Kolkata: Many feared that Lee Chong Wei’s career was over due to a freak incident when his knee ligament tore during badminton practice last month. Doctors later confirmed though that the 34- year-old world number 1 from Malaysia tore his medial collateral ligament (MCL) in his left knee and said that he would need about three to six weeks to recover. This meant that he would miss the much anticipated YONEX All England Open, which he has won three times in total over his long and illustrious career.
However, a second scan on his knee three weeks later convinced his medical team and coaches that Chong Wei was fit for the All England tournament to be held in Birmingham. Still in some pain and not quite 100 percent fit, he starts his 13th and last All England on Wednesday. There was a collective gasp in Malaysia on Feb. 4 when news came that Chong Wei slipped and fell, tearing the MCL in his left knee.
The ligament attaches the top of the shinbone to the bottom of the thigh bone and normally takes around 42 days or 6 weeks to heal. The injury exposed a year long discontent between Wei and Morten Frost, the Hall of Famer from Denmark who has been the technical director of the Badminton Association of Malaysia for two years.
On the day the national squad moved into the new national academy, one of Chong Wei’s teammates slipped and fell on the court mats. Chong Wei told his coaches to tell Frost the mats needed to be replaced. Four days later, Chong Wei injured himself. The next day, mats on three of the 18 courts were replaced. Chong Wei blamed Frost for failing to take action sooner, and accused him of being more concerned about when he was retiring than his health.
The main focus of the special squad is to groom and train a select number of athletes, including Lee Chong Wei, for impeding major world championships. The arrangement is to be reviewed in August after the world championships in Glasgow, Scotland, after which Chong Wei is expected to retire. The move is geared mainly to giving Chong Wei one final shot at glory.
Chong Wei, who has also been installed as the top seed in the All England Badminton Championships, could be facing his arch nemesis Lin Dan in the tournament, a bittersweet reunion for the two. While Lin Dan has avoided talks of retirement, but Chong Wei is aware that he cannot go on much longer. In fact, this will be his last All-England tournament.
“I admit age is no longer on my side, but I have never let it weaken my spirit,” Chong Wei said. Chong Wei’s first round match will be against French qualifier Brice Leverdez, who beat Chong Wei in the Denmark Open quarterfinals back in October. Wei will desperately look to add to his tally of 3 All England titles in what is to be his final hurrah.
(With inputs from PTI)