RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei beat two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan of China on Friday, avenging his last two losses to Lin in the Olympic finals and further denting once-powerful China's grip on the sport.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.