LEE Chong Wei may have had his final shot at a World Championships title when dehydration and cramps robbed him of his chance of winning the crown, thus allowing his nemesis Lin Dan of China to clinch a record fifth world title in Guangzhou on Sunday.
Lin Dan can now lay claim to being the greatest badminton player ever, while Chong Wei will have to learn to live with being second best and probably never laying his hands on a major title.
The Malaysian camp was quite sure that this would be Chong Wei’s year after Lin Dan seemed past his prime, having, competed in just one tournament — the Asian Championships — in the last 12 months leading to coaches Tey Seu Bock and Rashid Sidek believing that their charge would finally bag a big one. How wrong they were.
Lin Dan’s absence from tournaments leading up to the World Championships must have been a ploy which many fell for.
It is virtually impossible to keep a true champion, who is still hungry for more titles, down and Lin Dan is certainly that.
On Sunday, he showed that he had lost none of his agility, power, court-craft and strokes, and ironically, it always takes Chong Wei, the World No 1, to bring out the best from Lin Dan.
Their last two meetings, the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics, both at the Wembley Arena, had been epic battles and it was no different on Sunday until Chong Wei gave in to dehydration and cramps with the score at 16-21, 21-13, 20-17 in Lin Dan’s favour.
One can argue that Lady Luck had deserted Chong Wei at the eleventh hour, but Lin Dan’s character, attitude and fighting spirit could have drained Chong Wei’s energy and resolve.
Chong Wei’s own high expectations and the pressure he put himself under could also have contributed to his mental state, and not having won a major title only made him give it his all and more. He was so finely tuned that putting extra pressure on his already taut muscles could result in cramps and that was exactly what happened.
BA of Malaysia officials and coaches must forget about lodging a protest over the failed air-conditioning which caused the players to suffer, which the Malaysian coaches believe caused Chong Wei’s cramps.
Lin Dan was a deserving victor and is a great ambassador for the sport.
There are bigger issues for BAM to tackle at this stage, like focusing on the younger generation of players to fill the void which will come about soon.
While Chong Wei will still continue playing, but at 31, BAM must realise he is in the twilight of his playing career as is Lin Dan and both must give way to younger players sooner rather than later.
BAM must not only look beyond Chong Wei but also Liew Daren, who is not expected to make much headway as he is already 26.
BAM may have to wait for between three to five years to see the likes of Asian Junior champion Soo Teck Zhi and Soong Joo Ven, both 18, show progress on the international stage while the progress of Goh Soon Huat, 23, and Iskandar Zulkarnain Zainuddin, 22, must be sped up.
Two others — Zulfadli Zulkifli and Misbun Ramdan Misbun, may be independent players but BAM must keep tabs on them and encourage the duo to join the national team as well.
Coach Hendrawan, who looks after the back-up players, must also buck up as his current group of players have stagnated.
Though a dedicated coach, Hendrawan’s soft approach will not be able to make Malaysian shuttlers, generally a pampered lot, work harder and the Indonesian must set a stringent training regime and set high targets.
BAM can take a cue from Thailand and India who have been producing lots of young talents of which several have reached world class.
Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon has become a trend setter for the junior players in her country as at 18, she has become a world champion and this was achieved despite a lack of funding.
Apart from Ratchanok, Thailand have immense talent in the women’s singles and have three more top internationals, thus making them the only country to stand out regularly against China.
India’s P.V. Sindhu, also 18, has beaten some of China’s top shuttlers and reached the semi-finals in Guangzhou.
The future of Malaysian singles post Chong Wei looks very bleak but if BAM starts improving its system, especially the national set-up, there is still hope.
It must be noted that Rexy Mainaky, discarded by BAM, has been doing an admirable job as the high performance director (HPD) of Indonesia badminton and is supported by an effective system put in place by Indonesia BA president Gita Wirjawan.
Likewise, his Malaysian counterpart Tengku Mahaleel Tengku Ariff must also make some hard decisions and revamp the current national set-up and bring in a HPD who is in touch with the latest developments and who can get the best out of coaches.
The 2016 Olympics is fast drawing near and if BAM does not act fast, it will be caught in a hopeless situation of once again depending on a 34-year-old Chong Wei, that is if he is still playing.