'Super Dan' back from the brink

Double Olympic gold medallist Lin Dan beat Rio 2016 champ Chen Long to end title drought at the Malaysia Open.

By Rory Jiwani

Just weeks after being written off as past his best, Lin Dan has bounced back in memorable fashion.

China's double Olympic badminton gold medallist capped a superb week by beating Rio 2016 champion Chen Long to take the Malaysia Open.

It was the 35-year-old's first title since last May's New Zealand Open, and his first big success since the 2017 Malaysia Open.

"I was very determined, in good form and hungry for victory. I think the bad times are over." - Lin Dan after winning the Malaysia Open

2019 Malaysia Open champion Lin Dan on the podium congratulated by Lee Chong Wei

Lin's hopes of a third Olympic gold medal were very much in the balance after a dismal 2018.

But this was a welcome return to form for the left-hander with just two spots per country available for next year's Tokyo 2020 men's singles.

Back on top

Lin's future was in doubt after a first-round exit at last month's All England Open in Birmingham.

That followed a 2018 where 'Super Dan' had been anything but super, crashing out in the first round no fewer than nine times.

The Chinese media openly questioned whether he should retire rather than bid for a record third Olympic title.

But Lin rolled back the years to pull off a sensational victory in Kuala Lumpur.

He could scarcely have asked for a tougher start than Chinese Taipei's world number three Chou Tien-chen, but managed to come through 21-19 in the third.

And he received a good luck message from old rival and three-time Olympic silver medallist Lee Chong Wei who was unable to defend the title after treatment for nose cancer.

Lin's next test came against Kanta Tsunemaya, the man who knocked him out of the All England.

The Japanese took the opening game, but Lin roared back to win 16-21, 21-17, 21-10 and reach the semi-finals.

Next up was compatriot Shi Yuqi, one of Lin's main rivals for a spot in Tokyo.

He was taken the distance again, but won through 21-19, 16-21, 21-12 to set up a final with his other great Chinese rival Chen Long.

Lin Dan celebrates his Malaysia Open semi-final win over fellow Chinese shuttler Shi Yuqi

Chen had also returned to form in Malaysia, defeating Kidambi Srikanth of India and Indonesia's Jonatan Christie - conqueror of both world number one Kento Momota and Viktor Axelsen - to reach the final.

Lin made a slow start as Chen powered through the first game 21-9.

But with the crowd clearly on his side, the veteran clawed his way back into the match with some outstanding defence and net play.

Chen's errors began to mount, and Lin eventually clinched victory 9-21, 21-17, 21-11.

Confidence returns

Lin admitted afterwards that he was not sure whether he would be able to reach his previous heights.

He said, "My performance last year was not ideal. As a result I was under a lot of pressure and I had doubts about myself.

"I have been playing for so many years, now that I’m at the tail end of my career, I hope everyone can understand that it’s normal my form fluctuates.

"I didn't play at an exceptionally high level in this tournament. All I did was stick to my strategy and play to my strengths."

And Lin was delighted to receive his medal and winner's cheque from his old rival Lee Chong Wei.

"It was certainly a special moment to receive the prize from him."

“He’s looking great and healthy. I’m sure we’re going to meet again on court soon."

Lee also shared his light-hearted exchange on the podium with Chen, the man who beat him in the Rio 2016 final.

The Malaysian star is expected to return to action in the next few weeks before setting his sights on Tokyo 2020.

And what chance a repeat of the podium from London 2012?

London 2012 men's singles badminton podium (L-R): silver medallist Lee Chong Wei, champion Lin Dan, bronze medallist Chen Long