The wait was worth it.
The 1,000-odd Mumbaikars who turned up to see Lee Chong Wei begin his Indian Badminton League campaign were not disappointed. The Malaysian World No. 1 showed them why he is considered a legend by coming up with a high-level performance.
The Mumbai Masters icon player was in full swing at the NSCI here on Tuesday, beating compatriot and World No. 17 Liew Daren of Krrish Delhi Smashers 21-12 21-16 in a match that lasted 36 minutes. It was hard to believe that the same man —who was diving around full throttle to make those returns — had to be stretchered out of the court just two weeks ago during the world championships final against China’s Lin Dan.
Wei ensured Mumbai Masters got off to a flying start and Denmark’s Tine Baun ensured it continued, her easy 21-11 21-13 victory over India’s Arundhati Panthawane handing Mumbai a 2-0 lead.
The Smashers seemed to have done their homework, for it was a well thought-out move to send in Daren to counter Wei than their usual first choice singles player Sai Praneeth. Daren, the 2012 French Open champion, had overcome Wei in the Djarum Superliga in Indonesia earlier this year.
But there was no upset this time. Not when Wei was in full swing.
The superstar wasted no time in demolishing the 26-year-old Daren, taking a quick 8-2 lead, courtesy some zooming cross-court smashes.
However, some silly errors allowed Daren to come back and make it 12-9. Wei quickly got back to his straps and turned to his most lethal weapon — the high-jumping attacking smash — to wrap up the first game 21-12 after a false serve from Daren.
The second game was closely contested. Daren even managed to take a three-point lead at one point (8-5). But Wei isn’t a champion for nothing. Some ferocious returns — including one that almost hit Daren’s face — got him the lead.
A string of errors from Daren were enough for Wei to wrest the initiative. And he grabbed it with both hands to go 20-16 up.
Almost fittingly, Wei was made to earn his match point in what seemed the longest rally of the match. But 36 minutes and countless smashes later, Wei stretched his arms in joy, thanking the crowd.
The men’s doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Hoeng brought the smashers back into the mix with a 21-14 5-21 7-11 win over Mumbai’s India nduo of B Sumeet Reddy and Manu Attri.