Lee Chong Wei blasted his way into the second round of the badminton world championships in Jakarta on Tuesday, bringing him a step closer to a possible clash with nemesis Lin Dan.
The former world number one, who only returned to badminton in May after being slapped with an eight-month ban for doping, swept aside Lithuania’s Kestutis Navickas 21-9, 21-13 in his opening match.
The Malaysian shuttler is unseeded for the first time in years at the world championships, his ranking having plunged during his ban from competition for accidentally ingesting a banned inflammatory.
But he has returned strong since rejoining the circuit with back-to-back US and Canada Open titles, and is tipped to go far in Jakarta.
Lee is no stranger to the world championships, having claimed silver in the last three tournaments, though last year’s medal was stripped after he tested positive for using a banned substance.
Defending champion Chen Long overpowered him last year, but it is long-time foe Lin who has denied him gold twice at the world championships and at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Thanks to a favourable draw Lee will not face Lin until the semi-finals, if he makes it that far, a prospect that he knows has badminton fans excited.
“I am aware a great many people are waiting for us to duel on the court. Certainly I will give my best performance if this occurs” he told reporters.
“This is due to the possibility this could be our last game, because maybe next year we will retire.”
Lin began his campaign for a sixth badminton world crown on Tuesday with a routine victory over American Sattawat Pongnairat in Jakarta.
The two-time Olympic gold medal winner pummelled his unseeded opponent 21-8, 21-11 to book himself a spot in the second round, a vast improvement on last year when he failed to qualify for badminton’s premier event.
Lin, who suffered shock exits from the Taiwan and Indonesian Opens recently, said the comeback of his long-term rival would spice things up in Jakarta.
“Certainly I feel the return of Lee Chong Wei can provide its own nuances in this championship,” he told reporters.
“Competition in this championship is getting increasingly fierce.”
Lin is expected to cruise into the quarter-finals but faces an uphill battle from there, with possible clashes against second-seed Jan O. Jorgensen, ninth-seed Son Wan-ho or 14th-seed Hans-Kristian Vittinghus.
Elsewhere, seeded men’s shuttlers Srikanth Kidambi, Hu Yun and Vittinghus all cruised into the second round with easy wins over their opponents on Tuesday.
Women’s third seed Li Xuerui breezed into the third round with a 21-10, 21-11 drubbing of Bulgaria’s Petya Nedelcheva.
The Olympic champion was the firm favourite at last year’s championships but was denied gold in the final by a gutsy Carolina Marin.
Marin, who will play her first match later Tuesday, has won three titles this season but is nursing a foot injury that almost saw her withdraw from badminton’s top event.
Asked about her chances of getting revenge on the top-seeded Spaniard, Li declined to speculate so early in the competition.
“You will have to wait and see,” she told reporters via a translator.
Indonesia’s Maria Febe Kusumastuti became the first seeded woman to exit the tournament, felled 18-21, 21-13, 21-9 by unseeded Taiwanese shuttler Pai Yu Po.
Seeded women P.V. Sindhu, Busanan Ongbumrungpan and Sung Ji Hyun also progressed to the third round. – Agence France-Presse