WUHAN, China: Superstar Lin Dan was made to sweat in front of an adoring home crowd but China breezed through their first group ties in the Thomas and Uber Cups world team championships on Sunday.
Quality was on show from Denmark, Japan and South Korea, but it was England’s Rajiv Ouseph who threatened to spring a major surprise, before "Super" Dan, badminton’s most-decorated player, came through in two games.
World number 19 Ouseph pushed the reigning Olympic champion in an unexpectedly tight match, as the usually cool Lin let off sparks of surprise and frustration when a handful of smashes went into the net and wide.
"After starting well I broke my racket string and it took me too long to adjust to the new racket. It affected the attack game plan," Lin said, praising Ouseph’s performance.
"All the matches here are equally important before the Olympics," Lin added, underscoring the significance of this week in Wuhan, as players have a dress rehearsal before meeting each other on the big stage in July in London.
Lin’s teammates, including feisty world number three Chen Long, had an easier time as they beat the plucky English 5-0 and rapidly turned their attentions to Indonesia, who China face next in their group and a key rival.
"Indonesia is China’s biggest opponent in the Thomas Cup," Lin said.
"It doesn’t matter who I play. I take them all seriously," he said about Indonesia’s choice to select Simon Santoso over Olympic gold medallist Taufik Hidayat as first singles player.
Playing on the court next to China were their rivals Japan, who trounced New Zealand 5-0 and looked every bit a legitimate frontrunner in the men’s competition.
In the day’s earlier session, Denmark and South Korea also looked impressive contenders for a tournament neither country has won yet.
The Danish men, finalists eight times, were never troubled by South Africa in their 5-0 win and were well led by 35-year-old Peter Gade, who hopes to silence critics after this season’s poor run of results.
"Winning the Thomas Cup will be very difficult for Denmark because there are a lot of strong teams… but on a good day we can beat anyone," said former men’s doubles world number one Mathias Boe after his win with Carsten Mogensen.
The toughest match in South Korea’s 5-0 victory over the USA came in the first doubles tie as Yoo Yeon-Seong and Ko Sung-Hyun beat Howard Bach and Olympic medallist Tony Gunawan in three close games.
In the women’s competition, the Uber Cup, China are also seeded first and the team demolished South Africa 5-0. In world number one Wang Yihan’s opening match, her opponent Kerry-Lee Harrington managed just three points.
The Chinese women’s squad is led by the three Wangs — Yihan, Xin and Shixian — who occupy the top three spots in the world rankings.
But in a sign of her stunning recent form, world number four Li Xuerui has been picked to play the third women’s singles in Wuhan, with Wang Shixian playing doubles.
The Chinese women are aiming to lift the Uber Cup for a seventh time, and erase the memory of their shock defeat in the 2010 final in Kuala Lumpur by South Korea.
Beginning the defence of their title against Australia, the South Koreans out-classed their opponents 5-0.