Hot favourites China are doing their utmost to dampen expectations of a clean-sweep on home soil at the Asian Games, where most of the world's top shuttlers take to the court. Men's world number one Lee Chong Wei spearheads the charge to stop a formidable China led by his nemesis Lin Dan.
Lin, regarded by some as the best badminton player ever, has been uncharacteristically downbeat in the lead-up to the badminton tournament that opens on Saturday. "I get a headache every time I am asked about my prospects for the Asian Games," the 27-year-old Olympic champion said. "There are so many strong rivals. Actually, the world's best badminton players are from Asia, so it will be no different from playing in an Olympic Games."
The Asian Games badminton has both team and individual competition, with seven gold medals at stake, making it that much tougher, said China's usually bullish team head coach, Li Yongbo. "That's why the Asian Games is a place for upsets," said Li. "If the players go all out for the team competition, they lose form for the individual contests."
The Chinese showed at the world championships in August that they are more than capable of winning everything in sight, taking all five titles in Paris for only the second time in the history of the game. But Lee, who has seen his Games build-up hampered by injury, is not the only Malaysian capable of spoiling the party. In Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong Malaysia have one of the best men's doubles team in the world and defending Asian Games champions, while South Korea are also a threat in the doubles. Indonesia and Hong Kong have also been forces to be reckoned with down the years, although neither are as strong as last time around.
"Korea could be the biggest challenge to China," said Raphael Sachetat, chief editor of the Badzine website (www.badzine.net). "They prepare very, very hard and mix the pairings up at the last minute, which makes it very tricky for China."