BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom — Lee Chong Wei successfully defended his All-England Open men’s singles title when he beat his greatest rival, Lin Dan, the Olympic champion from China, 21-17, 21-1 in Sunday’s final.
The top-seeded Malaysian’s triumph came as a surprise to many people, for Lin had beaten Lee in three games at the world’s first million dollar tournament, the Korean Open, in January.
That was the Chinese legend’s 15th success in 22 encounters with Lee, and he had seemed back to somewhere near his best.
But this time Lin rarely tried the fierce airborne attacks for which he has become famous, and Lee’s superb movement and excellent shuttle control in the resulting game of cat-and-mouse proved marginally superior.
The defeat means Lin failed to achieve a fifth All-England Open title, which would have been a unique achievement in the open era. The next All-England, not long before the 2012 Olympics, will be his last before his retirement.
"I played safe today — I didn’t go for the points at all," Lee said.
"But I was mentally strong this time."
He immediately got a call from the prime minister of Malaysia, Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak, who told him "good job".
It became evident that Lee might score a famous victory soon after the interval in the first game, when he surged from 11-10 to 17-10 and looked well in control at 18-12.
Some of the rallies were flat and fast, but many of them involved probing clears, lifts and drops, and clever manoeuvring. It was not till the second game that Lin tried to apply much force with his overhead.
However he got back to 17-18 thanks to wonderful accuracy and consistency, and at that moment it seemed that Lee might be wobbling mentally.
But Lin unaccountably tried a clipped drop which fell too short and found the net, and that reduced the psychological pressure on his edgy opponent immensely.
Lee concluded that game with a squall of smashes and hurtled to a lead of 8-2 in the second game. It was then that Lin tried a few of his once-famous aerial bombardments, getting ceilingwards and levering the shuttle down more steeply.
But they were intermittent efforts, and gradually the match slipped back into its cagey patterns once Lin had got back on even terms.
From 17-all Lee made his final push. A disguised return and smash got him the lead again, an overhead drop got him to 19-17, and an amazing block winner from point blank range got him to match point which he converted when Lin was pressured into switching a net shot sacross court and narrowly wide.
"It didn’t work out as well as I thought," said Lin. "I made more errors than usual."
Earlier the top-seeded Wang Shixian regained the women’s singles title for China, earning it for the seventh time in ten years for the sport’s leading nation.
Wang did that with a 24-22, 21-18 victory in a fine final over Eriko Hirose, the Japanese player who attracted admiration and sympathy for her unseeded progress to the showdown.
Wang’s speed about the court and experience of big finals — she was winner of the Malaysian Open and a finalist in the Korean Open.
She did not panic when the determined Hirose pulled back a five-game first game deficit and held game points at 20-19 and 21-20.
Had Hirose sneaked either of those pivotal points, much may have been different.
"I knew it was crucial to win those," said Wang.
China however won the women’s and mixed doubles – through Yu Yang and Wang Xiaoli, and Xu Chen and Ma Lin respectively.
Xu and Ma won 21-13, 21-9 against Sudket Prapakamol and Sarale Thoungthongkam, the first Thai players in the finals for almost 50 years.
Denmark won the men’s doubles when Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, who missed four match points in last year’s final, came from 11-6 down in the final game to win 15-21, 21-18, 21-18 against Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong, the world silver medallists from Malaysia.