How to Choose the Right Badminton Racket

Choosing the right badminton racket can be a real challenge, simply because there are so many different models and brands available these days. Each manufacturer will market their rackets differently, and if you believe the marketing you will wonder how on earth you can possibly play without having the most powerful, aerodynamic, controllable, attacking, defensive, all round racket out there. Don’t believe the hype.

which badminton racket

There is not a badminton racket on this earth that can make up for poor technique. It is natural to think that if you buy the most expensive racket then it must be the best choice right? Wrong. The top end rackets are typically designed for advanced players, usually having very stiff frames. If you are not an advanced player, then buying one of these rackets will probably have a negative impact on your game.

  • The best piece of advice i can give you when choosing a new racket is to buy the one that simply feels right for you. It is a completely personal choice, and as such only you can make it. What feels right for one player may be totally different to another player. Some players like a head heavy balance, others like a head light balance. There is no right or wrong answer here. That being said, there are some basic characteristics that you need to be aware of, which may help you to choose the best badminton racket for your game.

Balance Point

There are 3 classes of balance available on any badminton racket. Head heavy, head light and even balance. Head heavy means more weight is distributed towards the head of the racket, head light is the opposite of this, and even balance is between these two.

Shaft Flexibility

There are 3 main types of shaft available, flexible, medium and stiff. Some badminton manufacturers also have extra stiff shafts available these days.

These are the two main details to keep in mind before you buy. There is also the weight of the racket and the grip size. Different manufacturers have different systems for grading the weight and the grip size. Yonex has the U system, and basically the lower the U number is, then the heavier the weight of the racket is. The grip size comes with a G rating, and the lower the G number then the wider the handle size will be.

So this is the basic information you need to know. What is most important is deciding which racket to choose, and with what specification. You need to know what kind of player are you? Perhaps you are a power player who smashes at every opportunity, or maybe you are a defensive player who likes to guide the smashes around the court. You may just be an all round player who can attack and defend equally.

In general, a power player will be able to hit the shuttle hard. Now you also need to have good technique when hitting hard. The professional players all have sound technique, and you will see in pictures how the racket will flex on impact. Look below for a perfect example from Chong Wei.

racket flex

Top players require a stiff shaft because they are looking for control. They already have the technique to generate the power. The racket is flexing so much in the above picture because he has a great technique leading up to impact. This involves being in position, moving the body weight towards the shuttle, good shoulder rotation, fast swing speed, pronation of the forearm, and the correct grip. There are other parts as well that go into a power shot, but these basics show that the racket alone will not give you a powerful smash.

A flexible shaft will help you generate power but with less control, and the stiff shaft will give you more control and less power. For a beginner i would suggest using a flexible shaft until you gain enough skill to move to a medium flex shaft. Gaining enough skill requires getting some coaching to learn the correct grip and technique. I cannot stress how important this is. Forget spending a fortune on an expensive racket when you first start. The first piece of equipment i would spend my money on would be to get some quality badminton shoes. The second would be on coaching.

Head heavy rackets will help you generate power from the rear court, but they will feel heavier around the net and for fast reaction shots. Head light is the opposite, so you will lose power from the rear court, but gain around the net. A power player with good technique may well benefit from having a head heavy racket with a stiff shaft. A defensive player may benefit from a head light racket with a flexible shaft. This is just a general rule, but it all comes down to you in the end. Whatever feels right for you is the way to go. The only way to do this is to test a few rackets if possible. If you are a member of a club then ask nicely if you can have a hit with another members racket. You can get a pretty good idea of what a racket feels like from just a few hits. The last thing you want to do is spend a fortune on a new racket which you bought online and then find you don’t like the way it feels.

Another consideration is the grip itself. Make sure you find a comfortable grip, this could be a towel grip or the more popular soft over grips from Yonex and Karakal. Hands get sweaty when you play so make sure you can get a good grip of the handle when you play.

badminton grips

Browsing the internet is probably the best way to buy a new racket as there is so much choice. The downside is you cannot physically get your hands on the racket to see how it feels. However all rackets come with the information you need to make an informed decision. Take a look at the specification for the Yonex Voltric Z Force 2.

* Type: Offensive
* Balance: Head Heavy Balance
* Flex: Extra Stiff
* Frame Composition: H.M. Graphite, Sound Filter, Nanometric, Tungsten
* Shaft Composition: H.M. Graphite, EX-HMG, NANOMETRIC
* Weight: 4U (80.0 – 84.9g)
* Grip Size: G4
* Color: Black

From this spec we can see that the racket is aimed at advanced players as the flex is extra stiff . The head heavy balance would be better for attacking players. You can also see the weight described as 4U and the grip size as G4. This racket retails at well over £100 and is one of the top end Yonex rackets at the time of writing this. A lot of new technology is incorporated into this racket as well such as tungsten, graphite and something called nanometric. I would not get too involved in the technology, i have been playing badminton for over 30 years and i cannot tell you what advantage nanometric will give to a racket.

The most important part of the spec details is the weight, which is pretty light at 4U. Even if it has a head heavy balance, it is still a light racket, so power players may not get the power boost they perhaps think they will. The tip is to always read the fine details before you buy. If you want a heavier spec racket then e-mail the online store and ask them.

Another option is to change the weight of the racket yourself. You can add lead tape to add weight, and also change the balance point. One final point that will become very apparent as you improve your skills is the importance of the strings in the racket. I will cover this in another post, but strings have the ability to totally transform the feel of any racket.

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Chong Wei- The Malaysian Legend

Lee Chong Wei has carried the hopes and dreams of a nation of badminton fanatics for over 10 years now. He is unfairly known as the nearly man of badminton, given how he has finished runner up in 2 Olympic finals and 4 World Championship finals. However, for me he is a special player who will go down as one of the best players of all time. I think i speak for all badminton fans around the world when i say i sincerely hope he wins one big tournament before he hangs up his rackets. Sport can be cruel sometimes, but if ever one man deserved to land an Olympic or World title it is Lee Chong Wei.

Malaysian Open

He has collected 63 titles so far in his career, and is the most successful men’s singles player in the history of the Super Series. The highlight has to be his 11 Malaysia Open titles and his 3 All England titles. If i had to describe him in one word it would be consistent. No other player has been able to play at such a high level for so long, week in week out he produces the goods against all opponents, all over the world. So what makes him the player he is? Let’s take a closer look.

Movement

Definitely his strongest attribute, he is known for his speed of movement around the court. Very powerful legs enable him to cover all areas of the court with relative ease. He always seems to have time, and has that crucial element that the best players have of being able to change the pace of his movement when he needs to. Generally regarded as the fastest mover around a badminton court, probably of all time.

lunge

You can see from the above photo how well developed his leg muscles are, this is the result of years of physical training and hard work. This physical conditioning is responsible for smooth movement, which is the sign of a top singles player. Next time you watch a Lee Chong Wei match, instead of following the shuttle, focus your eyes on him instead, and watch his feet as he glides around the court. In my opinion he has the best movement to the round the head position in world badminton. He maintains great form as he gets behind the shuttle and then powers forward after he hits the shot. The picture below illustrates this perfectly.

round the head shot

His movement to his forehand corner is also exceptional, usually he just leaps out wide in the high forehand corner and takes the shuttle so early that his next shot forces a weak reply or an outright winner. When the shuttle is lifted higher to the back he gets right behind it and from there he is so quick moving forward it is a thing of beauty to watch. His right leg extension after he hits a straight smash is what enables him to move forward so quickly. When the shuttle is lower in his forehand side he has incredibly strong legs to drive into the corner and back out to get back to his base position. To get a real idea of just how fast elite men’s singles badminton is, have a look at the video below.

When you watch the video above just concentrate on Lee Chong Wei’s feet and how he is always in balance, and how quickly he covers the entire court. This is the result of years of court movement work, and it shows why he is able to win so many matches. Not many players can keep up with his pace throughout the whole match as his fitness and stamina levels are exceptional.

When he serves low he has his right leg in front of his left, and he maintains this position until the opponent has hit their return. This is what most top singles players do as it allows for much faster movement either forward to the net, or back to the rear court. When he flick serves he will move his base back a foot or so from his serving stance, and he typically keeps his feet side by side so he is ready to move to the sides of the court if a smash return is played. During the course of a rally you will see how he keeps one foot in front of the other when he gets near the front of the court, then switches to a side by side base position when he is defending or when the shuttle is in the air on his opponents side and they are attacking. These kind of footwork patterns happen automatically for him because they are drilled into his mind, so he is not even thinking about how to move to the shuttle. You only get this by training and repetition drills, typically from a very young age, so by the time you reach international badminton standard, you are already smooth and consistent in your movement.

Lee Chong Wei moves very quickly down to the front left part of the court, and i have noticed how sometimes he pushes his right leg into the shot when playing a backhand lift from this part of the court. It is almost as though he is using his forward weight to spring him back in court. Any weaknesses in his movement are so slight that they are not even noticeable, although i bet all the Chinese coaches have been taking a very close look at his movement for many years to spot potential weaknesses.

I have noticed with Lin Dan that when he plays Lee Chong Wei he tends to hit a lot to his forehand corner, especially off the low serve. The reason is because Lee always leads with his right leg from the front of the court, so to get to the shuttle when it has gone past him he has to take an extra step, thus taking a little bit longer to get there. This gives his opponent more time to get into position, and also ensures Lee Chong Wei cannot get fully behind the shuttle to hit a really steep shot. You will see him jump into that forehand shot more often than not, but he is jumping in a sideways and backwards direction, making recovery to his base position more difficult. It is only a subtle observation, but is certainly a tactic that Lin Dan uses against him. Lee does tend to serve to the centre of the court on the low serve, so this could be a tactical move. It should be noted that Lee does not always lead with his right leg, when he plays Zwiebler of Germany he tends to switch to his left leg leading near the net, this must be down to certain shots he plays. The picture below shows him hitting the forehand shot.

sideways smash

Shot Making and Stroke Production
Every player is known for their favourite shot, and Lee is no exception. Without doubt his best shot is his cross court forehand smash. This one single shot has won him countless points over the years. Here it is in all its glory..

This shot is so deceptive because his overhead technique is the same for all shots he hits, so it is very difficult to pick which direction he will hit to. The fact he can hit this smash straight down the line also creates doubt in opponents as to which side to cover. Excellent shot preparation and technique is what makes a top badminton player, and there is very little weakness in his technique at all. You can see how the racket comes through across his body as he hits it cross court. His body position as he hits the shot is the first key to the deception, the second is how he turns his forearm at the last second to change the shuttle direction. That forearm pronation and his body weight transfer is where the power comes from.
His forehand smash down the line is another great shot, and you really see his racket leg come through on impact to push him towards the net. The stroke production is excellent, and he really snaps the racket through with his forearm pronation. He has great body rotation and weight transfer, which all combine to add deception, accuracy and power. For a relatively small player he generates a lot of power on his smashes, which is all down to good technique.

If he is at his most effective from his forehand side, then surely a good tactic would be to play to his backhand side? Perhaps, but he also possesses a very strong round the head smash, both straight and cross court. As i have previously mentioned, his movement to get behind the shuttle in the high backhand corner is probably the best in the world, so this makes this shot far more effective as he is typically in balance with his body weight coming through the smash. His straight smash from round the head is very accurate, usually within inches of the sideline, and all because he is behind the shuttle and in balance, which comes from his footwork and speed.

This ability to be in position more often than not makes his overhead drop shots very effective as well. His technique is exactly the same for a drop shot as for a smash or slice shot. What makes his drop shots more deceptive than most of the other players is his ability to make all his body weight transfer exactly the same as well. Most top players can produce the same racket movement for a smash or a drop shot, but not many can produce the exact same body movement through the two shots. Lee Chong Wei is excellent at doing this, which adds to his attacking prowess. His reverse slice forehand drop is also very deceptive, and he uses it quite often from his backhand corner, less so from his high forehand corner.

I would describe his backhand as functional. Like most singles players his backhand is used to place the shuttle around the court rather than to hit winners. He has an accurate straight and cross court drop, usually played with just enough pace to keep opponents from creeping in to the net. His backhand clear is usually played high and deep to get him back into position. Many times he just walks back to the rear court and hits this shot. Because his defence is so good he can just use this backhand clear as a kind of reset shot to get him out of trouble, most players cannot hit through him from their rear court so it keeps him in the rally. The advancement in technology of rackets in the last 5 to 10 years makes a backhand clear very easy to do if you can use your forearm and wrist. I have seen him play a reverse slice straight backhand drop a couple of times in an exhibition match against Kenneth Jonassen which requires exceptional racket head control and technique. If the shuttle is hit high to his backhand side then he simply plays a round the head shot, he is quick enough to not need to play any backhand stroke.

At the net he is one of the quickest players on tour. His court speed allows him to take the shuttle early at the net and really spin it with both a backhand or forehand stroke. His grip is very relaxed in order to get the spin required, and once he gets to the net and plays a tight spinning shot he is all over the net return to kill it. He has one of the best forehand brush kills in the game, and his backhand kill is also right up there with the best. You can see from the following video a few net kills, and also how he uses his backhand clear to just get himself back in the rally.

Notice how he leads with his right leg when he is near the net, and especially when he has just served a low serve. Also note how he switches to lead with his left leg after he serves to Zwiebler at 4.37. A very small tactical change based on who he is playing and where he has served to.

In the past couple of years i have also seen Lee Chong Wei stick his racket up to the net when his opponent is about to make a kill. He has done this a few times against Chen Long, and he seems to block the net kill and get the shuttle back over the net.

I don’t think i have ever seen a rally like that one. A large slice of luck from both players i reckon, especially the last one from Chen Long who just wafted his racket at the shuttle and somehow it deflected off and went cross court for a winner.

Playing Style

Early in his career he was known as a defensive player who had great court coverage and typically tried to react to what his opponents did. His attacking shots were adequate but he usually tried to out maneuver his opponents with clears and drop shots before going for a winning smash. These tactics worked just fine against most opponents, but when he came up against the likes of Taufik Hidayat, Lin Dan and Bao Chunlai he invariably struggled as they had the attacking shots to break down his defensive play.

The above clip is from 2005 at the World Championships where he lost his semi final to Taufik. It must be said that Taufik was at his peak then, and after being hammered in the first set, he did make a fight of things in the second set.

This mainly defensive style carried on for a couple of more years until we got to the Olympic Games final of 2008. He played well through the rounds to reach the final, where he met his biggest rival over the last few years, a certain Lin Dan. Lin Dan played his best ever game of badminton in that final and took Lee Chong Wei apart, attacking him within every rally and playing with incredible speed. No player could have lived with this relentless pace, and the match was over in the blink of an eye. I think that match was a wake up call for Chong Wei, and after that match in 2008 he became a much more aggressive player.

His then coach Misbun Sidek and the rest of the coaching staff played a key role in changing Chong Wei’s style to be more attacking. The key point in all of this was that he already had the tools in his game to make this all work on the court. Chong Wei had quick footwork to get around the court, he had a sound technique to be able to hit the shuttle accurately to all parts of the court. I think that the biggest part of his training must have been on his physical conditioning and improving his explosive speed around the court in order to be successful in his new style of play. If you are going to attack then you need to hit winners or you will soon tire yourself out.

Watching his games post 2008 it is clear to see he played with much more pace as well. He took the shuttle earlier all the time, putting his opponents under pressure, then finished off the rallies with winning smashes. His smash certainly improved, especially the cross court forehand smash, and the round the head smash became much more apparent. In his earlier career he had a tendency to hit drop shots from high in the round the head position, but now he smashed very accurately down the line or cross court. All this meant he was now in control of the rallies instead of reacting to what his opponents did. The rally point scoring system also favoured attacking players who could win quick points, so the physical effort of attacking throughout a match was rewarded.

From 2008 to 2012 he continued with this attacking style and he dominated the new Super Series events, racking up win after win. Along came the world number one position, which he held for almost 4 years. He was by far the most consistent badminton player in this 4 year period, reaching at least the semi finals in virtually every tournament he entered. A prolonged spell without any serious injuries also helped him to maintain good form, both for training and tournament play. During these 4 years his game improved considerably, his attacking smashes became even more accurate as he was constantly playing them rally after rally. His movement became even quicker and smoother, he was now the complete player, one who had very few weaknesses. His technique was sound enough for him to win in all conditions, such as in the huge arenas in the Far East, or the smaller halls in Europe. He could cope with different drift conditions, which is by far the most underrated skill of any player.

To be honest there was not much competition for him from 2008 to 2010 on the Super Series tour, as Lin Dan had missed many tournaments, and also had a habit of giving walkovers to fellow Chinese players or simply withdrawing from tournaments. It was only in the bigger tournaments that Lin Dan came out to play so to speak. Lee was beaten in the 2009 All England final by Lin Dan, and had a very disappointing time in the 2009 and 2010 Worlds being beaten in the quarter finals in both tournaments despite being the number one seed. He also lost in the 2010 Asian Games final to Lin Dan, which was becoming a familiar story by now. However, all the talk of him being mentally fragile did not sit well with me. I cannot see much evidence of that in those matches. That 2010 Asian Games match was one of the best matches of the year, and both he and Lin Dan played exceptional badminton, Lee just lost to the better player on the day.

In the 2009 World Champs he lost to Sony Dwi Kuncoro, who had always caused him problems when they had played previously, and who then took Lin Dan to 3 games in the semi finals, so he was in good form at the time. The 2010 Worlds was perhaps where he should have done better, losing to Taufik, whom he had beaten regularly over the past few years. Again, he ran into a form player who went all the way to the final, and was beaten by the better man on the day.

Nevertheless, his record in 2010 was outstanding, playing 16 tournaments he reached 12 finals and won 11 of them. His win loss record for 2010 stood at 67-5, showing just how dominant he was.

Tactical Play

Tactics form a vital part of any sport, and badminton is no different. Every player has strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited. They may have certain patterns in their play, or hit certain shots from certain parts of the court. This is what the coaches are paid for, they come up with a game plan before the match, and they analyse the rallies during the game to give advice to the player, both during the game and at the intervals. Personally i think the coaching has gone way too far in the modern game, to me there is no need for coaches to constantly give advice during the match. I am pretty sure that most of the top badminton players can work out what their opponent is doing, or if they need to change their own tactics when something is not working.

Lee Chong Wei’s main tactic over the past 2 years from 2008 to 2010 was simply about blowing his opponents away with his speed and his attacking play. This tactic worked fine against the lower ranked players because they could not keep up with his pace, or defend his attack adequately to stop him hitting winners or getting loose replies. Most of the time it was his opponents worrying about him and how they could stop him. For example, Taufik was fading away as his fitness was lacking due to injuries and age, Bao Chunlai was also injured and not able to compete as he used to. Peter Gade was also far less effective than in his younger years, his movement was noticeably slower, and his smashes where much weaker. Chen Jin used to cause him problems when he rallied with him, but when Lee improved his attack he found he could break down Chen’s defence and win more often. The young players such as Tago, Son Wan Ho and Jan Jorgensen were still not at his level yet. This left Lin Dan and a young Chen Long.

I am not going to go into too much detail about the Lee Chong Wei versus Lin Dan rivalry as that is a topic for a post on its own. Suffice it to say that the biggest problem for Chong Wei is when he plays against players who can defend his attacking shots and counter with their own. Chen Long was not able to cope too well against Chong Wei back in 2010, his movement was fine, but his recovery, especially from the front of the court was poor, so he was often out of position and not able to deal with the fast pace that Chong Wei played at. Chong Wei was able to play his normal attacking style and still win, the other players had to worry about what he did. The only player Chong Wei worried about was Lin Dan. Probably the best match of 2010 was the Asian Games final, which he lost to Lin Dan in three great games. The standard of badminton from both of them was incredible, but in the end Lin Dan was a worthy winner. However, Lee was getting closer to matching his nemisis, and there was very little between them now.

2011 saw the Olympic qualification cycle begin, and Chong Wei was in great form in the early part of the year. Another very close match against Lin Dan in the final of the Korea Open was a pre cursor to what was to come during the rest of the year. This was another high quality match from both of them, only a lapse in concentration from Chong Wei late in the 3rd game allowed Lin Dan to take the title. Then came the World Championships in London and he just blew away all of his opponents until he got to the final against Lin Dan. This final was a classic and went all the way. These two had played each other so many times that they knew each others game inside out, so as usual it became who played better on the day. Both showed good form which made for some epic rallies, and Chong Wei’s attacking play meant he was much closer to Lin Dan’s level when they played now. He held two match points but lost them both and with it the match. When all is said and done he did not bottle it or choke, or whatever you wish to call it. He played a great match that simply came down to a few crucial points that he lost fair and square. Lin Dan won those points, he was not given them.

If you look at the footage at the end of the match you can see Chong Wei smiling. I think he knew he had played as well as he could, but just came up short in one of the best World Finals of all time. Of course there would be huge disappointment, but this defeat was much different to the Olympic final in 2008. This time he must have known he could beat Lin Dan in the future. His tactical play worked well in that final. And what was his tactic? Watch closely and you will see how hard Chong Wei tries to get into the net so he can play back to the net or the forecourt during the rallies. He does not want to lift high to the rear court for obvious reasons. In public he mentioned how he was sorry for not winning the gold medal for Malaysia, but in reality he had nothing to apologise for.

The rest of 2011 was a bit of a let down for him to be honest. He suffered defeats at the hands of Chen Long in Denmark and Japan, and was beaten by Lin Dan in China and Hong Kong, as well as losing in the semi finals of the Super Series finals to Chen Long once again. To me he looked tired by the end of 2011, having played many tournaments as per usual, however Olympic qualification was what every player was going for, so there was little choice for him. He was world number one, and the Chinese wanted to get both Lin Dan, Chen Long and Chen Jin into the top 4 in order to have all 3 of them in London 2012.

And so into 2012 and Olympic year. He started of the year beating Lin Dan in a hard fought match in the Korea Open. The shuttles are always very slow in Korea and this makes it difficult to smash through opponents so a different style of play is required, meaning long rallies and patience. He played well in the final and deserved his victory, which was a good confidence boost for him. He then won the Malaysia Open for the 8th time easily beating Tago in the final.

March saw him lose in the final of the All England to Lin Dan. He had a shoulder injury and retired early in the second game after losing a close first game. Interestingly he played really well in that first game and had success by playing softer drop shots from the rear court. I watched him live in his semi final against Lee Hyun Il but i saw no problems with his shoulder during that match. He must have been hiding it well.

April saw him lose to Son Wan Ho in the final of the India Open. Son Wan Ho always causes problems for Chong Wei because he gets everything back and is one of the best movers on the tour. He is one of the few players who can match Chong Wei for speed and athletic ability, hence when he is on form he gives anyone a run for their money.

And then it all went wrong for Chong Wei. He turned his ankle very badly playing Peter Gade in the Thomas Cup finals in late May. With the Olympics not far away this was a disaster for him and for all badminton fans around the world, me included. He faced a race against time to be fit for the Olympics, but even if he made it he would lose so much training time when he needed it most. Fortunately he did recover from his injury and took his place in the draw. By now Lin Dan had reached the world number one position, but went into the draw as the number 2 seed behind Chong Wei as the draw was made when he was world number 2. Chen Long was ranked number 3 and was in the same half of the draw as Chong Wei, so he would potentially have to beat both of the Chinese players to win the gold medal.

His first match was against Ville Lang who is a regular on the European circuit and a very colourful character. Now if ever a player was holding back because they were unsure if their injury was going to be ok then it was Lee Chong Wei in this match. You could see how tentative he was in his movement, and also just how nervous he was. This was expected as he didn’t have any match play under his belt so he literally had to play his way into some kind of form. Not the ideal situation for a man who hoped to win the gold medal. He won the match in 3 games and you have to credit Ville Lang as well because he played to the best of his ability and caused Chong Wei problems throughout.

With that opening round scare out of the way his confidence grew and his won his other matches without too much trouble to reach the semi finals and a clash with Chen Long. The Chinese player must have fancied his chances as he had beaten Lee Chong Wei a few times at the end of 2011, and with Chong Wei being hampered in his Olympic preparations by injury, well this was another advantage for Chen Long. The flip side of this was that Chong Wei had been here before and had much more big game experience than Chen Long.

Well that experience counted hugely in Chong Wei’s favour and he won easily in two straight games. Chen looked nervous as hell at the beginning and Chong Wei took full advantage of this, building up a huge lead which he did not lose. It is interesting to watch matches between Chen Long and Chong Wei because Chen tends to play to Chong Wei’s backhand side when he lifts, which is the exact opposite of what Lin Dan does when he plays Chong Wei, who tends to lift to the forehand side.

Anyway, Lee just played his round the head smash down the line for winners all through the match, and also mixed it up by playing a few cross court winners and body smashes for good measure. He got into a good rhythm from this round the head position because Chen Long kept on feeding the shuttle to this area. I am not sure what Chen’s tactic was by doing this. I know that he had problems picking Chong Wei’s forehand cross court smash from previous matches, so i guess hitting to the backhand side was a safer option when in trouble. Chen’s problems started when he couldn’t defend Chong Wei’s shots from this supposed weaker side, and he looked a little lost as to what to do to stop it. Of course Lee didn’t care at all about Chen Long’s problems, and his big match experience counted when it mattered, sending him through to the Olympic final to face his old foe Lin Dan.

The match itself was very different from the final of 4 years ago, and also much closer, going the full distance. Lee played well in the first game and took it 21-15, with Lin Dan appearing to show a few nerves in that first game. Chong Wei took full advantage and was now moving freely again after his earlier apprehension about his injury in the earlier rounds. In fact he looked like he hadn’t missed any match time at all, which was a great credit to him. Alas for him Lin Dan took the second game and it was close all through the third game till the score reached 18-18. This was so tense it was hard to watch. Lin made a simple error to give Lee 19-18. Another rally brought the score level to 19 all when Lee left a lift to the rear court which fell just inside the line. I know he was hoping it would fall long, but it was an error of judgment. The next rally would bring either one an Olympic gold medal point. All those years of training and sacrifice would come down to test of nerve for 2 points.

It was Lin who prevailed in those 2 points, winning the first by getting on the attack and not letting up. The match point rally was back and forth as both tried to get a weak lift. In the end Lin got into the net from a block return and played a spinning net shot that Lee lifted long of the back line. Cue the sight of Lin Dan running round the Arena with his arms aloft.

The sight of Lee Chong Wei sitting on the court crouched over in total despair was heart breaking to say the least. He had come so close once again. Looking back at his 2012 Olympic quest, i think when he had time to reflect he would have been pleased to even be there, let alone reach the final. His semi final win against Chen Long must have exceeded his expectations because he had lost a few times in their recent matches. However once he got into that final he would have wanted to win so badly, especially as he was playing Lin Dan. It came down to just a couple of points once again, and yet again Lin won those points, he wasn’t given them. I think this final defeat hurt the most, much more than the 2008 final where he could have no complaints, he got beaten by a far superior opponent on that day. This time he had victory within his grasp, and when you come so close it has to hurt more if you lose. His reaction after the final point proved it.

To his credit he came back after that devastating loss to win In Japan and Denmark, and looked as good as ever, showing excellent form in both tournaments. Towards the end of the year he got married and did very well to make the final of the Hong Kong Open despite the obvious distractions in his personal life. He lost that final to Chen Long in a very entertaining match, which you can see below.

The Super Series finals saw him nursing a thigh injury and he pulled out in the group stages, ending the year with 5 titles and the end of year world number one ranking. I think that he would happily swap that number one ranking for an Olympic gold medal in a heartbeat.

And so we get to 2013 and another chance to win a World title for Chong Wei. He was in good form and Lin Dan was hardly playing Super Series events, so the only real threat was Chen Long and perhaps Jan Jorgensen and Son Wan Ho.

The Korean Open kicked off the Super Series and Lee took the title with the loss of just one game which came in the first round win over Wang Zhengming. After that he swept aside Zwiebler, Hu Yun, Wing Ki and then Du Pengyu in the final. His many victories in Korea at the start of the year just show how motivated he begins each season, and highlight how well he can handle windy conditions, which the huge arena in Korea certainly has. You can see him demolish Du Pengyu in the final below.

After Korea came his home tournament in Malaysia, and he was looking forward to breaking the all time record of wins held by Wong Peng Soon which stood at 8. He duly won his 9th title at the Malaysian Open to hold the record outright. That is some achievement in the modern era with so much competition to overcome. In the final he demolished Sony Dwi Kuncoro 21-7 21-8. His confidence was at an all time high and he played with great pace all through his matches that none of his opponents could handle. Some players find it difficult to play their best with the pressure of their home crowd watching, but Chong Wei seems to thrive on the added pressure that he is under.

The 2013 All England came next and he suffered yet another defeat to Chen Long, who up until this tournament had been out of sorts with injuries and an apparent loss of form early in the year. Chong Wei now had a problem with Chen Long’s game, which was based on defending then counter attacking. Chong Wei seemed to play into his hands when he constantly attacked. Chen Long could read Chong Wei’s game better than most other players, no doubt helped by the Chinese national coaches who already had a blueprint of how to beat him after studying his game for many years to help Lin Dan beat him.  Chen Long had also improved his game considerably by now and was much better in  his movement and recovery to the front right part of the court and in his defence. Add to this his ability to read Chong Wei’s smash direction, and China had built another player who could regularly beat him. It was now time for the Malaysian coaches to come up with a game plan for him to beat Chen Long. Chong Wei said he was disappointed with his performance in the All England final, which was his second straight defeat to Chen Long.

In April he played in the Australian Open and suffered a shock defeat to a new young Chinese player named Tian Houwei in the semi finals. I remember watching this match and being very impressed with Houwei, who won in 3 enthralling games. Chong Wei did admit that he didn’t take the match as seriously as he should have, but the Chinese player deserved his famous win, with some fantastic rallies.

He got back to winning ways after this tournament with victories in India and Indonesia. This brought him to the 2013 World Championships, and with some good from and results leading up to the tournament he must have felt confident he could finally get that Gold medal. The biggest obstacles were Chen Long and perhaps Lin Dan, who was given a wild card entry as he was the reigning champion from 2011. Another bonus was that both Lin and Chen were in the other half of the draw.

Chong Wei did his bit and got to the final from his half of the draw. However it was not as easy as he would have liked, and his semi final against Du Pengyu was a grueling match that went the distance. This was perfect for Lin Dan, who beat Chen Long in his quarter final match, and sailed through his semi to reach the final once again.

The final turned into yet more heartache for Chong Wei as he lost out once again to Lin Dan. It was also marred with controversy, with the Malaysian coaches claiming that the air conditioning had been turned off after the first game. I have watched this match a few times and in the second game Chong Wei does seem to struggle reading the drift, leaving quite a few shots on the side and the base line that fell in. This is the main factor that caused him problems i believe.

Near the end of the 3rd game Chong Wei began to cramp up, and had to concede the match, with Lin Dan at match point 20-17. Whilst the air con was off and the temperature rose, it was the same for both players, so i don’t buy that as an excuse for Chong Wei’s loss. What i do understand is that the semi final match is what took it’s toll on him physically going into that final. I have seen this before in the 1997 World Championships. I sat at courtside watching Sun Jun beat Poul Erik Hoyer in the semi finals, and i have never seen any player retrieve so many shots as Sun did that day. He covered every inch of the court and as we all know he cramped up the following day in that famous final.

The final itself followed a predictable pattern of play, as both of them know each others game inside out. Lin Dan plays to the forehand side quite a lot as he can read Chong Wei’s shots better, then looks for his cross court forehand smash if a weaker return is given to him. Chong Wei in turn looks to try and keep the pace quick to out maneuver Lin and then go for his smashes. On this day Lee simply ran out of steam at the end of the final game. But once again he was very close to the level he needed to be. Lin Dan was much fresher and rested coming into this tournament, and that was the deciding factor to me.

After this massive disappointment he managed to win in Japan and Hong Kong as well as taking the Super Series finals in December. He lost once again to Chen Long in the final of the Denmark Open. The familiar pattern of Chong Wei attacking and Chen Long counter attacking took place. Lessons should have been learned with these tactics, as when this happens Chong Wei loses. And yet another pattern emerged as Chen Long played much less during the year compared to Lee, so was obviously fresher when they met. The video below shows the highlights from a great camera angle.

From the few rallies in the video you can see that Chong Wei does not hit very many winners at all. The shot quality of Chen Long is very good, so he hits to a good length on his lifts, so Chong Wei cannot hit his smash winners. Chen also plays many neutral shots to the middle of the court to get himself back in position during the rallies. If anything, this final shows Chen to be more attacking than usual, due to the smaller hall conditions allowing the shuttle to fly faster through the air. In the Odense Sport Park hall you are rewarded for attacking play.

I think that Chong Wei must have been disappointed with 2013 as a whole. Yes he could win Super Series titles almost at will when his two biggest rivals were not there. But when it mattered most at World Championships he fell short yet again. Even with the favourable draw he was unable to capitalize. Chen Long had beaten him 3 times in a row, and to me he needed to come up with a better tactical game to beat Chen Long. Also, Chen had improved significantly over the past year, not only getting closer to Chong Wei’s level, but now moving to a higher level. Lin Dan was also playing more and picking his tournaments carefully, so 2014 looked to be a big year ahead, with the World Championships and the Asian Games the main goals for every top player.

The Korea Open kicked off 2014 and once more Chong Wei lost to Chen Long in the final. He made far too many unforced errors in that match. Chen hit to a very good length in the match, and also kept his base quite high up the court when defending. This showed his confidence to return Chong Wei’s attacking shots. His shot quality was also excellent, which kept Lee from dictating the rallies.

This was now his 4th straight loss to Chen, and to me it was all about a loss of confidence. One thing about Chong Wei i have noticed is that if you can return his initial smashes then he seems to lose confidence in his ability to put the shuttle on the floor and does not attack as much.

He bounced back straight away to bag his 10th Malaysia Open title, showing great form to hammer Tommy Sugiarto in the final. The video below shows the highlights.

Against the lower ranked players, Lee typically controls the pace of the rallies, and his attack usually gets through their defence. Tommy is a very fit player who can retrieve a lot of shuttles, but in this final he ran out of gas in the second game. Another problem for Tommy is that he does not have the weapons to hurt Chong Wei, so he finds it difficult to win quick points. Eventually this takes its toll. Lee once again showed how consistent he was, reaching 2 finals in 2 weeks.

The 2014 All England proved to be a great tournament for him as he beat Chen Long in the final. I was in Birmingham to watch the tournament once again, although i went down on the Wed and Thurs for the first and second rounds. The great thing about the Super Series is that there are only 32 players in the main draws, so you get top quality matches right from the first round. I have seen many All England tournaments over the years, going way back to when it was played at Wembley Arena.

Chong Wei showed great fighting spirit in his semi final against Son Wan Ho, coming back from losing the first game and being down in the second. The video below shows a court side angle of the match.

I personally rate Son Wan Ho very highly indeed. I think he has the smoothest movement of all the top players, and a deceptive attack, especially from round the head. He has beaten all the top players at one point or another, but lacks consistency sometimes. Chong Wei played well at the end of the deciding game when it mattered, and went through to face Chen once again.

The video below shows another great angle of the final.

So the big question is what did he do differently this time to beat Chen Long? Well from looking at the match from that angle you can clearly see he keeps the shuttle away from the net more often than not. This was done by returning Chen’s smashes deeper into court rather than blocking close to the net. This stopped Chen from playing tight net shots and getting on the attack. Another tactic was to be much more patient, by playing out the rallies and only going for attacking smashes when he got a shorter lift. In the past he had been guilty of smashing off a good length, making it very difficult to get through Chen Long defence. Another tactic was to play short to Chen’s forehand corner, his known problem weak spot for recovery. Finally, Chong Wei used much better angled attacking shots, not going for power, but going for accuracy. All this meant that Chen did not get into a pattern of play that he likes. It was a good game plan from Chong Wei, and must have given him a confidence boost. His reaction at the end showed just how much this win meant to him.

He continued his good form a couple of weeks later by winning the India Open, once again beating Chen Long in the final. He employed similar tactics in this match, and he was helped by that fact that Chen Long had a marathon semi final in beating Jan Jorgensen which must have taken the edge off him.

Next up was the Singapore Open and he was beaten in the final by Simon Santoso. This run of form in 2014 was very impressive, as Chong Wei had made the finals of all the Super Series events he had entered, a remarkable run of consistent high class singles play. He reached the final without dropping a game, bu that all changed in the final match, when he lost in straight games. The final was one of those matches when everything Santoso tried came off, and he hit countless smash winners to all parts of the court. I doubt he will ever play as well against Chong Wei as he did in Singapore. Injuries had taken their toll on Santoso over the years, but he looked a world beater on this day. Chong Wei didn’t worry too much about this defeat at all, and admitted he was beaten by the better player on the day. Sometimes this happens even to the best in the world, and you just take it and move on to the next tournament.

A few weeks later he won another Japan Open title beating Hu Yun in the final. Lee seems to like the conditions in Japan and usually makes the final. The video below shows how he beat each opponent.

Leading up to the World Championships Lee played in the Indonesia Open in June and made it to the semi finals where he was defeated in 3 games by Tago of Japan in a very entertaining match. Kenichi Tago is a very talented player who has a whole range of shots, but in my eyes he lacks the fitness to be the very best. He gets lazy sometimes, especially from round the head, where he plays high backhands instead of making the effort to get round the shot and play a forehand shot. Nevertheless, on his day in a one off match he can compete with anyone, which Chong Wei found out to his cost.

And so we arrive at the 2014 World Championships in Denmark. With Lin Dan not participating due to not having qualified with a low world ranking, and not being given a wild card entry despite being the current holder of the title. With Lin Dan’s absence the only main threat would once again be Chen Long.

Lee was in great form to steam into the final, the most anyone got in any set against him was 13 points. He could not have wished for an easier route to the final where he would play Chen Long, who had battled past Son Wan Ho in 3 close games in the quarter final, and also a tight match in the semi finals against Tommy Sugiarto. So it was all set for Chong Wei to finally get that gold medal against an opponent who he had beaten the last 2 times they had played.

Alas he was to taste defeat once again, his 3rd defeat in a World Championship final. The score was 21-19 21-19. 2 close games but ultimately Chen Long was a deserved winner. He played better when it got tight at the end of both games, going all out on the attack, which he typically does in the smaller hall in Denmark which suits the attacker. Did Chong Wei get his own tactics right? I think he played the correct way that his coaches told him to. Both of them played to the net to get the lift to enable them to smash, and both of them defended well against the attack. Chen Long moved his base way up the court even when defending, which could possibly have been exploited by playing punch clears to get him off balance, but he was quick enough o get back behind the shuttle on this day.

I think the only error in Chong Wei’s game came when he over committed a few times in the second game by standing close to the net as Chen played from the rear court. Once again the shot quality of Chen Long meant that he got caught out with this tactic. at 19-18 in the second game there was a superb rally that brought up match point for Chen. This brought back memories of the rally at 19 all in the 2012 Olympic final against Lin Dan. In both situations the Chinese players really went all out for the point with total attacking play. This is when you make your dreams a reality, this is when all the years of hard training play out right when it absolutely matters the most. For the victor there surely can be no better feeling, knowing that at that crucial point you delivered your best. For the loser it leaves you wondering what did i do wrong? The reality is that Chong Wei did nothing wrong, he tried his best and played a great final match, he simply got beat by the better man on that day. When you get two evenly matched opponents in any sport it typically comes down to a few crucial points that decide the outcome. And that was the story of the 2014 World Championship final.

Unfortunately for Chong Wei, the devastation this defeat caused him was nothing compared to what came a few months later.

September saw another chance for him to claim a major title at the Asian Games in Korea. He had lost the 2010 Asian Games final to Lin Dan in one of their best ever matches, so he now had a chance to put the record straight. He was obviously in good form coming into the Games, as he had been all throughout the year.

He lost in 3 games to Chen Long in the team competition. The highlights above show that he faded away in the 3rd game. Chen Long’s attacks were very accurate in this match, and he often hit winners that landed close to sidelines. He was really oozing confidence playing top singles for China after struggling with the burden in the Thomas Cup earlier in the year. One take away from that match comes at the rally in the second game with Chong Wei 20-19 up. This begins at 4.09 into the video. Chen serves and Lee plays a sort of deceptive lift that catches Chen coming forward, but he manages to get back to hit a smash down the middle of the court which Lee blocks back well into court. Chen Long is looking to get on the attack as usual in this situation. What Chong Wei does very well is to move forward just as Chen is about to hit his next shot. It is this forward movement that Chen must have noticed because he would be looking to play his next shot close to net level to keep the attack, however he lifts the shuttle as Chong Wei is closer to the net and looking for this very shot. Chong Wei does well to leap behind the shuttle and produce an accurate round the head smash down the line that Chen manages to scramble back to the net. The crucial part of this rally for Chong Wei is that the smash he hits is accurate. It is a matter of inches here, but the accuracy forces Chen to his knees to stretch out wide on his forehand side to get a racket onto the shuttle. This is the opening Chong Wei is looking for as he wants to play to the net to get the lift so he can get on the attack. Meanwhile, Chen is desperate to stop this but he can’t as he is too far back to threaten. Chong Wei then plays a tight shot to the net from just behind the front service line that Chen lifts long of the baseline, giving the game to Chong Wei.

After watching many matches between these two, i have noticed that when Chong Wei hits accurate smashes from round the head to Chen’s forehand side, then he usually does wins. He has to go for accuracy on this shot and not power, as when he goes for power he loses the accuracy and Chen can return it much tighter and Chong Wei then tends to lift his next shot, giving away the advantage. The 2012 Olympic semi final is a good example of this in action, with Chong Wei hitting winners down that side with great accuracy. And the beautiful result of this scenario is that Chen became vulnerable to the cross court smash as he was covering that straight smash by inching too far to his right with his base position. Chen showed his inexperience in that match by continuing to lift to Chong Wei’s high backhand, and said goodbye to an Olympic final in the process.

The conditions in the Gyeyang stadium were very challenging, with a huge drift causing the players no end of problems. As a side note the Chinese team lost in the final of the team competition to Korea, with China head coach Li Yongbo complaining of foul play from the Koreans by messing with the air conditioning to change he drift. How ironic this was, as the Chinese had faced allegations of messing with the air conditioning in the 2013 World Championship final. What goes around comes around eh?

Ok back to the real action and in the individual event  Chong Wei was the top seed at the top of the draw, with Chen Long seeded 2 at the bottom half of the draw. The big floater in the draw was the unseeded Lin Dan, who just happened to land in Chong Wei’s half, with the two scheduled to meet in a potential semi final encounter.

Chong Wei duly got through the semi finals after a tough 3 game quarter final against Tien Minh Nguyen from Vietnam to face Lin Dan in what would be their 34rd meeting, with Lin Dan leading 24-9 from their previous 33 matches.

What followed was a strange match between the two, which ultimately Lin Dan won in 3 games. Chong Wei somehow managed to let a lead of 20-16 slip in the first game to lose it 20-22. He came back strong in the second game to take it 21-12, and then faded badly in the deciding game to lose it 9-21. Looking at the highlights below he got picked off in that 3rd game with some loose shots that Lin Dan intercepted and put away. The match seemed to be played at the pace that Lin Dan liked, and when that happens he wins.

Chong Wei had played a lot of badminton in 2014 and to me he looked jaded, both physically and more importantly mentally. He was into his 30’s now and he was competing against Chen Long who was much younger and coming into his prime, and a well rested Lin Dan who had played far fewer tournaments in 2014.  What Chong Wei needed was a break, and boy did he get one, just not in the way he would have wanted.

The 2014 Asian Games finished on the 29th September, and just a few days later, on October 2nd, the Badminton Association of Malaysia and Lee Chong Wei received hand delivered letters informing them that a urine sample taken on the 30th August 2014 contained an adverse analytical finding. This AAC was Dexamethasone, at a level of 330ng/ml, which just happened to be on the World Anti Doping Agency prohibited substance list 2014 for “in competition” use. It was not banned for out of competition use however. Upon receiving the letter, Chong Wei voluntarily withdrew from competing in all badminton tournaments.

Of couse, at the time nobody knew this was happening until reports began to appear in the press that a top Malaysian badminton player had tested positive at the 2014 World Championships. Eventually the news came out that it was Lee Chong Wei. I could not believe what i was hearing at the time. As a badminton fan i thought that the world of badminton would be a much poorer place without Chong Wei in it. I also thought it would be a terrible way to end his career if he never played again.

The B sample was tested on Nov 5th, and confirmed the findings of the A sample, with the presence of Dexamethasone at a level of 380ng/ml. On Nov 7th he was provisionally suspended by the BWF.

Dexamethasone is an anti inflammatory drug that has a wide range of uses, but can be used for rehab out of competition legally. Chong Wei had apparently been given Dexamethasone under general anesthetic in July 2014 when he received stem cell treatment for an injury. This all sounded hopeful to me. If he was given the drug whilst not knowing about it, by a certified doctor then he was clearly not intentionally trying to cheat, and should therefore get a lenient ban, or no ban at all. There was just one problem with this.

Dexamethasone typically metabolizes from the body within 2 weeks, but if Chong Wei received his dose on July 17th, then it should not have been present in his body when he was tested over 5 weeks later on August 30th.

His hearing was set for the 8th of December 2014, but it was postponed by his lawyers until the 11th of April 2015. At the hearing Chong Wei’s defence lawyers proved that he had not intentionally taken the drug. The reason for the presence of the drug was found to be contaminated capsules of Cordyseps, and not the dose of Dexamethasone he received when having the stem cell treatment. Chong Wei had been taking Cordyseps for well over a decade, and had never failed any drug test. However, he had received a contaminated batch found to be in the gelatin capsule. His defence team even had the capsules tested at a laboratory which confirmed the presence of the drug.

The BWF panel decided he had been negligent by taking these capsules but did not knowingly try to cheat. The sentence was an 8 month ban, back dated to when the first sample was taken back in August 2014. In addition he would be stripped of his silver medal from the 2014 World Championships, but he could keep the medals he won at the Asian Games. He had hired the world’s leading sports doping lawyer, and he had defended him well.

In hindsight it was incredibly stupid of him to get capsules from a small store which had no labeling as to what was in them. This stupidity cost him 8 months of his badminton career. At least he did get that break that i believe he needed, so there was one positive outcome to this whole episode. He would be allowed to compete in tournaments on the 1st May 2015.

This was obviously great news for him, and fortunately the Olympic qualifying period for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio began on May 5th 2015 to May 1st 2016. However, he would drop in the world rankings in the coming weeks due to losing ranking points from the Indonesian and Japan Open’s of 2014. The world rankings are taken over the previous 52 weeks, so in June 2015 he went from 26783 points to just 9883, all because the 2014 Indonesian and Japan Open’s were in June, so those points came off his total 52 weeks later in June 2015. His lowest ranking position was 180, so it was vital that he get this ranking back up as quickly as possible. The only way to do this was to play in as many tournaments as possible.

To give an example of just how quickly he climbed back up the world rankings after June 2015, look at what happened in just 3 weeks. He played in the US Open on June 16th and won it. So when the rankings updated a week later he went from 180 to 99. The following week he played in Canada and won that as well. This win boosted his ranking to 65 by July 2nd. This was important because in order to qualify for any Super Series event you need to be ranked in the top 28 for automatic entry in the main draw, and between 29-44 to enter into the qualifying draw. At 65 he was still too low in the rankings to even get into the qualifiers. It was a double edged sword as in order to get the most ranking points he needed to be playing the Super Series tournaments.

He was a little lucky in this respect because there weren’t any Super Series events until September the 9th. He also entered the Chinese Taipei Open in July to gain some more points. He had shown some good form in winning back to back Grand Prix tournaments in the US and Canada, but in Taipei there would be stronger competition, in the form of Chen Long, Lin Dan, and Jan Jorgensen. He was not seeded so he was the dangerous floater in the draw, and he met Chen Long in the quarter finals where he lost in 3 games.

He should have won the match in straight games after winning the first and leading 19-17 in the second. He played quite a lot of reverse slice shots from his round the head position to Chen Long’s short backhand side which seemed like a new tactic. Chen Long soon read this shot, and after having scraped through that second game he took the third game 21-13. Chong Wei had now lost the last 3 encounters between the two. Despite this set back he had now gained more ranking points and had risen to world number 46, which was not high enough to get him into the World Championships automatically as there were two higher ranked Malaysians. The Badminton Association of Malaysia decided to send him anyway at the expense of one of the higher ranked players, based on the fact that he had a much stronger chance of winning a medal. Good news for Chong Wei and bad news for Chong Wei Feng who lost out.

The 2015 World Championships were held in Jakarta in August, and i am sure that Chong Wei felt pretty good going into the tournament. Without very much match play behind him he had come close to beating the new world number 1 Chen Long. With Lin Dan back as well, it promised to be an intriguing event.

To cut a long story short he lost yet again in the final to Chen Long. Once again it was in straight games, and this time he was well beaten. Looking at the match in closer detail it came down to two simple things. Chen Long attacked better, and he defended better. Simple really, but there was a little more to it than that. He attacked better because Chong Wei played some loose shots which Chen punished with very accurate smashes near to the lines. And his own attacking play was not accurate enough to break down Chen Long’s defence. To give Chen some credit he did play exceptionally well on the day. His retrieving was incredible at times, and his usual counter attacking style worked a treat. In the end Chong Wei seemed to run out of ideas.

Something else i noticed was that Chong Wei looked to be mentally fragile in that final. He came out wearing calf protectors on his legs just like Chen Long wears. He had never worn them before in competition that i could remember, so it seemed like a strange thing to do in a World Championship final. Perhaps the idea behind it was to simply distract Chen Long or give him something to think about.

This was his fourth straight defeat to Chen Long, and his fourth loss in a World Championship final. He looked in great form in his semi final win against Jan Jorgensen, playing with great speed that the Dane could not handle. This speed seemed to be lacking in the final. Chen Long has better shot quality than Jorgensen, his lifts are deeper and he works the rallies much better to get himself in better attacking positions.

So the question for Chong Wei was how could he beat Chen Long? To me he needed to use his speed advantage much better. I am talking about speed of movement here. He was much better in his recovery movements than Chen, especially from the front court. He was also a lot smaller than Chen so he could change direction quicker. If Chong Wei could really push Chen’s movement then he could work the openings for winning shots. To do this he really needed to improve his shot quality, and to become less predictable. Too often in his previous matches he went for the power smash, which lacked the accuracy to get through Chen’s defence. Watching the matches you can see that Chen Long guesses where the smash will go most of the time. His base is further up the court because from the rear court, Chong Wei is predictably hitting smashes or fast drops, there are no punch clears to break up the pattern. In addition, i think Chong Wei needed to improve his defence from the straight smash by trying to turn the return cross court. Chen Long is probably the quickest player on tour at coming forward to the net after the straight smash, along with Jan Jorgensen. When Chong Wei hits short then he gets punished as Chen also has a very steep smash, so it is very difficult to turn the shuttle cross court. Keep the shuttle close to the baseline on the lift and it becomes a very different story however. There are no players who are able to hit winners consistently from the baseline. Chong Wei needed to improve this aspect of his shot quality as well. He had all the tools to beat Chen Long, he just needed to put it all together throughout the match. One positive to take from the World Championships was that he improved his ranking to 28.

There were still many tournaments left in 2015 for him to gather even more ranking points and the first was the Japan Open which began on Sept 8th. Now you may think that Chong Wei would automatically qualify for the main draw with him being ranked 28th. Unfortunately for him the BWF Super Series regulations state that the selection of players for the main and qualifying draws be taken from the world rankings 5 weeks before the tournament start date. This meant that he was ranked 45, and one place below the threshold for even getting into the qualifying draw. Luckily not all the top 44 ranked players actually entered the tournament. 9 were not entered and so Chong Wei was the 36th ranked player for the Japan Open of 2015 and had to start in the qualifiers.

He got through the qualifiers without any drama and then went to 3 games in beating Boonsak Ponsana of Thailand. Next up was Lin Dan in the second round. If you watch this match you will see Lin Dan constantly ask for the shuttle to be changed. He breaks up the play all through the match by walking around, asking for the court to be mopped, asking to towel down, asking to apply grip powder etc etc. This is a standard Chinese tactic to get under the skin of Chong Wei but i think he went too far on this occasion. The umpire should have done something about it.

The video above is a great recording of the match from court side. You get right next to action so you can see just how the players move, and hear the ping of the shuttle off the strings. Chong Wei didn’t seem to be up for this match, his whole body language spoke volumes about his mental state. This was a worrying sign because he should have been fresh after his 8 month ban, fresher than Lin Dan who by now had been playing much more in order to qualify for Rio.

He had a chance to put things right the following week in Korea, where once again he was in the qualifiers. The week before he had played a young Korean player named Kwang Hee Heo and beaten him comfortably 21-10 21-12. He came up against him again in the first qualifying round in Korea and lost 21-19 21-19. Yep you heard it right, he lost in the qualifiers. Something was very wrong with Chong Wei. He had lost confidence to me, and he needed to get it back quickly.

3 weeks later he lost in the second round of the Denmark Open, his 3rd early round exit in a row. The video below shows the match, and Wei Nan played exceptionally well to beat him. Wei Nan played a very clever match by simply going for his smashes early in the rallies.

On this day he was smashing very accurately and Chong Wei just could not get them back. I think the standard tactic to use against Wei Nan is to just keep the rallies longer and tire him out, as his fitness is suspect. But when he is hitting the lines at will this is hard to do. Chong Wei simply got beat by an opponent who played at his best level, whilst Chong Wei was just a little off. These slight differences can be the difference between winning and losing. Wei Nan also used some delaying tactics by walking around between points and generally taking his time. I don’t think it was a confidence problem for Chong Wei in Denmark. He actually did well to keep the scores close in those 2 games. The French Open the following week offered him a chance to get back to winning ways.

This tournament saw him get his “mojo” back so to speak. Chong Wei took the title playing some great badminton. I think Gill Clarke, the commentator, got it spot on when she spoke of his quarter final match against the vastly improved Viktor Axlesen. After losing the first game 21-12 he then began to get his self belief back and won the next 2 games 21-17 21-14 to move into the semi finals.

In the semi finals he demolished an injured Wang Zhengming and he went on to beat Chou Tien Chen in straight games in the final. The take away from France was that he was over his slump in form, and he picked up a nice haul of points to send his world ranking up to 10. He had risen from 180 to 10 in just over 4 months. Whilst this was all good news, in France there was no Lin Dan or Chen Long. He had lost the last 9 times he had played either of them, 5 to Lin and 4 to Chen. If he really wanted to believe he could win the gold medal in Rio 2016 then he had to start beating them. He had to step up to the plate. There were no more excuses, all 3 of them were playing the same amount of tournaments, and if anything Chong Wei should have been a little bit fresher with his early losses in previous tournaments. The China Open was next up, and Chong Wei had never won it.

Being unseeded he ended up in the bottom half of the draw along with Lin Dan and Jan Jorgensen. He had to battle past Chou Tien Chen in the second round, followed by another 3 game victory over Jorgensen to reach the semi finals against Lin Dan.

What followed was the complete opposite of their match in Japan. I would say it was one of the best matches of 2015, with both of them playing excellent badminton at the same time, so there were some fantastic rallies.

Chong Wei lost the first game 17-21 and was behind 14-17 when Lin Dan missed a couple of smashes that could have won him the match. Chong Wei capitalised on this to tie the scores at 19-19, and then played two brilliant attacking rallies to take the game 21-19. In the 3rd game he trailed 11-15 but caught back up to tie the match at 19 -19 by playing error free badminton. This was now a repeat score of the Olympic final of 2012, but this time Chong Wei took those two final points to win an epic match 21-19 after almost an hour and a half.

In the end Lin Dan seemed to run out of steam and Chong Wei extended the rallies until he had a clear opening to smash. Chong Wei also stopped trying to play deceptive cross court net shots from below net level. He has a tendency to this, but it fools nobody, least of all the Chinese players who have seen this shot hundreds of times. Every time Chong Wei plays these types of shots he gets himself in real trouble because he plays them when he himself is under pressure. When he stopped doing this he had more success. I just hope he realised what he did in this match to beat Lin Dan. Another good tactic he used in the final game was to take the shuttle earlier in his high forehand corner. He started slicing that shot to Lin Dan’s short backhand corner, and played a couple of outright winners with it. Then he played the straight smash from this position a few times to keep Lin Dan guessing. That shot is the one that won him the final point, to send him through to the final against Chen Long. At long last he had finally beaten Lin Dan, and in China as well.

The video above shows the highlights of the final. Chong Wei won it in straight games, 21-15 21-11,to end his losing streak against Chen Long. In the process he won the only Super Series title missing from his collection. It was also the first time he had beaten both Chen Long and Lin Dan in the same tournament. It must have sent his confidence through the roof, and was a timely reminder to the Chinese that he was still a serious contender for the upcoming Olympics in 2016.

What did he do differently this time to beat Chen Long? Well he certainly defended better than in previous matches, and he also played at a faster pace, especially coming into the net. By taking the shuttle a little bit earlier he created more smash opportunities for himself, and on the day he was much more accurate with his round the head smash down the line, hitting quite a few winners. Once again, this shot is a good indication of how well he is playing.

The score pretty much reflected how the match went, with Chong Wei dominant in that second game. Chen Long made a few uncharacteristic errors, and he always seemed to be reacting to what Chong Wei was doing. For all badminton fans the good news was that all 3 of them were in action the following week in Hong Kong.

Chong Wei was still an unseeded player, and ended up in the top half of the draw along with Lin and Chen. To say the top half of the draw was loaded was an understatement. As usual, Lin Dan went out early in the second round. Chong Wei won his first 2 matches very easily to continue his winning streak and set up another meeting with Chen Long in the quarter finals.

This turned out to be another great match for Chong Wei. He won in 3 games once again, and it was a very tough match for both players. Chen was out for revenge, and played much better than he did the previous week in China.

This was probably the second best match of the year for me. The standard of play was very high all through the match, with both of them pushing each other to the limits. The very first point set the tone for what was to come. In the first game Chen Long was too good for Chong Wei. He got on the attack in the smaller hall conditions that he enjoys, and targeted the forehand side, especially when smashing from his round the head position. Chong Wei played a few too many loose shots on his high backhand and Chen made him pay. An example of this can be seen at 4.11 in the video above.

Things were not looking good in the second game either, as Chen took a commanding 18-13 lead. However Chong Wei was not beaten yet and mounted a great comeback to get back to 19-19. Some of the rallies were incredible. And then when he needed it most he played two great points. The first one he took the shuttle very early in his high forehand corner and played a superb slice shot that landed an inch inside the sideline. The second was another accurate shot onto the sideline, this time from round the head. He hit it almost like a fast drop, sacrificing power for accuracy. It also came down steeply in front of Chen Long who could only watch it land in.

The 3rd game was all level at the change of ends, and then Chong Wei added some good variation to his attacking shots that caught Chen out. He got in the lead and never let it go, running out a very worthy winner 21-15. After all this he still had two possible matches to play if he was to win his 3rd consecutive Super Series tournament. He must have been fatigued after all his exploits in the last few weeks but he never showed it at all. If anything he got stronger and faster. He won his semi final and set up a very interesting final against Tian Houwei. This was the young Chinese player who had beaten him a few years ago in the Australian Open. It was surprising they had never met since then, as Tian was now a regular on the tour and was ranked in the top 10.

Chong Wei finally got his revenge over Tian  by winning in two entertaining games. His confidence was high by now and he looked like the Chong Wei of old. At the end of the match i think the two must have mentioned that Australian Open match as they both laughed.

2015 had certainly been an interesting year for Chong Wei. From zero to hero would be applicable i think. He could now enjoy a rest as he had not qualified for the Super Series Finals in December. His run of form at the end of the year would see him ranked world number 5. What really mattered the most was 2016 and his last chance of Olympic glory. There were two huge obstacles from China who would be hell bent on denying him this dream.

He began 2016 well by winning the Malaysian Masters in January. This was a Grand Prix Gold level tournament but he still had some decent competition in the form of his fellow Malaysian Iskandar Zainuddin. The new format for the Super Series meant the players had a much longer break at the beginning of the year, with the first major tournament being the All England in March.

I was looking forward to seeing him battle against his two Chinese mates, but it never happened because he lost in the first round to India’s B. Sai Praneeth. It was a very close match but he lost 22-24 20-22 after holding healthy leads in both games. This loss was almost inexplicable to me as he had been in great form for the last few months, and i had tipped him to win the All England. Credit must be given to the Indian player because he fought back in both games and never gave up.

He had a chance to put things right soon after as it was the Malaysian Open next on the calendar. He would be attempting to win an incredible 11th singles title on home soil. The fact that he was seeded number 2 kept him away from Chen Long and Lin Dan. He still had a very tough route to get through to the final though.

On paper he had a tough draw but in reality he simply blew everyone away on his way to the final. He won all his matches in straight games, beating Takum Ueda, Son Wan Ho, Viktor Axlesen and Jan Jorgensen with ease. The hall had a strong drift during the week, but he played it better than all these players. Lin Dan went out in the quarter finals to Jorgensen, who he seems to have problems with whenever they meet. In the final he came up against Chen Long, and basically took him apart in two easy games 21-13 21-8.

There wasn’t much to gain from this match as it was so one sided, and Chen Long looked resigned to his fate early on in the match. He did mention after that it was very difficult to beat Chong Wei on home soil, still it cannot do your confidence much good to get beaten in the way he did. If anything Chen had been in a bit of a slump for a couple of months now, not winning any tournaments since Denmark in 2015. It was also his 3rd straight loss to Chong Wei. To win 11 singles titles at one tournament in the modern era is a feat that i don’t think anyone else will ever beat.

Just 2 weeks later he was at it again in the Badminton Asia Championships held in China. He won this tournament, taking out Lin Dan in the semi finals and Chen Long in the final. Once again he had beaten them both in the same tournament, and on their home soil as well. Make no mistake, the Chinese were out to win here, so it must have been a big disappointment for head coach Li Yongbo to see Chong Wei win again. On the other hand it must have been an incredible boost for the Malaysian coaches to see Chong Wei take this title in China.

In his semi final against Lin Dan he made a great comeback in the first game from being 17-20 down to take it 22-20. Lin Dan came back in the second to take it 21-15. The third game was an annihilation, as Chong Wei took it 21-4. Lin Dan simply ran out of gas in that final game. To be fair to Lin Dan he had been playing a lot of tournaments in 2016, winning in Germany and then the All England. He had played a lot of badminton for him, and it all took its toll in this match. Of course Chong Wei couldn’t have cared less if Lin Dan was tired, he made the most of this and hammered him. He had been on the other side of this many times so it was good to see him put it to Lin Dan.

Despite the one sided final game it was another great match to watch, as it usually is when the best meet the best. Many of the rallies took on a familiar pattern. What did worry me was that Lin Dan should have won this match in two games. He had that lead in the first game and should have closed it out. He then won the second comfortably. It worried me because Lin Dan was quite obviously getting into form in 2016 in preparation for the Olympics. On the flip side it was just as obvious that Chong Wei was in great form as well.

The final against Chen Long was another impressive performance. He won the first game 21-17. He got on the net early, and also challenged Chen at the net by not being afraid to return his tight spinning net shots with some of his own. In the 2nd game he got counter attacked, and also fell into a pattern of playing some loose shots from his deep forehand. When he hits too flat from deep in his forehand corner it gives Chen the chance to smash, which is what he did.

In the third game he seemed to be a little bit fitter and faster, and this is all it takes to make the difference. He was also being more unpredictable with his attacking shots, so Chen could not get into his usual ryhthm. As his confidence improved so did his shot quality, and this is how you beat Chen Long.

As i am writing this the 2016 Indonesian Open is being played and Chong Wei is in yet another final. Lin Dan has predictably been knocked out early and Chen Long has withdrawn without hitting a shuttle. With Chen not playing in Indonesia and Chong Wei going so far in this tournament, then he will regain the number one ranking.

Can Chong Wei win the 2016 Olympics?

Oh yes he can! On current form he is the best player in the world, and crucially, he has been consistently beating his biggest rivals. In all honesty he could not have wished for a better build up to these Olympics. I just hope he has not peaked too early. I believe his biggest test will come from Lin Dan. He has the game to beat Chong Wei when they are both at their best. If Chong Wei is at his best then i think he has the beating of Chen Long.

There are however some things he needs to improve on. It may sound crazy to say this when you are talking about one of the best of all time, but no player is without faults. First of all he has to add more variety in his shots, and add more deception, especially off the service return. This is crucial when he plays Lin and Chen. Those two are very good at seizing any slight opening from a predictable shot and punishing Chong Wei with them. He can get into a habit of just lifting off the serve without any deception, allowing players to get behind the shuttle and attack him. Against most players his defence and speed can get him out of trouble, but the Chinese have much better attacking capabilities, and his defence can be penetrated. Secondly i think he needs to be more creative on his attacking shots. He gets more success when he takes the pace off his smashes and goes for accuracy. This will allow him to be more balanced coming forward and thus taking the next shot earlier. Too many times he goes for power, loses the accuracy, and the best players will simply read the direction of the smash, block tighter to the net and then wait for a loose lift and counter attack. If he can get rid of these tendencies from his game then he can beat anyone.

The ideal scenario for Chong Wei is to have Lin Dan and Chen Long in the opposite half of the draw to him. This way they will have to battle it out between themselves for a place in the final. Would team orders come into effect? This of course is assuming that all 3 of them get into that position. There are a few other players who might have something to say about that such as the 2 Danes, Son Wan Ho, and Chou Tien Chen. Lin Dan seems to have real problems with either of the two Danes, and Chen Long has real problems with Son Wan Ho. Chong Wei only has big problems with the 2 Chinese players, so it looks to be a fascinating Olympic tournament.

After the Olympics who knows what will happen. If Chong Wei remains healthy i think he may carry on. He has proved over the past year that he is still capable of beating everyone. His consistent high level is unmatched, which is why he has been the number one ranked player for so many weeks during his career.

When he does finally hang up his rackets, he will be remembered as one of the greatest ever men’s singles players, and a true Malaysian legend.

 

What Makes Lin Dan so Good?

When i think of Lin Dan the first thing that comes to mind is winning big titles, a whole lot of them. The pinnacle is the Olympic gold medal, and he has two of those. Next is the World Championships, and he has five of those. All told he has won 57 singles titles at the time of writing this. The big question is- how has he managed to do this?

Lin Dan

I can answer that in one simple word-  training. A common trait that shows through all the very best sports people is the dedication to improve and be better at what they do, which in the case of badminton means beating your opponents. Of course there are many different components of training for a professional badminton player such as footwork, technique, physical conditioning, shot production, mental preparation and so on. There is no getting away from the fact that if you want to be the best you have to put in the work.

The Chinese national badminton team has been at the top of badminton for many years now, with a well funded program led by top level coaches who have all been ex players at the highest level. This is the training environment that Lin Dan has been exposed to from a very young age. He has had the best possible chance to succeed, and has taken this chance to become the best men’s singles player of all time.

That is a simple explanation of why Lin Dan is so good, but we need to dig a lot deeper into every part of his game to get the real answer. I have been watching Lin Dan play for almost all his career, as a badminton fan i enjoy watching all players, but the very best are what draws the fans in. His game has changed over the years, experience has taught him many more things, but he still has the ability to win the biggest prizes on offer against different opponents.

This was never more apparent last year at the Asian Games 2014 when he beat Lee Chong Wei in the semi final, then Chen Long in the final. These two had just played each other in the World Championship final, which Lin Dan was excluded from playing as his ranking was not high enough and the BWF did not give out any wildcards. Yet he was still able to come through and win. He recently helped China win the 2015 Sudirman Cup, winning all his matches, and next up is the World Championships in Jakarta. However, the biggest one of all is next year at the Rio Olympics, this is what Lin Dan is trying to qualify for, and then win.

Ok so lets analyse his game. What are his strengths and weaknesses? When he first came onto the scene he was just all about attacking, jump smashing and speed of movement to help him get into position to hit down and follow in. I think being left handed certainly helps because his overhead forehand side is his strongest weapon, which for right handers to play against poses different questions.

Smash

You can see from the above picture that he gets up very high, has huge shoulder turn and is about to hit the shuttle well in front of him. This is where the power and angle of his smashes comes from when he has time to get right behind the shuttle. He is also very deceptive when the shuttle is a bit lower and he hits it when he is going slightly backwards. He has the ability to turn the shuttle cross court, and very few players are able to spot this shot, let alone get it back.

Forehand

You can see from the photo how his forearm and wrist have come through the shot after pronation, it is this late pronation that gives the deception, along with him being side on to the shuttle at impact. He does play to this strength during rallies. If you watch many of his matches he takes the shuttle early at the front left side of the court, which is his forehand side, and plays a cross court shot to his opponents front left side. Many right handed players when taking this shot late tend to play a high cross court lift, and you can see Lin Dan shift his base position so he has his right foot in front of his left and turns his body ready for a forehand shot. He is then so early on the next shot that he is hitting it whilst his opponent is still recovering to their base position. If he hits his shot cross court then the opponents weight is still shifting in the opposite direction, and it is so difficult to change direction if your weight is going the other way.

Look at the video below for some excellent slow motion footage of his strokes. Pay attention to how high his elbow is on his forehand strokes, as well as the pronation as he hits through the stroke.

So we have found out that Lin Dan is very strong in his high forehand corner, what about the high backhand corner?. Well i think he is also very strong from this portion of the court as well. His round the head smash down the line is one of his most accurate shots, especially when he plays it with his feet on the ground. He generates a lot pace on this shot, and when you have the ability to hit a fast smash that is accurate down the line you can almost guarantee the reply will be a straight block to the net.

Round the head

Of course he can play this shot cross court, and he has a very strong forearm to enable him to just change the direction of the shot at the last second. His cross court round the head shots are typically very steep so the reply usually is coming upwards, allowing him time to retrieve the shuttle if it comes back. His jump smash from round the head is also an excellent shot, but i would say not as effective as from his high forehand corner. Back in the 2008 Olympic final against Lee Chong Wei he did use this smash quite a lot and it proved to be a winning stroke many times. On that day he produced his best ever badminton, and for those of us lucky enough to witness it, it really was something special.

One of his weakest shots is his high backhand. In his early days he hardly ever played this shot as he was so fast he didn’t need to, everything was a round the head shot, but as he has got older he does play this shot more often. I would say it is a decent shot, but certainly not one that produces winners, very few players can produce outright winners on their backhand side, apart from Taufik Hidayat of course. You find that most high backhands simply get the player back into the rally. For a world class badminton player you need to be able to play a variety of shots from the one position or you will become predictable, and at elite level if your opponent doesn’t spot this, you can bet their coach will.

Over the years one area where Lin Dan has improved his stroke production and deception is from his low forehand corner. He has a very deceptive cross court shot from this area, and the reason it is so difficult to spot is because he gets really low with his legs, and then turns his body sideways to the shuttle. Endless drills have produced this form, and he is able to be deceptive even when hitting the shuttle to the rear court from down low. Another remarkable ability he has, is to be able to hit a cross court clear from deep in his forehand corner that flies into his opponents backhand corner. Very few players are able to do this. In fact in the Asian Games final of 2010 Lin Dan produced one the greatest retrieval shots of all time. Check out this rally..

To be able to hit a forehand drive from inches above the ground at the baseline at full stretch, and to actually drive the shuttle back to a good length at the other side, well i have never seen any other player pull that off. If you look at the video, he anticipates Lee Chong Wei’s push off the top of the net to his rear court, and pure physical strength gets him back to the shuttle before it drops. The stress on the hamstring and wrist are immense, but all that physical training at the National Centre allows him to be able to get that shot back with interest. The fact that he can clear the shuttle from deep in his forehand corner makes his cross and straight drop shots much more effective as opponents cannot anticipate what shot is coming.

All top level singles players need to be able to play the net. This is where games can be won and lost. If you have a great attacking game, then good net shots can set up the lift and get you hitting down. so you can play to your strengths. To play an effective net shot you need to take the shuttle early, so you need to be in position to do that. Early in his career, he had a very forward base, he was onto the short shots very quickly, and was fast enough to get back to the rearcourt if required. His tumbling net shots have got better over the years, and i would rate his net play as equal to most other top players, but it is not his stand out shot. The same goes for his net kills, he is much better on his backhand side than forehand, as most players are, as there is more flexibility in the wrist when producing a backhand kill.

In defence he is also very strong. You will regularly see him diving across the court to retrieve shots, then bounce back up and play on. He is a great defender when needed, and he has developed a top spin backhand block that just places the shuttle over the net. He can also play this cross court, and nobody can read this shot, in fact nobody else plays it at all. His recovery from all positions on court is exceptional, which is one of the strongest parts of his game that not many people realise. Another strong point is his ability to turn the shuttle in defence with a flick of his wrist, especially when returning straight smashes. it is difficult to do this, but it stops the opponent from coming into the net in a straight line and killing the shuttle. He uses this tactic quite a lot against Chen Long, who is one of the quickest players coming into net from the rear court.

It is noticeable that Lin Dan has developed his backhand lift from the net over the years. He gets to the shuttle very early and hits a top spin lift high to the right side of the rear court. He can also play this shot with a lower trajectory forcing his opponent to take the shot a little later in their forehand corner.

He often plays to the right handers forehand corner off the low service return, this is his default shot to get him in a more comfortable situation. Not many players can hit through him off a good length shot, and he reads the other players shots well from their forehand side.

Playing Style

Lin Dan has always had the ability to change his game and tactics depending on the situation and the opponent. He is very good at changing the pace of the game, both in speed of shot and movement. Often he will increase his speed around the court and win 5 points in a row, then back off and slow down a little. This is not an easy thing to do, and looking at many of the top 10 singles players today, i can only think of perhaps 5 that can do this. You need to have great footwork and leg strength to really speed things up and remain smooth in your movement, as well as  explosive power from the split step to get to the shuttle early.

The Lin Dan we see today in 2015 has lost some of that explosive power. He has changed his playing style as age has caught up with him, probably to extend his career. Long breaks from the game after the 2012 Olympics have also helped him i reckon, as the daily grind of training takes its toll eventually. In the 2008 Olympics he played to his absolute maximum, he was in his prime and it showed. He played all out attacking badminton and his pace never slowed down all through the final match against Lee Chong Wei. For me that match ranks in my top 2 men’s singles performances of all time. As a badminton fan i enjoy watching the very best put in their best display, the kind of match where everything they do comes off, and the only other time i have seen that kind of excellence was from Zhao Jianhua in the All England final of 1990.

Fast forward to the 2013 World Championships and he played a much more controlled pace in his matches, often extending the rallies and waiting for a good opportunity to attack. This style of play involves lots of clears and pushes to the rear court, along with blocking smash shots further away from the net so the opponent will find it difficult to play a tight net shot, thus extending the rallies. It shows how good he is because he still won the title playing a different way. He is very deceptive with many of his shots and incorporates little fake pushes and holds which can be very tiring to play against as you have to hold the base position before moving.

When i watch him play in Super Series tournaments these days it seems like he is just messing about in the early rounds, like he is holding back and playing in first gear. Only when he gets to the later rounds does he play to his ability. I guess when you have won everything it can be difficult to get motivated for smaller tournaments, even when you think you are. However, when those big tournaments come around, he seems to be able to step up and deliver the goods. The videos below are of his semi and final matches in the 2014 Asian Games.

I would imagine that the goal for 2015 is the World Championships. He is currently ranked 5 in the world at the time of writing this, but to be honest it does not really matter to him, if he is on form he can beat anyone, however 2015 has not been great so far. He has suffered two early round defeats in the first two Olympic qualifying tournaments, so he needs to find some better form. He did win all his matches in the Sudirman Cup Finals to help China win the gold medal, adding yet another major title to his list.

The ability to win the big points is a trait that many champions have, and Lin Dan is no exception. If you watch him closely you will see that he tries his best not to lift the shuttle, and he increases his pace. Evidence of this can be seen in how he saved match points in the 2011 World final against Lee Chong Wei, and against the same opponent in the 2012 Olympic final when the scores were close at the closing stages of the 3rd set. It takes great mental strength to be able to control your emotions when it matters most, and Lin Dan is a master of this. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing comes down to how you can handle the pressure, and experience certainly helps if you have been in the situation before. Make the butterflies fly in formation is the name of the game!

Hitting Winning Shots

The very best players in racket sports have the ability to hit winners, it is a major factor that separates them from the others. If you can’t hit winning shots you will rely on your opponent hitting weak shots or mistakes to win the match, and if they don’t then you are in trouble. Lin Dan has always been able to hit winners to finish off rallies. Speed and accuracy of shot and movement enable him to produce quality shots time after time. His deceptive overhead technique and being left handed help him to accomplish this i would say. Most of his winners come from the forehand side, as nobody can read the direction if he is hitting downwards. That forehand smash comes down very steeply, both down the line and cross court, and he mixes up the direction so it is hard to anticipate. Give him time to get behind the shuttle by hitting higher to the back and he will punish you with his smash. Try to hit a bit lower and faster to the back and he will intercept and hit his favourite cross court smash.

Another advantage of being able to hit winners is that the rallies are shorter, this can help save energy through the course of a tournament, leaving you fresher for the final matches. I can say i have never seen Lin Dan struggle for fitness in many matches caused by fatigue. The players at the top of the world rankings are the best at hitting winners, it is no coincidence. The runners and grinders tend to expend much more energy and effort in winning matches, and this eventually takes it toll, leaving them susceptible to injuries and fatigue if they make it through the early rounds.

Footwork

Probably the most important part of any elite level men’s singles player is footwork. Footwork is the foundation of badminton, especially in singles as you have to cover all the court. You can coach the basic four corner footwork into players, but they will all have their own little differences about getting around the court. One other vital part of good footwork is physical conditioning, you need strong leg muscles that can give you explosive power when needed, and to cope with the strains, twists, jumps and stretches involved with badminton.

Lin Dan has very good footwork, without this foundation he would not be able  to change his pace of movement when needed. He is not the smoothest mover around a badminton court, but he is certainly one of the quickest. He is very light on his feet, and his slim build helps him achieve this. His movement to get behind the shuttle is impressive, especially going round the head at speed then moving forward. It takes great leg strength to do this, which all top players have these days.

He uses different footwork patterns when returning to his base from playing a round the head clear shot. Many players will chasse back when they have time, which Lin Dan does, but if he needs to move quicker he just takes running steps to get back in position. I have not seen any other players do this, and you have to watch his matches carefully to see him do it. He is  very fast going forward to the net, particularly from the round the head shot, and often takes the shuttle early and plays a soft cross court net shot to win the point. His smash is so accurate that the return is almost always a straight block, so he can move in a straight line which is much easier to do.

He has a pretty large split step, which keeps him in balance and gives him a good base to change direction quickly. His physical ability to get around the court, especially in his younger days was unmatched. This quality is evident when he gets in trouble, to be able to get back into position when really pushed keeps him in the rally and makes the opponent wonder how they can win easy points.

Record Against His Rivals

I guess you can measure how good Lin Dan is by looking at how well he does against the other top players. Obviously the main rivalry is against Lee Chong Wei, and at the time of writing this he holds a 24-9 winning record. He leads 7-2 against Chen Long and Jan O Jorgensen. These current players are my pick as his biggest rivals for future major tournaments, and as you can see, he is comfortably ahead of all of them. Other notable head to head records are against Taufik Hidayat, which is 13-4 and Peter Gade which is 17-3, and finally Bao Chunlai at 20-5.

These records speak for themselves, if you are beating your main rivals then you are going to be winning a lot of tournaments. Psychologically he has a big advantage over all of them. The fact is that when he plays at his best he is unbeatable, and everyone knows it.

Game Tactics

I am going to add this  section because playing badminton also involves a lot of psychological tactics which are used to gain an advantage if possible during the course of a game. One of the pioneers of taking time in between points was Lin Dan. Rewind 10 years and virtually every player would observe the rules of continuous play, just getting on with the next point after each rally. However, the Chinese coaching team had noticed that Lee Chong Wei seemed to get a big agitated when he played Lin Dan, if Lin took his time in-between rallies. This would usually involve walking around the court, and wiping sweat away at the edge of the court. This tactic grew over the matches they played to include changing the shuttle more often, asking for the court to be mopped and asking for a towel down. There was certainly no love lost between these two back then, so any little advantage helped out. Chen Long also got in on the act by constantly raising his hand as Lee Chong Wei was about to serve, delaying him every time. He still does it to this day.

Another way to break up play is to dive around the court, then ask for the sweat to be mopped. Lin Dan always dives in every match he plays so there are many breaks to attend to the court. This is all well and good, but you have to be able to use the breaks to your advantage, and be focused for the next point or you may just beat yourself.

Training Environment

A very large advantage all of the top Chinese badminton players have is their training environment. China is the most successful nation in major badminton tournaments, and this success brings in money from the government to create even more success for China. As long as they keep winning gold medals, the badminton team will grow stronger. Of course this brings added pressure to the top players to perform and bring success, if they don’t deliver then there are team mates who will take their place. Some players like Lin Dan play better under this intense pressure, other seem to struggle, but with the national team it is not about which player wins. as long as one of them does.

Lin Dan has had excellent training partners to spar with, as China has always had top men’s singles players. The likes of Chen Hong, Bao Chunlai, Xia Xuanze, Chen Jin, Chen Long, Tian Houwei, Wang Zemgming, Du Pengyu and so on, have all trained alongside Lin Dan on a daily basis, so the quality of the practice in incredible. Add to this a long list of ex world and Olympic champions on the coaching staff and you can see why success breeds success. He has many wise heads to give him advice if needed. Add to this a hard working mentality and you can see why Lin Dan has maximized his potential through the years. Below is a clip of Lin practising against his current coach and former World Champion Xia Xuanze. The second clip is of Chinese smash practise.

Trick Shots

Entertainment is what keeps people watching any sport. Trick shots are the icing on the cake and fans love to see them. Lin Dan has played his favourite trick quite a few times over the years, the one where he runs to the back of the court and drives the shuttle back from behind him. If you don’t know what i am talking about then see the video below.

The fact he is playing that shot against players like Son Wan Ho and Chen Long, and winning the rally, either shows he is arrogant or just likes to entertain. Whichever way you think, it is still good to see something different. Other trick shots he plays are holding the shuttle on his forehand and flicking it at the last second cross court, top spinning backhand block shots cross court, quite a few round the back shots have come off in matches, and numerous net shots that have crept over the net from inches off the floor. It can be demoralising for opponents when these tricks come off, and he is not afraid to take a chance and play them when the time is right.

Final Thoughts on Lin Dan

I personally think he is the best ever men’s singles badminton player. The way he has maintained his form for well over 10 years is testament to his work ethic and skill level. His ability to peak for the major tournaments is outstanding, and combined with his mental toughness, makes him the best. He is the kind of player that all other players want to emulate. And just one final thought, even with the huge talent pool that China has at its disposal, they have still not created a player like Lin Dan. It will be a long time before another player comes along and beats the records he has set.

Lin Dan- A Brief History

What can you say about Lin Dan,the most successful men’s singles player in the history of badminton? Quite a lot as it turns out.. At the time of writing this he appears to be having a second period of the year away from the game after winning the 2013 World Championships and the China National Games title.

He has won every major title in badminton including 2 Olympic Gold medals and 5 World Championship titles. In total he has bagged 51 titles in his career so far ,not bad going i think you would agree. I first saw him play at the All England in 2003 and he lost to a korean player named Shon Seung Mo. I still have this on video, so you can tell how long ago it was. He was still very raw and played every rally at 100 miles an hour, trying to get on the attack as much as possible. The main thing i noticed was his explosive power, he was very very quick but seemed impatient and tactically naive. He looked like a young player learning the ropes at international level, which is exactly what he was. Below is a very early video of Lin Dan aged 18.

Later in 2003 i saw him again at the World Championships in Birmingham, where he lost to Xia Xuanze in the 3rd round. He did play quite well, but Xia had a lot more international experience and it did show. To be honest he didn’t seem that special the first few times i saw him. Having watched the likes of Yang Yang, Zhao Jianhua and Sun Jun at close hand at the All England, these to me were the benchmark of what Chinese men’s singles was all about.

However, later in 2003 he began to win tournaments. It seemed like he had got valuable experience and learned to win matches. He finished 2003 very strongly winning in Denmark, Hong Kong and China. Below is a few highlights of his win in China against Wong Choong Han. The quality is very poor but you can see some of the trademark shots we still see today, most notably his forehand cross court smash technique. His movement is very fast but nothing like as smooth and efficient as it is today.

2004 was when he really began to show the world he was here to stay, and i watched him win his first All England title, beating Peter Gade in the final. Gade was in good form, and played with his usual fast paced movement throughout. Lin Dan lifted to Gade’s forehand a lot all through the match, which seemed to be playing to his strength as he had an excellent slice from that area of the court. It didn’t seem to matter though as he picked up that shot almost all the time. It went to 3 games but in that last game Lin blew Gade away, both in speed of shot and movement.  There was a nice touch at the end of the match when Gade ruffled Lin Dan’s hair as if to say well done to the youngster.

I saw him lose the 2005 All England final to Chen Hong in 3 games. This was another entertaining match, with Chen getting the better of him in the end. There were some fantastic rallies, full of invention and great athleticism from both players, but on the day Chen was a worthy winner.

You can see from the video that Lin Dan’s movement had become much smoother compared to a few years earlier, as his leg strength increased and his stroke production improved. Later in 2005 he reached his first World Championship final, but got hammered by Taufik Hidayat, who was at his peak in 2004-2005, and seemed to give Lin Dan the most problems of any player.

2006 saw him back in the All England final, this time playing Lee Hyun Il from Korea, who he beat in 2 straight games. It was a very emphatic result, although he did fall very badly after a forehand jump smash in the second game. The best match of the whole tournament was in the semi final, when he beat Lee Chong Wei after trailing throughout the 3rd game. These two had already had some great encounters, and this set the tone for one of the best badminton rivalries we have seen. Later in 2006 he won his first World title when he beat his teammate Bao Chunlai in the final.

2007 saw him win the All England yet again. I watched the final where he battered teammate Chen Yu and he was really on top form that day. He also won a second world title when he beat Sony Dwi Koncoro in straight games, the second game being a much more even contest than the first. There are loads of videos on youtube worth watching, but the one below is a great angle and really shows just how fast top level badminton is. The video is from the French Open 2007.

You can see from the video how much he has improved since 2005, especially in his movement to the round the head shots, he is much quicker to get in position. Also notice how he switches his feet from his base position to anticipate lifts to his forehand, a classic Chinese coaching tactic. Peter Gade was a great example of this base switch when he was playing.

Another All England final came in 2008, and once again i was there to watch the best players in the world battle it out. Lin got through to the final to face Chen Jin. I watched Chen Jin beat Lee Chong Wei in the semi final, and this was an excellent game. This was when Lee was very passive in his play, just happy to run around the court and retrieve shots rather than the player we see today who is far more aggressive, and more successful for it. Chen Jin was playing all out to try and qualify for that 3rd spot on the Chinese team for the Olympics and deserved his semi final win. I remember sitting down to watch the final and as soon as i saw Lin Dan in the warm up i knew what was coming. It was pretty obvious that Chen Jin was going to win this match to gain his place at the Olympics and so Lin Dan was under orders to give him the win. He basically had a pretend injury and played as though he had one all through the match. I had seen this before when Zhao Jianhua did the same back in 1992 to allow another compatriot to qualify for the Olympics. The wrongs and rights of this deserve a post of its own so i won’t go into it right now.

The highlight of Lin’s career was that Olympic Final of 2008, and he played the best match of his life when it mattered most. I guess the sign of a champion is to be able to play at your best when you are under the most pressure, and it doesn’t get any bigger than winning the biggest prize in badminton with the weight of an entire country on your shoulders. He demolished Lee Chong Wei that day, and it was probably his defining moment on a badminton court, an almost perfect performance. In fact there is only one other match i have seen that came as close to prefection, and that was watching Zhao Jianhua beat Joko Suprianto in the All England final of 1990. Below is a video of the highlights of the Olympic final 2008.

It is interesting to see what differences Lin Dan had in his game compared to earlier years. By 2008 he had added top spin to his backhand defensive shots and also to his backhand lifts from the net. He had also improved his low forehand technique from the rear court, so he was much more deceptive even when taking the shuttle late. This improvement allowed him to play more cross court shots from that position, and in addition he also had the ability to drive the shuttle cross court from deep in his forehand corner, which is probably the most difficult shot in badminton. His speed into the net from his smash was incredible that day, and he made many easy kills from that speed. His base position was so high up the court it was ridiculous, i have never seen anyone do that to that extreme before. I am sure that Misbun Sidek would have told Lee Chong Wei about it, but even when he tried to hit to the back of the court, Lin was so fast getting back he could still smash and hit winners or set up a winning position. I guess that the ability to hit winners from the rear court is what sets the very best players apart from the rest. For me, as a badminton player and a fan, it is great to be able to see someone play like he did in that final. It shows just how good sport can be when someone who has trained all their life plays to their maximum level.

Onwards to 2009, and yet another All England final for Lin Dan, once again playing Lee Chong Wei. Both of them looked really good going into the final, but Lin proved too good on the day, winning in straight games. Both played well and at a fast pace, with Lee showing much more willingness to attack. This was probably the last season that Lin played all out attack in his matches. After 2009 he seemed to change to a more patient game, where he would rally a bit more, only going for winners when he could easily put them away. Another World title came his way in 2009, when he beat Chen Jin pretty easily.

In 2010 he lost in the quarter finals of the All England, and he didn’t seem to be all that bothered. Once again i was there watching, but he was on the far court from where i was sat so i couldn’t see much of that match from close up. He did however win the Asian Games title and the Thomas Cup with China. The Asian Games final also produced some fantastic rallies between these 2 players. The video below shows how good Lin’s court coverage had become.

The shot he plays from deep in his forehand corner is incredible, i have never seen anyone hit such a powerful shot from that position. It shows just how strong his wrist power is, which is another feature of his game that has improved over the years. You this this strength in his round the head shots, he takes very little back swing when he is at full stretch but he can generate a lot of power and a steep angle both down the line and cross court.

Moving on to 2011, and he started off the year with a win at the Korea Open against you know who. This was a great match to see, with victory coming in 3 very tough games. Lee got his revenge in the All England, winning easily in straight games. This all led very nicely to the World Championships in England in August. I am gutted to this day to have missed that final, i was away on holiday.  Not to worry though, the video is on youtube and here are the highlights.

He seemed to be able to peak for the biggest tournaments, and this match has got to be one of the best World Championship finals of all time, going right down to the wire. The Lin’s credit, the way he played when saving match points was incredible. His reaction when he won was pure drama, but i couldn’t help feeling so sorry for Lee for coming so close.

With the Olympics coming up in 2012, Lin Dan began to get his form back by the end of 2011 to improve his world ranking and hence his possible seeding for the 2012 Games. He won the China Open, the Hong Kong Open and the Super Series finals to finish very strongly. His more patient style of play was evident, but he could still inject pace of movement and shot when he felt like it.

2012 saw him lose in the final of the Korea Open to Lee in 3 hard fought games. The arena in Korea is massive, and it is hard to put the shuttle away from the back court so a great tactical battle commenced with very long, tiring rallies. Great to watch for all badminton fans. All England title number 5 came along in March when Lee retired with a shoulder injury. I didn’t see the final, but i was there for the semi finals, and saw Lin do just enough when it mattered to beat Kenichi Tago of Japan to progress to the final. Of course the big event was the London 2012 Olympics and due to the way the organisers set up the ticket allocation i didn’t get to see any of the badminton live. Once again Lin met Lee, and once again he beat him in another close final. The final was not as good as the 2011 World meet encounter, but it had all the drama and tension you could wish for. Lin Dan finally won and went running round the arena before falling to the ground, the first man to win consecutive Olympic men’s singles titles.

Before that Olympic final Lin also helped China to win the Thomas Cup, winning all his matches and adding to his growing collection of career titles. After the Olympics he decided to take a break from international badminton and only played in exhibition games and the China Super League. I guess when you have won everything there is to win you may lose motivation. The years of hard practice must also take a toll on the body, so he decided to take a break. This break lasted  well into 2013, and his world ranking dropped accordingly, so much so that he was given a wild card entry into the 2013 World Championships in China. The fact that he was unseeded was a worry to all the top ranked players as you can imagine.

Nobody knew what kind of form his was in as he had played no tournaments, i guess only he knew deep down whether he was still capable of actually winning a 5th World title. The draw kept him away from Lee Chong Wei, but put him on a possible quarter final match up against Chen Long, the current world number 2 and All England champion. He breezed into that quarter final, playing even more patient badminton, only going for winners when he had a good chance of ending the rally. To me it looked like the Lin Dan of old, playing with the same style and confidence. He beat Chen Long very convincingly, taking the pace out of the game and frustrating his younger opponent. You have to remember that Chen had never beaten Lin Dan, and that must have been playing on his mind. A straightforward semi final win took him to the final that the world wanted to see, another battle against Lee Chong Wei.

It turned out to be another epic battle between these two, with Lin claiming his 5th World title when Lee cramped up late in the 3rd game, having to retire injured. There was some good sportsmanship shown by Lin when he went over the net to try and help Lee back on his feet, but i suppose it is easy to be gracious in victory when you just keep winning. It would have been interesting to see what Lin’s reaction would have been had he lost that match, i guess we will never know because he doesn’t seem to lose the major finals.

Shortly after the World final, he then played in the China National Games, going for a record 3rd singles title, and of course he won that as well, beating Du Pengyu easily in the final.

So there you have it, a brief potted history of the most successful men’s singles player in history. Is he the best ever? I think so. How can you argue against what he has achieved? To be so consistent over such a long period of time is very difficult. To have almost a year away from the game and then to come back and win the World Championships is amazing. What lies ahead only Lin Dan knows. The fact that he will have to qualify for Super Series events in 2014 should be interesting if he decides to play on. One thing is for sure, there will be large hole left at the top of world badminton when he retires.