IT was an emotional return for Lee Chong Wei to the home tournament and the Axiata Arena, which had given him his iconic status.
No player has dominated the singles event like Chong Wei, who won an awe-inspiring 12 Malaysian Open crowns. Eight of them were won at this arena, where the chants of the shuttler’s name in a packed stadium have been the highlight of all editions except in 2015 where he did not compete.
Simply put, he was the king of the Axiata Arena where even his nemesis Lin Dan of China found it difficult to upstage him.
Yesterday, the fans, close to 10,000, erupted in cheers as Chong Wei returned again, this time as part of the Yonex Legend’s Vision team, with Taufik Hidayat of Indonesia, Peter Gade of Denmark and South Korean Lee Yong-dae.
The quartet took part in a promotional event – ‘The Past, Present and Future’ – and played in an exhibition match with several juniors as well as national players Ng Tze Yong, Shaqeem Eiman Shahyar, M. Thinaah and Pearly Tan.
An emotional Chong Wei expressed his gratitude to the fans who continued to show their unwavering support and adulation.
“This is a very special place and I miss the fans. I miss their cheers,” said Chong Wei.
“I’m glad that legends of my time like Taufik, Peter Gade and close friend Yong-dae are also here on this special day and I’m very happy to be back here after some time.
“The crowd has been exceptional as they came hours before the semi-finals to witness the exhibition match and I thank them for their fondness shown towards me.
“Today almost felt like the time that I used to play in the final here and I hope the crowd will continue supporting the Malaysian players in this tournament.
“It augurs well for the sport and we also feel it can promote the development of the younger generation.”
Lin Dan wasn’t able to attend the promotional event due to the Covid-19 situation in China and conveyed his support of the event through a video recording.
“I extend my best wishes to your future endeavours,” said Lin Dan in the video recording to the junior players who attended the promotional event.
Lin Dan had also couriered a piece of white paper bearing his fingerprint and signature, and the four players at the Axiata Arena did likewise in the same piece of paper that was made into a picture frame.
Peter Gade, one of the three players to win the Malaysian Open (2007) during Chong Wei’s domination, hailed the fans for supporting him. The other players who won the event since Chong Wei’s first triumph were Lin Dan and another China player, Chen Long.
“It is amazing for me to be back in Malaysia and the stadium where I have so many great memories. The passion you show for badminton is second to none,” said Peter Gade.
Chong Wei also urged the Badminton World Federation (BWF) to take the initiative to invite the greats for their major events to promote the sport further.
“BWF should invite the legends as this is a good way to popularise the sport. We are free to travel and attend these tournaments,” added Chong Wei.
“Badminton is very popular in Asia but it has not picked up the way it should be in all of Europe and other countries. We have plans to promote it in smaller countries like South Africa but we couldn’t do it due to Covid-19. Once things are better, we will do our part.”