(Numbers) Game and match: Why Lin Dan is the best this century

Lin Dan in action at the 2017 All England Open. His six titles there are the most in the Open era. Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Lin Dan's retirement gives us a chance to sift through the numbers and see who's the greatest men's singles player of the 21st century. We put his numbers up against those of Chen Long and Taufik Hidayat, the only other men to win Olympics and World Championships singles golds in the 2000s - and added Lee Chong Wei, without whom no discussion on these lines can be complete.


Lin easily comes out on top here as he's the only man to win two singles golds in badminton at the Olympics. He came out on top in both 2008 (Beijing) and 2012 (London).

Chen comes a close second as he won a bronze in 2012 and gold in 2016. As the only active player out of the four, he'll have a chance to add to his tally in Tokyo next year.

Lee never won the top prize but his three silver medals are the most in men's singles at the Olympics. He lost to Lin in 2008 and 2012, and to Chen in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

While Hidayat did win gold in 2004 (Athens), he failed to progress beyond the quarterfinals in his three other appearances at the tournament and never defeated any of the other three at the Olympics.

World Championships

Lin comfortably takes the top spot here as his tally of five golds and two silvers is easily the most for a singles player at the tournament. He medalled at every edition between 2005 and 2013, barring 2010, and completed a hat-trick of titles by winning in 2006, 2007 and 2009. He won again in 2011 and 2013 and was deprived of a chance to complete a second hat-trick in 2014, when he was not given a wild card to enter the tournament.

Chen is a distant second here, with two golds in successive years in 2014 and 2015. He also won bronze in 2017 and 2018.

While both Hidayat and Lee have four medals each at the Worlds, Hidayat pips Lee by virtue of having won gold in 2005, apart from winning one silver and two bronzes.

Lee won silver in 2011, 2013 and 2015, besides winning a bronze in 2005. He lost in the final to Lin in 2011 and 2013 and Chen in 2015. He also won silver in 2014 but was stripped of it for a doping violation.

All England Open

The All England Open is the oldest badminton tournament and also the most prestigious outside of the Olympics and the Worlds.

Lin is a clear winner here, too -- his six singles titles are the most in the Open era. He reached the final every year from 2004 to 2009 and also had four runner-up finishes overall in addition to his six titles. In fact, his 10 final appearances are the joint-most at the tournament and the most in the Open era.

Lee comes next with four titles (2010, '11, '14, '17) and three runner-up finishes. He made the final six years in a row (2009-2014).

Chen has three final appearances at the tournament, winning the title in 2013 and 2015, and losing in 2014 to Lee.

Hidayat never won the tournament but finished second best on two occasions, losing to Peter Gade and Xia Xuangze in 1999 and 2000, respectively.


Lee is way ahead of everyone else here, with 46 titles -- more than those won by Lin, Chen and Hidayat put together -- and 20 runner-up finishes.

Lin comes next with 21 titles and 10 runner-up finishes, though he deliberately played fewer tournaments at his peak.

Chen is a close third with 20 titles and 12 runner-up finishes. Of his 12 runner-up finishes, he lost five finals to Lee, and four to Lin.

Hidayat is a distant fourth, with just one title and nine runner-up finishes. Lee, in particular, proved to be his nemesis, beating Hidayat in all five Superseries finals the pair played.

Head to head

If we just look at the head-to-head between these four players, it is Lin again who comes out on top as he has extremely lopsided records against Lee (28-12) and Hidayat (13-4). While he has a losing H2H vs. Chen (9-10), he did win eight of their first 13 matches before his form tapered off over the last three years.

It is Chen again who follows Lin as he leads the H2H against Lin and Hidayat (4-2). Even though he trails 13-15 against Lee, he leads 9-7 in finals.

Lee edges out Hidayat for third place as he leads their H2H 15-8.

Career win-loss record

Lee has the best career win-loss record (713-135). With a win-loss record of 666-132, Lin is next, followed by Chen (441-114) and Hidayat (413-138).

Lee tops the two parameters that Lin doesn't and leads the head-to-head against Chen. However, he has never won gold at the two biggest tournaments -- the Olympics and the Worlds. He leads the H2H against Chen but has lost to him the final of the Olympics as well as the Worlds. With Chen still being active and only 31, he has plenty of opportunities to add more titles to his CV.


Lin tops four of the six parameters, and is second best in the other two. So going purely by numbers, Lin Dan is the best men's singles player of this century.