Badminton superstar Lin Dan moved effortlessly through to the second round of the world championships in China’s Guangzhou on Monday, putting in a powerful performance after a year on the sidelines.
The reigning world champion trounced American Sattawat Pongnairat 21-6, 21-9 and although the Chinese player was hardly stretched, the man regarded by many as the sport’s best ever player showed flashes of classic play.
Lin stays on course to meet arch rival Lee Chong Wei from Malaysia if both make it to the tournament final after being placed in opposite halves of the draw, as world number one Lee also beat his first round opponent.
"I didn’t slow down the pace at any point," Lin said after the match.
"My coach just told me to make sure I got to 21 points and that was my main goal."
Delicate touches at the net, powerful smashes and athleticism around the court belied the fact that this was only the fourth international game for "Super Dan" since taking Olympic gold in London.
The home crowd chanted his name as he strolled to victory against the American.
Lin’s current form after a year out to spend time with his wife and family has been the subject of speculation, as he dropped to 100 in the world rankings following his break.
But after Monday’s match he told reporters he was back on track.
"I will take every match seriously and respect every opponent," he said.
Lee eased his way through the first round too, dispatching Ireland’s Scott Evans 21-11, 21-15.
Evans found it hard to make an impression on the agile Malaysian whose lightning reflexes created an almost impenetrable defence.
"I knew my opponent of the day wasn’t so strong but I wanted to make a good start in the tournament, and get adjusted to the conditions," said Lee after his first-round win.
"A lot of people are saying that this might be my best chance to win the world championships. And I will take the chance," he added.
Lee, 30, who became a father in April to son Kingston, knows that this could be his last chance to beat Lin on the big stage, after losing the last two Olympic finals to the fiercely competitive Chinese player, as well as the 2011 world title match.
And Lee will be gunning for Malaysia’s first ever world title off the back of wins this year in South Korea, Indonesia, India and Malaysia.
Lee and Lin are close friends off the court and the Malaysian said he knew the Chinese star had "prepared well".
"But I will be aware of all players, not only Chinese," Lee added.
Speaking on Sunday, Lin said that despite approaching his 30th birthday, he would not be retiring from the sport, whatever the outcome in Guangzhou.
"I may be one of the oldest players now but I have trained with the same intensity. What matters most is the (player’s) attitude," he said.
World number two Chen Long from China made short work of Austria’s Luka Wraber 21-2, 21-5 and remains on course to meet Lin in the quarter-finals.
China’s Du Pengyu, ranked third, had to work hard for his victory against a tenacious Shon Wan-Ho of Korea 21-17, 16-21, 21-13, taking an hour and 25 minutes to seal the win.