Kuala Lumpur: Sometimes, the strangest of coincidences can lend an element of spice to the proceedings in an elite international sporting competition.
So it was that, on a day when India’s iconic Saina Nehwal sailed through to the second round of the $750,000 Malaysia Open badminton championships, even as her compatriot, Sameer Verma was shown the door in his lung-opener. The fifth-seeded players in the men’s and women’s singles, both co-incidentally owning the surname Chen, bit the dust, albeit in contrasting fashion.
China’s two-time former world champion Chen Long, who had bagged the most coveted title in the game in two successive years before the 2016 Olympics, lost his first-ever joust against talented Thai teenager, Kantaphon Wangcharoen, in shocking fashion, going down 21-23, 5-21 in a 48-minute first-round clash at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur Sports City.
While he is still relatively young, and will only celebrate his 30th birthday on 18 January next year, Chen is no longer seen as the immovable force he was when he bagged the world crown at Copenhagen in 2014, successfully defended that title at Jakarta in 2015, and went on to bag the gold medal at the Rio Olympics. A leg injury, immediately after the Olympics, took a long time to heal, and deprived him of the edge he had in foot-speed over his contemporaries.
Over the past two years, the smooth strides that covered the court so effectively, to defeat Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei in all three of those finals, have become much more hesitant, and the steep smash on both flanks is no longer as effective because Chen’s movements have slowed down just that little bit, and given him less time to be on top of, or behind, the shuttle.