PETALING JAYA: They were once great badminton rivals but now, Taufik Hidayat and Lee Chong Wei are good friends.
In fact, Indonesia’s Olympics and world champion Taufik, Chong Wei and two others Lin Dan of China and Peter-Gade Christensen of Denmark have joined forces to lend their star power in a bid to popularise badminton across the world since 2015.
Known as the ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ of badminton in the 2000s, the quartet, who have retired from the sport at different times over the last eight years, are currently playing the ambassadorial role for Yonex’s Legends Vision.
In an interview with the Olympic channel recently, Taufik spoke about the highs and lows of his relationship with Chong Wei.
“As the idols of the sport, Chong Wei and I, with the other guys, we spread badminton to a wider audience, ” said Taufik.
“We teach kids on how to play badminton, so we come together, we work together, ” said the Indonesian mega star, who added that those events had kept his relationship with Chong Wei even stronger.
Taufik however, admitted that among all, it was the Malaysian whom he had battled the most throughout their 11-year rivalry. Whenever they clashed, the fans from both sides will throng the stadium and set off an electrifying atmosphere.
The pair duelled a total of 23 times and the Indonesian won eight times.
Taufik dominated five out of their opening six encounters since 2001 except for that one defeat when Chong Wei marched past him with a 15-5,15-0 win in the quarter-finals of the Malaysian Open in 2005.
Chong Wei would then turn the tide in his favour from 2007 onwards, winning 14 times over the next 17 battles including in the final of 2011 Malaysian Open and even beating Taufik at his own den in the 2009 and 2010 Indonesian Open final editions.
But what Taufik still could not understand was Chong Wei’s luckless run when it came to winning a major title.
While Taufik boasts a long list of major accolades that included one Olympics gold (Athens 2004), a world title (Anaheim 2005), two Asian Games golds (Busan 2002 and Doha 2006) and two Thomas Cup titles (Kuala Lumpur 2000 and Guangzhou 2002), Chong Wei only have narrow-misses to show from the big events.
The 39-year-old Taufik said Chong Wei, one year his junior, should have landed a gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Then top seed Chong Wei went down 18-21,18-21 to China’s Chen Long to settle for his third successive silver medal after his previous two attempts were foiled by nemesis Lin Dan in the finals of the 2012 London and 2018 Beijing.
Taufik recounted how Chong Wei overcame arguably his toughest hurdle by beating Lin Dan 15-21,21-11,22-20 in an epic semi-final match in Rio.
“I think his biggest chance was in Rio after he had beaten Lin Dan. Everyone believed that the Olympics gold was his for the taking but he was just out of luck, ” said Taufik.
“He did not win the majors but to me, I still see (Chong Wei) as a great and well-rounded player...one of the legends, from Malaysia, for badminton.”