The best of Lin Dan, twice an Olympic men’s singles gold medallist and this week seeking a sixth All-England Open title at the age of 32, is still to come, according to Peter Gade.
Danish former All-England champion Gade is the longest lasting top level player of the modern era.
If Gade is right, the world’s oldest tournament, which starts in Birmingham on Wednesday, could see one of its greatest legends parading his unique skills in all their unpredictable brilliance once more.
Whether such a revival after three lower-key years does happen for Lin, known as ‘Super Dan’, this week, or instead when he is chasing a record-breaking third gold at the Games in Rio in August, is a burning question.
“Lin Dan has had the Olympics in his mind for a long time, and a lot of things that have happened have been about that,” said Gade, who is now France’s national coach.
By limiting travel and competition, Lin may have been preserving his 32-year-old body.
“We have still to see the best of Lin Dan,” Gade reckoned. “He will come alive in a different way for the Olympics, I think. But whether he will open up now and we see his best this week, we don’t know.”
Lin captured only two front-line titles last year, and has won a mere eight since his last All-England triumph four years ago, as well as taken two long breaks.
But his dazzling combinations of all-round technical excellence and tactical variations could bring yet more records.
“Lin Dan still has ambition,” Gade asserted. “It’s very interesting from the fans’ point of view.”
– Sensational comeback –
Lee Chong Wei, Lin’s closest rival for much of the past eight years, may also be ready to challenge for another All-England title again. If Lee succeeds it would be his fourth.
The light-footed Malaysian made a sensational comeback from suspension and injury last year despite his 33 years, extending an unbeaten streak to 21 matches while climbing from 182 to world number two.
This highly encouraging sequence included a victory over Lin in the China Open semi-finals in November, his first since January 2012 over the Olympic champion.
“I’m really surprised with my progress,” Lee admitted. “I have come a long way.
“It hasn’t been easy to get back to where I am. If you had asked me nine months ago if I ever dreamt of being world number one again, I would probably have told you that it’s not possible.
“Now I dare to dream again, and I’ll try to regain the number one spot, hopefully before the Olympics.”
The present incumbent, Chen Long, has however been impressively dominant since winning the first of his two world titles in Copenhagen in mid-2014, gradually gaining confidence in his ability to succeed Lin as China’s pre-eminent player.
Chen has so far held the top ranking for 16 successive months and will start as top seed in his bid to win his third All-England title.
Whether the 27-year-old is also the genuine favourite may be learned sooner than later for he is in the same half as Lin and the two dangerous Danes, Jan Jorgensen and Viktor Axelsen.
The latter beat him in the Super Series finals in Dubai in December.
Meanwhile, Lee has a possible semi-final with Kento Momota, the young Japanese left-hander who hinted at a breakthrough by winning the Super Series finals.
The women’s singles favourite is clearer cut, with Carolina Marin, the 22-year-old, two-time world champion from Spain top-seeded.
Last year’s runner-up, Saina Nehwal of India is seeded second with two former All-England champions from China, Li Xuerui and Wang Yihan, third and fourth respectively. – Agence France-Presse