Given the star cast at the National Sports Club of India’s newly opened Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium in Worli yesterday, it was pretty surprising to spot some vacant seats during the Indian Badminton League clash between Mumbai Masters and Delhi Smashers.
As if the presence of Lee Chong Wei — the world’s top-ranked player — was not appetising enough, fans who turned up to witness the clash had Little Masters Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar, besides former India cricketers Ajit Agarkar and Paras Mhambrey and tennis ace Mahesh Bhupathi for company.
But the evening clearly belonged to one man, the magician from Malaysia, Wei, who had everyone drooling, thanks to a rather cruel demolition of compatriot Liew Daren in the opening clash.
Wei, who was forced to retire in the closing stages of the World Championships final in Guangzhou last week against Chinese legend Lin Dan, won 21-12, 21-16 in barely 35 minutes, but the score-line hardly demonstrated the sort of domination he imposed upon his opponent.
Daren had absolutely no clue about what his illustrious counterpart would come up with every time the shuttle was tossed into the air. In the process, Wei unleashed a flurry of ferocious smashes, magnificently disguised half smashes and unrelenting returns that had everyone breaking into a thunderous applause.
Wei, who has been leading the men’s rankings for more than 240 weeks now, raced to a 14-9 lead in the first game and from there it was only a matter of time before he closed it out. He took only 15 minutes to finish Game One.
Daren, the World No 17, did well to put up a fight in the second, but such was the calibre of his opponent that he just couldn’t keep pace with Wei. Both players were tied 13-13, but the latter broke away from here to shut out Game Two 21-16 in 20 minutes.
The encounter’s most memorable passage of play took place when the score read 19-16. Daren, having sensed that the tie was well and truly over, decided to take one last shot at glory, taking Wei by surprise as he ruthlessly smashed every return that the former made in the captivating rally.
There were a couple of occasions when Wei had to dive to complete a return, but it was Daren, who had the final say, finishing the point thanks to a brilliant down-the-line smash.
Wei’s spectacular display yesterday probably made up for the opening two games that he missed owing to cramps. He said: “I had a good match, it’s great and I’m very happy. This victory was very important for me and it’s good to win points for the team against such a difficult opposition.”