By Rod Gilmour
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - A stark warning about the future direction of the men's game was issued on Tuesday by two of badminton’s recent greats on the eve of the All-England Championships.
As the world’s best prepared for this season's first Premier Superseries, with China seeded to win four of the five titles, Indonesia's Taufik Hidayat, the 2004 Olympic champion, said the game was “only about Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan at the moment.”
That long-lasting rivalry, however, will not continue in Birmingham, as Malaysia’s Lee is still suspended indefinitely for failing a doping test at last August’s world championships.
Lee, who won silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, remains confident he can clear his name when a Badminton World Federation panel conducts a hearing into the case.
With Lee missing, Taufik said he could not predict the next big rivalry to excite the sport, largely due to inconsistency among the players at the top of the men’s game.
“For a great player, we will have to wait five more years as the standard is going up and down,” said twice All-England runner-up Taufik, who retired in 2013.
“Everyone has a different style. After (Lee) Chong Wei and Lin leave, who else is there? Chen Long [the current world number one] perhaps, but he is not like these two. He has a different style and a different character.
“Badminton needs an icon like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis. It is a question of how you become a champion and stay at the top.”
Taufik’s view was echoed by Denmark’s former world number one Peter Gade.
“The combination of finding a true star is a complex thing,” said Gade, the last European to win the men’s title here in 1999. “We need to see some of the younger players coming through and show that they have the full package.”
Gade and Taufik were speaking at a Yonex event to celebrate a major sponsorship deal with Lin, indicating the Chinese will be a regular on the world circuit ahead of an expected tilt at a third Olympic title.
Lin, looking relaxed in a suit during a question and answer session, last appeared at the championships in 2012 when he won his last All-England crown.
“I have played here 12 times and won five titles,” he said ahed of his first round match on Wednesday against Hong Kong's Wei Nan. “The history is very special.”
On his great rival, Lee, he added: “He's not only my opponent, but also my good friend. I'm hopeful he will make a swift comeback.”
(Editing by Ken Ferris)