Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei beats two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan of China
Both men are considered by many to be the best players of their era, and maybe of all time, and the semifinal match was often thrilling. Lee's reaction at the end — falling to his knees, covering his face with his hands and putting his forehead on the court before leaping up in the air and pumping his fists — made it seem more like a gold medal contest than the semifinals.
Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei returns a shot to China's Lin Dan during a men's badminton singles semifinal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP)
Lin jumped out to a commanding early lead in the first game of the best-of-three match, and fended off a Lee rally to win 21-15. Lee, his nerves settled, came out fast in the second game and won 21-11. The deciding game was much closer, with the lead swinging back and forth. Lee stretched out a small lead toward the end and was on the brink of winning, but Lin charged back, fighting off several match points to tie the game at 20. Lin then pulled away to win 22-20.
Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei, left, hugs China's Lin Dan, right, as they trade shirts after Lee won their men's badminton singles semifinal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP)
Both men showed a mix of power, speed and guile, often charging the net like fencers to make lunging saves, leaping high in the air to hit powerful crosscourt smashes down the lines and, with a flick of the wrist, sending delicate drop-shot winners spinning just over the net.
China's Lin Dan returns a shot to Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei during a men's badminton singles semifinal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP)
While Lee is top ranked and Lin is still formidable, both are getting old by badminton standards — they're in their early 30s — meaning this could be their last high-stakes Olympic meeting.
Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei celebrates after defeating China's Lin Dan in their men's badminton singles semifinal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP)
Lee, who served an eight month doping ban, is looking for an Olympic championship Saturday to ease the heartbreak of the two previous final-match losses to Lin. Standing in the way will be one of two young powers in the other semifinal: China's Chen Long or Viktor Axelsen of Denmark.
China's Lin Dan applauds the crowd after losing to Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei in their men's badminton singles semifinal match at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP)
Later Friday the women's singles gold medal match will be decided, as Spain's Carolina Marin, the world No. 1, plays surprise finalist P.V. Sindhu of India.
Malaysia and China will also play in the men's doubles gold medal match.
Lin's loss is reflective of the fall of China in badminton. Several top players, including medalists from past games, have lost early in Rio. China swept all five badminton gold medals at the 2012 London Games.
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