Indian players react to the retirement of Chinese great Lin Dan, winner of two Olympic gold medals and five World Championship titles.
Kidambi Srikanth: I remember being completely numb during my match against Lin Dan at the final of the China Open 2014. He was already a two-time Olympic gold medallist, five-time world champion and five-time China Open winner, so you can imagine what someone like me who'd made a Superseries final for the first time was feeling. I was on his home turf, but I couldn't hear the cheers. It was almost like I was in a parallel universe. To be frank, I didn't have a strategy going into the final. I perhaps felt nothing may work against him so might as well have some fun and just play the best I can. As it turned out, I ended up winning that match. I was more shocked than happy.
Post the prize distribution we walked together into the press conference room. One of the journalists asked him when was the last time he'd lost a Superseries final or in China. He replied, "No, I don't remember it happening before this." I was beaming. It was the biggest compliment I'd received and it wasn't even directed at me. You could say my career took a fresh turn with that win. Suddenly, people knew my name.
I've always been a huge fan of Lin Dan and I've watched his matches -- particularly his 2012 Olympic win -- on YouTube countless times. Lee Chong Wei was about quiet, tireless consistency but Lin Dan was about total domination. When he came into big tournaments and you watched him play live, he carried this air about him that conveyed he was there to take the title home. The kind of control he had over his strokes and his ability to finish matches from the tightest positions brought him all those big wins at the Olympics and World Championships. Even when the scoreline was 20-20, he was willing to experiment. I think that made him exceptional.
He was the GOAT. There isn't going to be another player like him soon.
Sai Praneeth: We played against each other on three occasions and luckily I was able to beat him the last time we did [2019 Denmark Open]. I've won against [Lee] Chong Wei and Taufik [Hidayat] so I really wanted to beat Lin Dan to complete my dream checklist of victories. He's a legend of the sport and when you see him on court you can tell he sees himself as a champion. The next generation of players will be missing out on seeing this incredible guy on court.
I count myself lucky to have had that opportunity to not just watch him play and be a part of the same draw as him but also beat him once. It's definitely something that I'd brag about to my grandkids.
Parupalli Kashyap: He was an absolute legend and icon of the sport -- all class, style and swag. He just won everything there was on offer and you really wondered how hard-working and blessed one has to be to achieve what he has. I last played him in Australia [in 2019] and he was still a tough guy to beat.
Although now it's slowly changing and more of them speak English these days, most of the Chinese players over the years, including Lin Dan, barely spoke to other players. Language was a sort of barrier. But he was always courteous when he saw you, even with the limited English words like 'hi', 'bye', 'hello' or 'thanks' that he knew.
At the 2015 Australian Open I played another Chinese player, Wang Zhengming, and lost after leading at match point. After the match when I went back to the practice court, Lin Dan came over and tapped me on the shoulder and then he tapped Wang on the shoulder and said 'very lucky' [referring to him beating me]. I should have challenged a couple of line calls which I didn't and that had cost me the match. But even in that defeat, a little part of me was suddenly happy that Lin Dan had watched me play and thought I deserved to win.
During tournaments, you could almost always see him at the gym if he wasn't on court. He was a total beast, ruthless with regimen. The troika of Taufik, Chong Wei and Lin Dan gave badminton its star power and brought it to a whole new level. Lin Dan and Chong Wei's terrific on-court rivalry was what defined the sport to fans everywhere. But among the three of them, I can say with dead certainty that for me Lin Dan was the absolute best.
(As told to Susan Ninan)