BIRMINGHAM: Denmark's Peter Gade-Christensen believes he is fighting for the future of badminton, as well as to avenge last year's final defeat by Lin Dan, in the All-England Badminton Championships, which begin here today.
The former world number one believes that if he can pose a threat to the brilliant Chinese holder of the 106-year-old title he will be helping not only himself but assisting a better balance in an increasingly Asia-dominated sport.
“I have fears for its future,” said the second seeded Gade-Christensen.
“What this sport needs is Europeans versus Asians. That is what people like to watch.
“The Chinese have stepped up and the Koreans have stepped up and if we (Denmark) want to step up too, we must be more professional.
“And in men's singles that can't be done in the next two or three years. That's why I hope Ken (Jonassen, his third-seeded Danish compatriot) and I will keep going as long as possible.”
Gade-Christensen ran out of steam in last year's long and excellent final and may find it difficult to improve upon that performance because Lin Dan in the past year has proved himself clearly the world's best player.
“He's such a versatile player. He is good in such a lot of areas,” said the 28-year-old Gade-Christensen.
“He is very quick. He doesn't make many mistakes. He is very good in defence and very good in offence too. So you can't play very defensively or very offensively against him or you get punished.”
Gade-Christensen, who won the season-opening Korean Open, but deliberately missed last week's German Open and took a month off to prepare for the All-England, believes that as a result he is a better, more sophisticated player than last year.
He hopes he may be able to beat Lin Dan by being more patient and making his opponent do a little more of the work in a long match.
But if he gets as far as the final again, Gade-Christensen is likely to be facing an even greater Lin Dan, at the height of his powers, who comfortably won the German Open in Mulheim on Sunday and in recent months the China Open and Danish Open too.
However, the Dane has a draw which could give him a third round match against Malaysian veteran Mohd Roslin Hashim, and a likely semi-final with the former All-England champion Chen Hong of China.
Nor can Lin Dan be certain of anything in a world-class field in which several players have realistic chances to win the title. Lin Dan has a possible quarter-final against compatriot Xia Xuanze, who is also a former All-England champion.
Gade-Christensen's fears of the fading European challenge are supported by last month's decision by Peter Rasmussen, the former world and European champion from Denmark, to retire.
Another leading European who will no longer be challenging for the All-England title is Camilla Martin, the former champion from Denmark. That means that the odds on an Asian winner are probably too short to quote.
The favourite is China's Zhang Ning, the world and Olympic champion, who will have fond memories of the national indoor arena here. It was the venue for her world championship victory in 2003.
If she justifies her seeding, it will be Zhang Ning's first All-England title. The other strong challengers for the title are compatriots Zhou Mi, the 2003 All-England champion, and Xie Xingfang, winner of the Danish, German, Chinese and Indonesian Opens, as well as her former compatriot, Pi Hongyang, the second seed who now represents France.
China's chances are even stronger in winning the women's doubles for the ninth time in 10 years.
They occupy all of the top three seeding spots. Europe's best chances of a title arguably come from the mixed or men's doubles.
Denmark's Jens Eriksen is the top seed in both, in the men's with Martin Lundgaard Hansen, with whom he is the title holder, and in the mixed with Mette Schjoldager.
But China's Olympic mixed doubles champions Zhang Jie-Gao Ling may fancy disputing who are really the favourites. – AFP