Lee Chong Wei’s hopes of finally snaring world gold came to an abrupt and unexpected end at the first hurdle in Glasgow after suffering a Round One defeat to France’s Brice Leverdez.
The 34 year old Malaysian superstar, a three time world silver and Olympic silver in his career, was seeded two for the 2017 Championships but became the first seed to exit the draw following a tight 3-end battle that went the way of Leverdez at 21-19, 22-24, 21-17.
In fact, a surprisingly nervous Chong Wei was spared a two game exit by Hawk-eye when a line call challenge, on the Frenchman’s second match point at 21-19, 22-21, was reversed in favour of the Malaysian.
But that turned out to be a mere temporary reprieve as the Frenchman regrouped and refound his winning touch in the deciding end despite trailing 14-9.
It was a fixture filled of tension and nerve from the off with Chong Wei as edgy and uncomfortable on service and at the net as Leverdez was eager and willing to stay long in the rally.
And the Frenchman grew into the match. His confidence and swagger buoyed by the reluctance and casualness of some of Chong Wei’s lacksidasical approach play.
Speaking after defeat, a circumspect Chong Wei spoke with honesty whilst praising his rival. ““It’s ok, I just tried my best but I don’t think I played so well,” he said.
“Brice played so well today, I just tried and he had the lead for a lot of the second game and today he was very lucky.
“Today I put a lot of pressure on myself and I made a lot of mistakes, I just need to relax to get my focus back.”
For Leverdez, it was just his second career victory over Malaysia’s much loved star. But it is his second win in their last three after denying Chong Wei a semi final spot at the Denmark Open last October. That was a result that stunned even the Frenchman.
This time, arms outstretched, with French swagger and a self aware air, the 31 year old rightly took the applause his performance warranted.
“I’m really happy” he said. “I was relaxed on court and that was the way I wanted to play.
“I prepared very well. I usually don’t play well when I train hard like this but I managed to make a difference in my mentality on court.
“I was able to play with no stress, I know I am the underdog when I play Lee Chong Wei and usually I would have put pressure on myself to play well, but this time I wanted to play my game, joke on court with myself and it will be fine.
“The confidence is the same, if it’s Lee Chong Wei or anyone else I have to play the same game, if I play like this, relaxed and confident, then it’s okay, but if I take it too easy then I will lose. I know I have to play 100 per cent again tomorrow.”