It’s like the intervening years after Rio 2016 haven’t mattered at all.
Chen Long, triumphant at the last Olympics, and having few significant achievements since then, turned back the years with a tactical and athletic masterclass to make his second successive Olympic final. He will have the chance to match Lin Dan’s two-gold record when he takes on Viktor Axelsen tomorrow.
Facing Anthony Sinisuka Ginting, his junior by seven years who has beaten him eight times in 12 contests, Chen Long came up with a performance right out of his prime years. The foundations of his defensive wall were deep and solid, his control from the windy side exemplary, and whenever the openings came, his hits homed in on the lines.
Having started from the difficult side, Chen did exceedingly well in avoiding the lifts and giving precious little for Ginting to work with. The Indonesian stayed in the hunt with some good spells of play, but he couldn’t stitch up the consistency of his opponent, and the few moments of weakness were all it took for Chen to wrap up the opening game.
The defending champion continued with the same solidity through the second, and even though Ginting hung on grimly, Chen was unstoppable.
“I’m very happy to get into the final as that is the dream stage for all badminton athletes – to be in the Olympic final. So I hope to be able to express this of myself tomorrow and also to have some rest,” said Chen.
Earlier, Guatemalan Kevin Cordon, whose feats at Tokyo 2020 have become the stuff of legend, looked set to extend his unlikely story into the final, before Viktor Axelsen thwarted him in a tight first game, and then ran away with the second. Axelsen is now a win away from becoming only the second non-Asian, after countryman Poul-Erik Høyer in 1996, to win men’s singles gold.
Cordon continued from where he left off in his quarterfinal victory over Heo Kwang Hee, smashing with verve, and unveiling some delightful shots at the net. What undid his effort was the higher number of errors, and after Axelsen took the first game from the difficult side, Cordon had trouble keeping the shuttle in once he had changed sides.
“Actually right now I haven’t even been able to enjoy it yet. I was so tense. I wanted it so badly that I couldn’t even enjoy the match today,” said Axelsen. “It’s a relief, maybe in a few hours I’ll feel really happy and proud, but right now it’s just relief. A silver medal is secured but I’m going for gold.
“I want more than just a final. This is not enough for me. The pressure is off. I don’t think you could find a match where there will be more pressure on me than this.”