Asian Games: Now or never for badminton's Lee

Asian Games: Now or never for badminton's Lee

INCHEON, South Korea- Badminton world number one Lee Chong Wei may have to finally find a way past his Chinese nemesis Lin Dan as he makes his last bid for Asian Games gold.

Fans are eager for another classic showdown between Malaysia's Lee and superstar Lin at Incheon's futuristic Gyeyang arena, which will host 10 days of play from Saturday.

Defending champion Lin beat Lee on home turf in Guangzhou to take singles gold at the 2010 Asian Games, and has repeatedly denied him in world and Olympic finals.

Both are likely to compete in the men's team event before campaigning for the singles title - with Lee admitting this will be his last chance for Asiad gold before retiring.

Tanned and tattooed Olympic champion Lin, 30, is ranked 15th as he picks and chooses his competitions these days - usually managing a stellar performance when required.

In contrast Lee, 31, consistently ranks first in the world but has been found wanting in high-pressure matches on the big stage.

And it's not just Lin that the Malaysian has to worry about, after he was beaten by China's 25-year-old Chen Long at last month's world championships final.

Long is also in the Chinese squad at Incheon, another potential hurdle for the taciturn Lee as he tries to end his Asian Games career on a high.

"For me, the Asian Games is important because this one will be my last. The next one is in four years, so I don't think I will be around. I hope to play well and enjoy it," he told reporters.

Only match in town

Lee himself has pointed to young bloods such as Japan's Kento Momota as a threat to the old guard.

At just 20 years old, former world junior champion Momota will join team-mate Kenichi Tago, 25, in the men's singles tournament.

"I have not played against him but I have seen him in action. He is talented and is a player to watch out for after Tago," Lee told The Star newspaper previously.

Indonesian favourite Tommy Sugiarto, 26, will also join the contest after losing to Chen in the world championship semi-finals and India's Kashyap Parupalli, 28, will be among India's medal hopes after taking gold at this summer's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

But for many fans, a Lee-Lin showdown will be the only match in town.

"What most people see as their generation of men's singles stars has dwindled so much with the retirement or drops in form of players," says Don Hearn of badminton site Badzine.

"Lee and Lin both stood above them for many years and now they have also outlasted them." Chen will have to start beating Lin to really break into superstar territory, says Hearn, while other pretenders have failed to combine wins against Lin and Lee with major titles.

In the women's singles, China's top-ranked Li Xuerui, 23, is favourite despite her shock defeat to Spain's Carolina Marin in last month's world championships final.

But she will also face challenges from strong young players including 19-year-old former world champion Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand and India's PV Sindhu, also 19, bronze medal winner at the last two world championships.

Host South Korea's best medal hope will come in the men's doubles, with world number one pair Lee Yong-Dae and Yoo Yeon-Seong vying for gold.

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