Lin Dan angers crowd at Singapore Badminton Open after walking off opening tie

Chinese badminton star Lin Dan. (FILE PHOTO: AFP/Sadiq Asyraf)
Chinese badminton star Lin Dan. (FILE PHOTO: AFP/Sadiq Asyraf)

SINGAPORE — Lin Dan’s stature as one of badminton’s greatest winners is secure. He is the only shuttler to have won all nine major titles in the sport: Olympics, World Championships, World Cup, Thomas Cup, Sudirman Cup, Super Series Masters Finals, All England Open, Asian Games and Asian Championships.

His behaviour at the Singapore Badminton Open on Wednesday (10 April), however, left many paying fans furious, as the Chinese superstar walked off during his opening-round tie in a huff, apparently with a thigh injury, while trailing 13-20 to Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen.

“No sportsmanship!” some fans shouted as groans and jeers reverberated around the Singapore Indoor Stadium, as Lin exited with a bewildered Axelsen.

The official word from organisers was that Lin retired due to spasms in his left thigh muscle, but the 35-year-old was seen disputing a line call with the umpire on the final point before indicating his retirement.

Issues with side court

Later, when reporters tracked him down at the stadium, he denied that he was unhappy with the umpire. Instead he took issue with having to play at the stadium’s side court, which usually has bigger draft.

He told Yahoo News Singapore, “Every time I play, I expect a few controversial calls. But I feel, for such a big tournament like the Singapore Open, it would be better if I play at the centre court. This is my personal opinion, but it’s the organisers’ call.”

He also said that he had expended a lot of energy after winning last week’s Malaysian Open.

“Now I need to conserve my fitness with Olympic qualification beginning in two weeks. I don’t wish to have any injuries at this point of time,” he said.

When asked if he was disappointed with his retirement, he shrugged and said, “There’s nothing to be disappointed about.”

Second time Lin pulled out of match at Singapore Open

This is not the first time Lin had pulled out of a match at the Singapore Open. In 2011, he was scheduled to face compatriot Chen Jin in the men’s singles final, but withdrew at the last moment to the displeasure of the packed stadium.

The Open remains one of the few tournaments he has yet to win, but he said, “This is a difficult tournament to win, but I hope to come back next year.”

Meanwhile, third-seeded Axelsen improved his head-to-head record against Lin to five wins in eight encounters. However, the Dane said, “If he is really injured, that it’s a shame that our match had to end like that. I wish him a quick recovery.

“But if he was not injured and it was because of bad umpire calls, then I think it’s a shame for our sport.”

Tight contests with top playing field at Open

Lin’s controversial exit overshadowed the day’s proceedings, as the 4,000-strong crowd were treated to some tightly-contested matches, with a top playing field at the Open.

Men’s singles world No. 1 Kento Momota needed a gruelling 75 minutes to subdue 2017 Singapore Open champion Sai Praneeth of India. There were passages when the Japanese struggled to find winning shots against his opponent, a defensive specialist, but he was eventually able to beat Praneeth, 19-21, 21-14, 22-20.

It was a similar story for women’s world No. 1 Tai Tzu-ying. The 24-year-old Taiwanese had moments of sublime shot-making, but was error-prone throughout her round-of-32 clash with Zhang Beiwen from USA, before steadying herself to close out her 21-14, 10-21, 21-18 win in 44 minutes.

Tai told Yahoo News Singapore that she was far from full fitness, after suffering bouts of dizziness in the past couple of days.

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Bumper week for sports: Singapore Badminton Open, HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens, The Ring Fighting Championship