BIRMINGHAM, England — Lee Chong Wei, the man who has dominated the Super Series circuit without winning the most major titles, captured the All-England Open on Sunday.
The top-seeded Malaysian enjoyed a 21-19, 21-19 win over 20-year-old Kenichi Tago, the first Japanese male finalist for nearly half a century, in a final in which Lee’s experience just got him through tight finishes in both games.
Lee also became the first man to win three Super Series titles in a row, having captured the titles in Seoul and Kuala Lumpur in January.
Just before giving his press conference Lee received a phone call of congratulations from the Malaysian prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak, and came into the room buzzing with the thrill.
"It was a big relief to win and a big dream especially as it’s the 100th anniversary of the All-England," said Lee.
"It’s going to help me in a big way. I didn’t think I played my very best but I did enough."
Lee’s capture of the title may not convince everyone that he is now the best player in the world.
That is because Lin Dan of China, who won both the Olympic and World titles, skipped the first two Super Series of the year and mysteriously lost to his compatriot Bao Chunlai at the All-England.
But Lee did suggest that he is adding a better, big-match temperament to his blistering speed, great defence, and cleverly timed counter-attacks, and may have improved enough to challenge Lin Dan’s ambition to retire as Olympic champion at London 2012.
Women’s top seed Wang Yihan of China was beaten in the final by Tine Rasmussen in a repeat of the 2009 final.
The Dane gained revenge with a 21-14, 18-21, 21-18 victory.
Twelve months ago, Rasmussen had been top seed, and Wang unseeded; on Sunday, the roles were reversed.
"I went on court without feeling nervous at all, said Rasmussen. "It was very clear to me what I had to do and I was just feeling good and enjoying being there."
Against world champion Lu Lan in the semi-finals, she had saved three match points by steadying her game up. Now she went full out on the attack and for a while blew the favourite aside.
But Wang got on the attack herself more often in the second as Rasmussen found it harder to maintain the high speed aggression and surged to 6-3 up in the third.
It was then, Rasmussen claimed, that she had flashbacks to the 2008 final, when she had beaten Lu Lan.
A flick-lift to the backhand, perfectly in the corner, got her to 19-18, another lift was deep enough to make Wang produce a clearing error, and two more lifts created just enough of an opening for Rasmussen to bang one more of those big smashes to the floor.
The racket went flying again just as it had against Lu Lan, and this time Rasmussen was in tears as she embraced coach Kenneth Jonassen.
Wang said: "I made more mistakes today. And when I had the opportunities I couldn’t hold on."
China, which won all five All-England titles in 2009, had to be content with just two this time, the mixed and the women’s doubles.
Zhang Nan and Zhou Yunlei, unseeded and ranked outside the top 100, scored a magnificent surprise win in a great final against Nova Widianto and Lilyana Natsir, the former world mixed doubles champions from Indonesia, by 21-18, 23-25, 21-18.
But Zhou was denied two titles when she and Cheng Shu were unable to capitalise on a lead of a game and 15-12 and lost 20-22, 21-16, 21-13 to Du Jing and Yu Yang, the top seeded Olympic women’s doubles champions.
Later Denmark also won two titles, with Jonas Rasmussen and Lars Paaske, the unseeded former world champions winning the first all-European men’s doubles final since 1983.
But they had to save four match points before overcoming their compatriots, the fourth-seeded Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen 21-23, 21-19, 26-24.