COPENHAGEN - A crestfallen Lee Chong Wei and the Malaysian Badminton Association (BAM) were left apologising to the nation after their independence day celebrations were soured by the much-loved shuttler's defeat in the world championship final.
World number one Lee had been tipped to land his first major title in the absence of great adversary Lin Dan but it was the double Olympic champion's Chinese compatriot Chen Long who dished out the punishment in Sunday's final in Denmark.
"I am disappointed with the way I played today. I guess my fans are also disappointed. I am sorry. I wanted so much to win it - but Chen Long was too aggressive," Lee was quoted as saying by Malaysian media after the 21-19 21-19 loss.
"I tried ... but he was returning all my shots. I tried to break his rhythm and open up the game. I tried to play patiently but I was making some simple mistakes. He was just unstoppable."
Lee came into the event with concerns about a thigh muscle injury which had prevented his Commonwealth Games title defence and was also caught in a row between the BAM and his coach.
Men's singles coach Rashid Sidek was banned from travelling to Denmark but then allowed to work with his shuttlers after the country's sports minister stepped in to broker a peace deal.
It appeared to do the trick as twice Olympic runner-up Lee raced through to the final without dropping a game, raising hopes Malaysia's favoured son would finally deliver a major title on the significant day.
But the tall Chen, bronze medallist at the London Games two years ago, proved too strong as extended China's stranglehold of the men's title to seven consecutive championships and leave Malaysia still waiting for a first. "I am disappointed because we have failed to end a 37-year drought in the championships," BAM deputy president Mohamad Norza said.
"I sympathize for Chong Wei who tried his best to win the title. "I would also like to apologise to the people of Malaysia because we ended up with only a runner-up spot on a day when Malaysians celebrated Independence Day."
The 31-year-old Lee, who suffered his third successive defeat in the world championship final, was already looking ahead to the Sept. 19-Oct. 4 Asian Games, one of his last chances to end his major title drought.
The row between his coach Rashid and the BAM had intensified after the poor performances by Lee's understudies at the Commonwealth Games and the body are anxious about finding someone to fill the void with Lee likely to retire after the 2016 Rio Games. "It is a must to find Chong Wei's successor soon. They must be exposed and moulded to take over. We must also continue our development programmes," Norza said.