BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom - Lin Dan's return to the All-England Open for the first time in three years on Wednesday should show, despite his spasmodic appearances these days, that he is still the world's best player.
In the process, the Olympic champion from China could help the famous 116-year-old tournament clarify the confused picture at the top of the men's game, at a time when the new Olympic qualifying period is only a few weeks away.
So says Peter Gade, the former world number one and the last European to win the All-England men's singles, who insists that badminton needs a period of competitive stability which Lin Dan and this year's All-England might help provide.
"It's been the strangest transformation recently," claimed the long-lasting Dane, who retired at the 2012 Olympics after more than a decade and a half at the top.
"There's a huge group of about 12 or 13 players who can beat each other, but hopefully we will see a much clearer picture before the Olympics. The game needs that."
Although Lin Dan is already 31 he is still good enough to win the 2016 Olympics, Gade believes, and capable of regaining the All-England title this week, despite being seeded only fifth.
"I don't see a big change if he is on top form," Gade said. "He is still the best player. He has shown that on several occasions. If there's a question then it's a question whether he wants to play.
"It's a strange period for him too. From the outside we can't know what the reason is for him not playing," said Gade, referring to Lin's infrequent tournaments since changing his mind about retiring after the London Olympics.
Lin's chances this week may be greater because Lee Chong Wei, the Malaysian who holds the All-England title, cannot defend it until doping allegations against him have been heard.
This delay in coming to a decision is harmful, Gade insists. "We need to move past the problem, whichever way we do it," he said. "It's impossible to say whether what happened was right or wrong - but we need a decision." Since Lee's absence from the tour Chen Long, the world champion from China, has become number one, though Gade does not rule out a fellow Dane this week becoming the first in 16 years to follow his All-England triumph.
"Jan (Jorgensen) is the closest," Gade says of his second-seeded compatriot. "But there is a big group which includes Jan, and he has to show he can be stable at this highest level.
The women's singles, though still dominated by China, is also less clear-cut than it was. Li Xuerui is seeded to regain a title which was a stepping stone to her winning the 2012 Olympics, and although Wang Shixian is seeded second in defence of the title, at least three serious contenders are non-Chinese .
One is Saina Nehwal, the third-seeded Indian who won the China Open, another is Caroline Marin, the sixth-seeded Spaniard who created badminton's biggest shock by becoming world champion in August, and yet another is Ratchanok Intanon, the eighth-seeded Thai who became the 2013 world champion as a teenager.
China is nevertheless top-seeded in four of the five events after its players won 33 Super Series titles out of 65 last year. Zhao Yunlei, the most successful with eight Super Series titles and US$250,000 (S$341,000) prize money, is seeded to win both women's and mixed doubles.
Although China appears to have an insurmountable demographic advantage, Denmark, a nation of only five million, continues to show what is possible. The Danes have the second seeds in three events, three seeded players in the men's singles, and a pair seeded in a fourth event.