan, Chou Tien-chen of Taiwan, Anthony Ginting of Indonesia, Viktor Axelsen of Denmark; and China’s Chen Long and Shi Yuqi.
Defending champion Momota had to skip the All-England this year as he is currently on a long break to recover from a road crash just a day after winning the Malaysian Masters in January.
“We’ve not seen a dominant foursome as Lin Dan, Chong Wei, Peter and Taufik but several players of this era are becoming more consistent and dominant, ” said Choong Hann.
“Tien-chen and Anthony have raised the bar higher. It’ll be an interesting battle at the All-England this coming week, ” added Choong Hann, who also hopes to see Malaysia’s sole men’s singles representative Zii Jia stepping up too.