Lee Chong Wei savours final CWG bow


Lee Chong Wei spoke of the Commonwealth Games with finality and the 2020 Olympic Games with a tentative shake of the head. The gold he won in Gold Coast is probably one of the last medals for badminton's superstar trudging in his mid-30s, and it came against the newest world No 1, Kidambi Srikanth, whom he had lost to a week ago.

On Sunday afternoon, the Malaysian fans stirred the stadium to life with banners, chants and feet thumps. They were certain that their hero would offer them something special.

Srikanth fell behind 5-0 with a body smash early in the first game, but recovered to head into the break with a slim 11-9 lead. Coach Pullela Gopichand kept the stream of instructions constant, gesturing often with both hands placed on either side of his forehead, goading the 23-year-old to concentrate. Srikanth managed to clinch the first game, but somewhere in second he dropped his rhythm.

Chong Wei was prompt to sniff the opportunity. Known for his attacking style of play, quick feet and exceptional movement in the forehand corner, he's still one of the greatest ever exponents of the sport. Piling errors and allowing the Malaysian a massive 7-1 lead in the decider, Srikanth almost seemed to have given up.

"I think I lost momentum in second half. I didn't start well. I just did too many mistakes and gave him an early lead. I admire him for his aggressive style of play and when you're playing someone like him you have to be at your best. I think I was almost there today," Srikanth reflected later.

Chong Wei has won all four of his BWF matches against Srikanth, but it tells you little of how close and how clashes between these two can go. Probably because the last time they played each other in a BWF tournament was three years ago, when Chong Wei was crushing in his dominance and Srikanth hadn't still evolved into the player he's today.

Back to Sunday though, and six gold medal points for Chong Wei in the decider meant Gopichand went from concerned to disappointed. India's coach just sat there, unmoved in his chair by the court sidelines as Srikanth dispatched a smash into the net, shut his eyes and winced, almost as if not wanting to take a second look at his schoolboy error.

"Last time he beat me so this time I think I fought well," Chong Wei said later. "This is going to be my last Games and I think winning against the new World No. 1 was a good feeling. Must say Gopichand is doing some good work on him."

Dressed in bright lemon-colored shorts and a T-shirt, he threw himself, arms and legs sprawled, on the court and then hugged Srikanth at the net. One a superstar on his way out with his final medal, the other, badminton's latest toast, finding joy in his first.